To work with your own dog successfully and be able to modify its dog behavior in a positive manner, you’ll need to understand why it acts the way it does. No dog training will be successful without this basic approach. Necessary to this understanding is the fact that domestic dogs, like wolves, are pack animals by nature and all of their behavior is actually based on various aspects of pack structure and instinctive pack mentality. Even though they have been domesticated for centuries, every dog trainer knows that dogs still remain wolves “under the skin.”
Pack Mentality, and how it Relates to Dog Behavior
Every dog’s actions and reactions are deeply rooted in the highly social pack behavior shared with their ancestors; wolves. The relationships within wolf pack can explain a lot about the dog behavior that we see, even to this day. Once you understand pack behavior you’ll recognize the need to bond early with your dog, and become its leader.
A wolf pack is a hierarchy, and if forms the basis for today’s most basic dog behavior. It’s divided into layers, or levels, of dominance. At the top is the Alpha pair, the dominant male and female. Other females and sometimes young males are beneath them, and adolescents and cubs are at the bottom. All of the lesser animals are submissive to the Alpha pair; each individual in a lower level is in turn submissive to those in the levels above it.
This highly complex social order results in a strong familial sense and bonding between individuals in the pack. For protection, hunting cooperation, the raising of young, and company, wolves stick together. A wolf that is suddenly removed from its pack will suffer greatly from the seperation. It will be lonely, confused, and all at sea–a condition referred to by dog behaviorists as “seperation anxiety.” Because domestic dogs are also bonding pack animals, they often suffer from seperation anxiety when owners (their pack members) are away, even for a short period of time. A great deal of what is perceived as “bad” dog behavior can be traced to this. Once you understand the cause of the destructive or otherwise antisocial dog behavior when it’s left alone, you will be able to deal with it intelligently.
When you take a puppy or dog away from its family, or pack, to live with you, you replace that family and automatically become a member of your dog’s “pack”. It is vital for you to assume the Alpha position in your dog’s eyes immediately, not only to change the natural dog behavior into something more manageable, but also to make it feel more secure. Not only does your dog need your leadership in order to be secure and relaxed in the society of your home, but unless you seize this leadership (Alpha) role early in your relationship, you will have a constant battle with your dog for dominance.
You must also nurture you dog’s trust in you at the same time you establish your authority. Just as an older wolf in the pack treats the younger, more subordinate members with firm, consistent, affectionate leadership, you should become the kind, strong, uncompromising, Alpha leader your dog needs to look up to and please. I like to call this combined approach, “tough love.”
Dominant/Subordinant Dog Behavior
This brings me to the second most important aspect of pack social structure that affects you, your dog, and your dog’s behavior –the constant struggle for dominance within the pack.
Each of the Alpha animals can be challenged at any time by a lower-level individual. Should that lower-level animal succeed in the challenge, it will then become the Alpha animal until it is successfully challenged, and so on.
Because of this constant struggle for dominance, every wolf or dog is naturally either a leader or a follower at every stage in its life. Unless you want your dog to run you and your household, this means you will have to continously reinforce the leadership role you have established and allow no breach of your authority, or your dog will perceive that you are unsure of yourself and ripe for overthrowing. Some dogs will naturally challenge your leadership regularly. With individuals such as this, your reactions must be immediate and clear, to show that certain dog behavior is unacceptable. Once you allow a dog to get away with a challenge, you’ll have relinquished your leadership role and will have to go back to square one to establish your authority all over again.
Wolves and dogs use an elaborate system of body language, dog behavior, facial expressions, and vocalization to communicate within the pack. If you can learn to emulate some of these dog behaviors, you can communicate better with all dogs.
For example; a submissive wolf always lowers itself in the presence of a more dominant animal. If you’re aware of this you will never crouch down when you meet a strange dog, because this lowering action will appear to the dog to be a submissive form of dog behavior. The dog may then try to dominate you by showing aggression.
Aggressive Dog Behavior
There are basically four different kinds of aggression within the structure of a wolf pack, all of which can be exhibited in domestic dog behavior.
First of all, aggression is a natural component of the struggle for dominance in the pack. In order to overthrow a more dominant wolf, for instance, a subordinate animal must act in an aggressive way. At the same time, the dominant animal has to be aggressive to retain its position. Aggression can also stem from an animal’s need to protect its territory–its family and its living area. And, it can be the result of the natural food-guarding instinct I’ll discuss below.
An animal can also become aggressive when it’s fearful. Even a submissive dog or wolf may exhibit aggressive behavior when it feels cornered. In the wild, aggression is a necessary tool for survival.
But in normal human society it is not desirable or acceptable for a dog to display aggressive dog behavior toward either people or other animals.
Some dogs naturally exhibit more aggressive dog behavior than others, either because of their individual personalities or because of inbred characteristics. Others can be made aggressive by poor handling and training, totally destroying any inherit good dog behavior it may have been born with.
It is especially important to develop and retain a strong leadership position if your dog is naturally dominant, territorial, or possessive in its dog behavior. For your own safety and that of other people you must squelch any sign of aggression in a dog behavior immediately. As the strong leader of your dog’s pack, you have to show it you will not tolerate any aggressive actions on its part.
But at the same time you have to be careful never to hit or threaten a highly dominant animal. A dominant dog will interpret this type of action as a challenge and will feel it has been given license to try to overthrow your authority. You must show your displeasure in a non-challenging, dog behavior kind of way, just as another dog might–by scolding it firmly and using body language and vocal signals so the dog can interpret your meaning.
A strong, loving pack leader will never allow another animal to act in a way that might harm the welfare of itself or others. This is what you must bear in mind when dealing with a dog that shows signs of aggressive dog behavior.
That’s why it’s so important to retain your leadership role with your dog at all times. In your household “pack,” you must never allow your dog to get away with challenging your authority.
source; Dog Behavior Explained part 1