The Rules of the Pack
The dog’s family unit, or pack, has rules of behavior. These rules apply to all pack members–including inter-species (dogs and humans). Dogs learn the rules early on – at just a few weeks of age from littermates, mom and other adult dogs they may interact with. Puppies are taught there’s a consequence when a rule is broken. This is an important lesson for our dogs to learn. It means that puppies understand consequences early on. This rule enables us to teach our dogs right and wrong in our inter-species pack. The other side of this coin, however, is that our dogs expect us to understand right and wrong from their perspective, too. It is this expectation that often causes misunderstandings between dogs and people.
The dog believes that everyone follows the same rules – from the smallest child to the oldest dog. Secure in this belief, when someone breaks the rules – even if they didn’t know the rule exists – the dog reacts like . . . well, a dog. Humans often interpret this reaction as dominant behavior, but it’s not. He’s just being a dog.
Consider this scenario from the dog’s point of view: Arguably the most problematic imperative is the “resource possession” rule. It says ‘if it’s in or near my mouth it’s mine.’ Is it any wonder, then, that when a dog is eating dinner and someone tries to muscle in or repeatedly take his dish away, he grumbles?
Violating the rule of possession might earn a growl, snarl, snap, or even a bite. Misinterpreted as dominance, or even viciousness, the dog is simply enforcing the rule – the rule the intruder violated. His snarl is the consequence for breaking a rule. By appreciating the rules that govern a dog’s social behavior, you will better understand your dog’s interaction with your family. (This doesn’t mean you can’t ever touch your dog’s food dish or take something from him. Understanding the rules means you behave correctly, too.)
To learn more about normal dog behavior, check out our articles, enroll in one of our classes, or if you’re having issues with your dog — whether someone called it “dominance” or not — contact us for a behavior consultation.