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Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

There are a few words in the world of dogs that will incite an eye roll in many a modern dog behavior professional. Pack is among them, as is dominant, alpha, command and in many cases, obedience. Faces twist, sighs are emitted and words form in our heads that we struggle to keep unuttered. While it’s a frustrating feeling, taking the dog parenting public to task over these words is not helpful because they simply don’t know any better. Professionals in the world of positive rewards based training, however, should know better and as the compelling words of Maya Angelou suggest, when you know better, do better.

For the dog parenting public at large, education is key but endless. It is a subject that screams exhaustion to every trainer who has to continually bring the facts to the forefront. I am sure that I am not alone in wishing for a way that I can educate a huge amount of people at once so I don’t have to repeat myself so often I feel like a recording. I honestly don’t think I will see an end to the need to educate on this subject in my lifetime. And that makes me feel tired.

Graphic Dominant Pack Alpha Obedience Old School Command

The unfortunate fact that a self proclaimed dog trainer in the national spotlight sadly uses many of these terms makes it harder to make them go away. After all, if they are on TV, they are accurate, right? Nope. Said trainer in the national spotlight has literally no formal education in dog behavior. Furthermore, he failed a test for such in Germany when it was required for him to be able handle dogs in his show that had a tour stop in that country. A full education in dog behavior would erase those terms from the language of dog trainers when discussing the dogs they are attempting to help or even when referencing their own dogs.

I am sure that there are some people who although educated in this subject, simply stick to the words that they have always used. There cannot be any harm in that, can there? Yes, there actually can and is harm in that habit. Words decide how you feel about a subject. Words have great power. Words have strong associations that cannot be easily changed. Some words have been so poisoned with inappropriate meanings that they are better off left behind. Words that conjure a feeling that is no longer applicable, can and do give the wrong impression to those who know less on the subject, but are sponges looking to take in information. Making better and more modern choices with your words will create a kinder future for all dogs.

For example, dogs are not pack animals. That has been determined for many years now yet the number of people who still call their multiple dog household a pack is truly alarming. You are not a pack leader, you are a dog parent. You can also be the dog owner if you prefer a less relationship based term. The relationship that a dog parent/owner should aspire to is however similar to parenting. I have written at length on this subject so instead of reinventing the wheel, I give you links to previous works on that particular subject as well as a compelling study.

Parenting your dogs.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/10/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Dogs are not pack animals
New York Times: The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

What is a leader.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/03/leader-of-the-pack-there-are-leaders-and-then-there-are-leaders/

http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/01/the-elephant-in-the-room-leadership-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

If you by some chance had a group of dogs trained to hunt together en masse, then you could technically refer to them as a pack when they are doing what they trained for. That is the only dictionary definition of the word pack that applies to dogs at all. Otherwise, choose a more accurate term. If you read my book, then you know that my preferred term is crew, as in crew member. We are all in this together and we all have a say. We work as a team. Family works as well. After all, that is what you consider them to be, correct?

As for the dominance debate, I have also addressed that before as well. It would again be a waste of time to rewrite the facts. You can read more on this subject here.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/02/dominance-redux-words-and-consequences-aagain/

The term alpha is very much in the same category as dominance. However, far more people use that term than dominance simply because it’s just so sadly ingrained in the culture of dogs. But we are well past time to toss it to the curb with the others. It’s meaningless. Again, you are not an alpha, anymore than you are a pack leader. You are a parent/owner/team leader. Chose whatever compassionate and kind term you that most resonates with you. But you are NOT an alpha. There are no alphas in the dog world. More on that subject below.
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html

Another word that is still in use by some is the word command. I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally want a relationship with my dogs that involves commanding them to do anything. I call the term I use to signal my dogs to utilize a behavior, a cue. More on the inappropriate use of this word below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/11/command-performance-do-words-have-consequences/

And finally, the word that is very likely in use most frequently among even the most educated rewards based trainers is the term obedience. Unless you are actually competing in Obedience trials and are using that term to describe that activity, then toss this word aside PLEASE. Similar to the term command, obedience implies servitude. I don’t want a relationship based on servitude with anyone, especially my beloved dogs. I do, however, want my dogs to have manners so that is what I call them. Furthermore, when done correctly, you don’t have to use cues once manners are taught because you will have taught your dogs to make good choices about life’s moments. What could be easier than that? Imagine, not having to continually tell your dog what to do! More on this subject below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2011/09/to-cue-or-not-to-cue-manners-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

So let’s lead by example and toss antiquated terms to the curb. Choose words with their meaning based in the relationship centered world of modern dog behavior knowledge. Your dogs will thank you and you will leave a path of more knowledgeable and kinder-to-their-dogs people that you have influenced by your actions. Feel free to take the spaces below to tell me how you have moved beyond these old school terms.

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An Intervention is in Order: Canine Bullies in a Multiple Dog Household

It used to be called being dominance, and in some circles it still is, sadly. But this behavior is actually simple bullying. As in humans, bullying is inappropriate. It can arise for several reasons, among them insecurity, anxiety, juvenile behavior in young adults and puppies and just plain old bad manners.

Being a bully has nothing to do with the breed of the dog who is the bully. Any breed can be a bully. Puppies who are very exuberant and having difficulty learning impulse control are prime targets to become a bully when unchecked in a multiple dog household. Possessing a good temperament otherwise will not prevent a puppy from becoming a bully. One can be a canine bully and be a nice dog otherwise, which is where this act typically differs with human bullies.

Posturing Dogs

Those who have children and who are raising them with limits and guidelines that are parentally enforced will understand this advice immediately. Dogs are not furry children (see separate blog on this subject) but they are equally in need of structure and knowing what is appropriate or not. It is very important to set limits and provide said structure.

We as humans are not meant to be “pack leaders”; dogs know that we are a different species; I can assure you of this! What we are meant to be, however, is the human who provides for all their needs. This includes the need for clearly communicated rules, guidelines, information and reward incentives as well as non-scary consequences for infractions of said rules.

Rules should include, but are not limited to, disallowing these inappropriate activities:
• “nagging” any other dog for any reason.
• sniffing body parts of another dog for lengthy periods of time (especially when the receiver is obviously uncomfortable)
• insistence on play when the other party is not interested
• ”pacing” another dog (physically matching their walking pace outside of the realm of interactive play)
• “walk bys” of another dog (seemingly benign walking by another dog with the intent of intimidation)
• body slamming another dog in greeting
• being “in your face” intrusive without invitation to do so
• any posturing meant to intimidate.

Buy the book, How Many Dogs?! click here

The list is longer than the above but it’s nearly impossible to include every scenario. Multiple dog households really owe it to themselves and their charges to educate themselves on dog body language and appropriate play. There are several ways to do this. There are a few well done books available that have great information on body language as well as the go-to DVD on this subject by Sarah Kalnajs. Another option is to attend organized playgroups that are supervised by behavior professionals familiar with both positive reinforcement training and dog body language. Watching the interaction through their eyes can help with viewing your own crew more clearly. You get to see what needs interrupted and what doesn’t.

Positive never means permissive when inappropriate behavior is being demonstrated. It is completely possible to intervene appropriately without causing fear or using force. Human to dog body language is useful to learn for this practice. When your crew respects your ability to set boundaries in a clear and concise manner without using an iron fist, they feel safe and secure responding to your cues to cease and desist.

Often the simple act of clearing one’s throat and throwing a pointed look at the offender will be enough to interrupt bad behavior in an otherwise well structured household. Quietly placing your body between the two or more dogs involved can cause an immediate deflection. This is called splitting and dogs use it too. Using what I call “the mom stance”, hands on hips with a disappointed look on your face, can stop an incident if implemented soon enough. Well marked and timed Time Outs are worth the effort to learn to implement correctly.

Those who follow my blog, know that I have a puppy in my household at present. Puppies are rude until taught otherwise. Sometimes I intervene, sometimes another dogs intervenes appropriately for me. This can be permitted if you know what is appropriate in a canine correction and what isn’t. For example, my Kenzo, the puppy stole Trent’s bone and Trent did not stop him. So I retrieved it for him. It took three retrievals and a “mom” look to eliminate this behavior on this particular day. A fourth attempt on Kenzo’s part would have resulted in a time out. I give three tries on benign behavior.

But later the same evening, Kenzo tried on his big boy pants and made a posturing move towards Trent. I did not have time to intervene nor did Trent have time to object because Siri intervened for both of us, immediately and quite correctly. She split between them with her body immediately and roared at Kenzo quite appropriately without hurting him. She did, however, make enough of an impression (based on the size of his eyes!) that I am certain that he won’t try that again soon. So while you cannot simply allow the dogs to work it out among themselves, you can rely on dogs that have appropriate mediating skills periodically.

So it is possible to have a multiple dog household with several strong personalities without having strong conflict of you learn how to intervene when appropriate. One of the easiest ways to help non-professionals understand how early on it can be necessary to step in is to equate what is happening to toddlers doing an equivalent behavior. If your two year old was shoving your three year old or vice versa, are you going to wait for them to ‘work it out on their own”? I certainly hope not! Don’t allow those kinds of decisions to be made in your canine household either and all will flow much more smoothly!

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