The structures within a pack of dogs are very complex. Nevertheless, it is usually even easier to educate a whole pack than a single dog. Because there is a group dynamic here, which you can use to your advantage.
In each case, however, the relationship between the dogs is important, because each pack is unique. The breeds in the pack do not play such a big role as the group dynamics there.
The dog pack
A pack is driven by the same instincts as a single dog. Everything is subordinated to survival and the instincts have their origin in the wild wolves. As with humans, there is also a hierarchy within the group or here of the pack of wolves for millennia. The alpha pair of the wolf pack is the undisputed authority and absolute leader. The whole pack knows that its survival is best assured in this way.
Below the alpha pair, however, there is also a hierarchy among the other dogs. This ranges from the following animals in the hierarchy, the so-called beta-animals, down to the young animals and puppies.
Also, each animal within the pack has a different task. This includes for example hunting together with the alpha-pair, guarding the domestic place or taking over other behavioral variants.
It is crucial, however, that the lower-ranking animals are also satisfied and happy with their group role. If the pack can survive this way and is provided for daily food, they accept the distribution of tasks and the ranking without difficulties. All animals have full confidence in the internal structures of the pack as these have secured their survival so far.
But the pack cannot afford to rest from its daily successes, because it will not survive much longer, let alone grow. For this reason the Alpha pair is under constant observation and must prove itself again and again. If this does not succeed, however, the internal ranking is questioned.
In the normal case also dogs have no difficulties at all to subordinate themselves. Their only aspect is to be able to live as pleasantly and undisturbed as possible. Therefore, you can even treat them a bit harassing, but also simply lead them. Dogs feel like ‘on top of the world’ if a fixed and natural hierarchy is kept and all live harmoniously together.
Critical moments arise mainly on these occasions:
- when meeting again after a separation;
- when danger is imminent;
- on the hunt.
However, if the pack is satisfied with its leader in these situations, the dogs subordinate themselves.
Each pack has its own group dynamics, which have to be learned and recognized, because no pack is the same as another. Dogs are very sensitive creatures, so that it often comes to true friendships, but also to rivalries among each other. Thus, there are dogs, which are closely connected with each other, while others do not get along with each other at all.
This can be easily determined by dogs that do not get along with each other ignoring each other and avoiding eye contact, thus maintaining distance. Often they are in the same room in opposite corners and on certain occasions the conflict breaks out openly.
There are also basically dominant dogs, which can even in certain cases attack their own siblings. Usually this happens in moments of uncertainty, for example when another dog or person comes along, a pack member dies or is in heat.
These circumstances are just a question of the individual personalities of the different dogs, which the owner must accept and learn to handle with it. Although it is not possible to change the character of a dog, no member of the pack should be allowed to attack one of the other dogs. Therefore, violence and aggression among the pack members must be prevented.
About the pictures: Two males similar in size, weight and age are especially problematic, because the ranking can be questioned again and again and there are situations several times a day, where both dogs growl around each other. This is generally not problematic as a ‘discussion among men’. Nevertheless, especially at the beginning attentiveness is required and a fight must be prevented and punished, for example with several hours of chaining on the ‘penalty bench’ (here a couch in the ‘dog room’).
This can be achieved by the owner, since the pack normally always strives to maintain the status quo – so everything should remain as it is. Only the group offers protection and supply to the pack. But also the hierarchy within the pack must keep the owner clearly in mind, because this can change with the age of the dogs.
Crises occur, for example, when the owner does not clearly carry out the pack leadership or unconsciously gives it up in weak moments, when a new dog is added or a member of the pack dies or a dog other than the alpha pair has offspring.
In case of loss or weakness of the leader, the ranking of the pack, which has so far been kept exactly, dissolves and a not necessarily fair and for some owners surprising fight for the leadership of the pack breaks out.
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Problems with the pack
A new dog must be carefully introduced to an existing pack. With increasing age of the dogs it usually becomes more difficult than with young animals.
Even with well-educated dogs in a pack, a new dog can cause severe tension and aggression, which can lead to terrible consequences.
A prerequisite is, however, that the owner of the pack is also accepted and regarded as the pack leader by its members. Only one new dog may be introduced to the pack at a time and it is best if the dogs first meet on ‘neutral’ territory – not at home.
It is recommended to introduce the newcomer to the best and easiest dogs of the pack.
Once the pack has been separated, e.g. after a long walk or a visit to the vet, the utmost care is required. It is rare in nature for an animal to leave the pack.
Short separations are far less difficult to overcome, but after some time the pack members remaining at home start to believe that the dynamics of the group have now changed.
Normally the members of the pack have a certain behavior when a dog comes back to the group. Often the observance of the ranking is confirmed and checked again.
In case of longer separations it is recommended to get the dogs used to each other again individually.
Training of the pack
Often several dogs can be educated even more easily than a single one, because in the pack there is a group dynamics and rules, which the owner can easily make use of. The group coercion exerted by other dogs and the deeply rooted need of each dog to be a part of the pack is of great use.
Here one concentrates first on the dog of the pack, which radiates the largest authority and dominance. If one succeeds in giving its responsibility to the human as ‘alpha animal’, the low ranking dogs follow easily.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to work alone with this dominant dog of the pack until it accepts the owner as leader of the pack.
It can also be easier to raise young dogs and older animals separately in groups, as puppies are particularly lively and impatient.
Individual education of the pack members
Sometimes it is impossible to train two or more dogs at the same time. Also, there can be tensions between individual pack members, which excludes this.
It is best to train the reunion of the dogs after a separation for the first time. The dominant dog must have accepted the owner as the leader of the pack. The other dogs will gladly follow this example and the most problematic and most difficult dog will be saved for the end.
After a separation, the dog must be ignored for at least about 5 minutes until the dog submits to the owner. However, this varies in length depending on the character of the dog.
When the first dog is relaxed and has finished his greeting, the next member of the pack is added and so on. The dogs already in the room will rewind their ceremonies, which is completely natural. However, the time needed for this will be reduced.
If the owner remains calm and composed and thus demonstrates his leadership, the entire pack will have relaxed afterwards.
Next, you should practice coming on call. This will further strengthen the pack leadership.
For this the owner must call one of his dogs to himself and take up only with this one eye contact. If another dog comes, this must be sent away determinedly and friendly. The actually called dog will be rewarded and praised extensively.
This procedure must be carried out with all dogs of the pack one after the other. Whenever one of the not called dogs’ comes, the human being as leader of the pack has to ignore him and if necessary send him away friendly.
At first this seems to be a very exhausting task. But afterwards the ranking in the pack with the human being as leader has found itself!
The most powerful tool for the education and confirmation of pack leadership by human is the food distribution, both for a whole pack and for a single dog.
In nature, the alpha pair is always the first to be eaten, since it leads the pack in hunting and guarantees its survival. Thus, the pack leadership is demonstrated clearly before the eyes of all.
Therefore, it is the best way to emphasize the rank of the human being as leader over the dog pack. This should be applied right from the beginning and all persons of the household should be involved to make clear their higher position towards the dogs.
The consequent observance of the procedure is as always essential and for this reason the dogs should also be fed several times (two to four times) a day, for example in the morning and evening after the breakfast and dinner of the family. Puppies aged eight weeks should be fed about four times a day and older dogs should be fed twice a day.
The meal is prepared for the persons of the household – also possible children – and the dogs at the same place at the same time. In case of hurry, a simple snack, sweets or fruit is enough for the humans. The persons now eat their portions in front of the dogs, which clearly shows them their pack leadership and their upscale positions.
Afterwards the dogs receive their filled bowls as casually as possible. The hierarchy in the pack should be known and to avoid tensions among the dogs, everyone should have his own place to eat and only friendly dogs should eat together. Also, the bowls may not always be spent in the same order or these should be put down by several persons at the same time. This avoids that individual dogs feel disadvantaged.
If the dogs have eaten, the bowls are taken away from them immediately. This makes it clear to them that the human as the leader of the pack is also the breadwinner and determines when the feeding time begins and is over.
As a rule, the procedure has to be applied consistently for only a few weeks until the dogs of the pack have accepted the leadership. As a standard practice it can also not harm and strengthens the pack leadership permanently, because it could be questioned by the dogs again and again.