Tuesday, 31 December 2013


An article publish in the Kennel Club Accredited Instructors Scheme newsletter ‘The Standard’ talks about this years latest fad ‘Yellow ribbons’. The editor Annie writes as follows;
“The buzz words this year have certainly been ‘yellow’ and ‘ribbon’. Put them together and you get the latest fad of tying a yellow ribbon to the dog’s lead. Why? Because you, the owner, feel that your dog needs space. The yellow ribbon is supposedly for the dogs safety and well-being. You tie it on the lead to show the world the dog is post-op, unwell, in season, old and grumpy, nervous, a pup in training, etc. and i don’t deny these are all laudable reasons on paper. However yellow ribbons plus any one of the above reasons means you are placing the dogs welfare on the shoulders of the general public and this is neither fair nor is it right. The owner/handler is the person who is both morally and legally responsible for the welfare and behaviour of the dog at all times; well or unwell, young or old, in training or in season. And what about nervous dogs who gaily tie a yellow ribbon to the dogs lead or put a yellow bandana round the dog’s neck expecting the public to get out of the way, just in case their dog takes a pop at another dog or a passer-by? the man in the street is (a) probably not going to see the ribbon tied on the lead and (b) if he does, will almost certainly have no idea of its significance.
Suppose the nervous dog with his yellow ribbon is frightened of babies in push chairs or kids on bikes - are these human targets supposed to see the yellow ribbon and take evasive action, possibly putting themselves at risk, just in case? Some nervous dog’s bite first and ask questions later. And be advised a yellow ribbon won’t mean a thing in a court case.
The way I see it, promoting the use of a yellow ribbon for any reason is like giving the handler a free pass for less than responsible behaviour and if things go wrong it will be the dog that will suffer.”

Monday, 30 December 2013


The Pack Rules theory was created in order to prevent the domestic dog from becoming the ‘Alpha Leader’ of the pack in the home. The ‘Alpha Leader’ would dominate the rest of the pack by intimidation. But where did this theory of dominance come from?

According to Barry Eaton in his book “Dominance in Dogs”, Dominance theory comes about from the following steps.

  • Wolf social structure is entirely explained by a linear dominace hierarchy in which there is a constant battle to be alpha dog and dominate the rest of the pack.
  • Domestic dogs are descended from wolves so the same must apply to them.
  • Domestic dogs are trying to dominate us.
  • We should issue a preemptive strike and dominate dogs by enforcing strict rules harshly.

Lets look at number one from the list above. This idea of a linear hierarchy producing the ‘Alpha wolf’ came from studies published by Rudolph Schenkel a prominent Swiss Biologist and Behaviourist. These studies were based on a population of captive wolves in the 1930’s and 1940’s. What Schenkel observed was wolves fighting for dominance and position. The studies were published in a paper entitled ‘Expression Studies On Wolves’. Captivity Observations by R. Schenkel. The observation took place in the Basle Zoological Gardens in Switzerland. Beginning in 1934 and completing in 1942. Schenkel did recognise the impact on the wolves behaviour from being held captive and extended the studies in length of time and other venues and different canine species to try to make some sort of comaprison. However the studies were later pronounced to be flawed in that they were studying wolves in a captive situation and not in their natural environment. The studies involved watching wolves that had been caught from diferent areas and put together in a Zoo environment. There were a number of males and females and different ages. Male wolves were observed fighting to be top dog to give them the right to mate with the top female. This coming together took part at the same time once every year. It was thought from this that indeed wolves did fight for ‘Apha’ position and that presumably this occurred in the wild. Schenkel did state in his paper that observations of wild wolf packs were not yet available to confirm these findings. It was therefore safe to surmise that since, as was thought then, domestic dogs were descended from wolves that the dogs behaviour if left unchecked would reflect what the captive wolves behaviour showed i.e. this dominance behaviour to be top dog. The theory goes on in that it was resonable to hypothesise that since most domestic dogs came into the house as a single dog then it formed a pack with its human members of the house. This is because both humans and dogs are typically social species. So now that a pack was formed, which included a dog, then the ‘fight’ for top dog or ‘Alpha’ was inevitable.

Miya and Caleb enjoying the surf off the coast of Cheswick…Sep 2013

How the dog would try to dominate us was similar to how the Alpha pair expressed their dominance in the captive wolf pack. The captive wolf pack would eat the kill first, leaving the scraps for the rest of the pack. The Alpha would lead the way when moving about the area leading the pack deciding on where and when to go. The best spot in the den, high up over the rest of the den would be were the alpha pair lay, lording over the rest of the pack. This ‘theory’ was the basis of early training in obedience with many dog trainers and indeed it is still the preferred training method for many trainers. Traditional methods of training tell us that we must dominate our dogs before they dominate us. To make sure our dogs did not show these ‘Dominant’ behaviours a list of ‘Do’s and Don’t’s’ were created by early trainers for training the domestic dogs. This list is often referred to as ‘The Pack Rules’. Some training clubs actually passed out copies of these Pack rules to its members to help them. there are still training clubs today which still advocate the Pack rule theory of dog training. So what are the Pack rules.

The diagram above shows a list of some of the pack rules described in Barry Eaton's book.

The list above shows most of the pack rules that trainers use:
  • Never feed the dog before the rest of the family.
  • Never let your dog up on the furniture or bed.
  • Never let the dog lie in doorways between rooms
  • Never step over a dog thats lying down always make the dog move
  • Always go through a door or gate first before the dog
  • Never let the dog pull on the lead
  • Don't respond to a dog that comes looking for attention.
  • Never play tug games with your dog and never let them win
  • Stand in your dogs bed to show them your are top dog
  • Force the dog into a down position
  • Make the dog do an ‘Alpha’ roll (Force the dog down and roll it onto its back in a submissive position)

All of these rules are meant to instil in the dog that you are top dog and they are further down the pecking order. There is another issue regarding the theory and application of Pack Rules. The theory does not take into consideration the condition of the dog, the age of the dog or any health conditions. All of which will have an impact on it’s behaviour and at different times. 
The above is based on the theory that domestic dogs behave like wolves when in a pack situation i.e. the home. But recent evidence refutes this theory and suggests that in fact wolves do not behave anything like what is described above. In a book edited by David Mech a world renowned Wolf expert, He writes that wolf packs in the wild are generally made up of families. the adult breeding pair male and female and usually their siblings and their siblings offspring (sometimes known as an extended pack). Within this unit the adult pair don't always eat first, they don't always decide the best route to take, nor are they the only ones that initiate play or take the best places in the den. Mech L.D. (2003) Leadership in Wolf, Canis Lupus, Packs. Canadian Field-Naturalist.”

Having said that, the domestic dog will try to steal food, pull on the lead, try to get through the door first, find the best spot to lie down and may grumble when approached or asked to move. So if not dominance then what other reasons could there be for these behaviours.

Barry Eaton offers us an answer in his book Dominance Fact or fiction. “Dominance is a concept found in traditional ethology that pertains to an individuals ability to maintain or regulate access to some resources. It is not to do with status”.
What this means is that dogs will do ‘whatever’ they can get away with in order to get access to or keep something that they desire. That could be wanting to get out the door for a walk, or not giving up a shoe or sock when told, or wanting to get to the park as quickly as possible because its exciting. Not because of status.
The following are some examples of were this ability to regulate or maintain access to resources might be the explanation to certain behaviours rather than status building.

Always eat before feeding your dog.
This rule is based on the idea that the ‘alpha’ wolf always eats first in the pack in the wild. traditional training methods therefore tell us that to enforce our position as pack leader in our human/dog pack, we must eat first. There are however a few issues with this particular ‘rule’. Firstly, not in any TV programmes I have watched on Discovery or National Geographic channels or in any of the many books I have read on the subject have I ever seen or read where a pack of wild animals line up behind the ‘Alpha pair’ eating a fresh kill in the middle of the desert waiting their turn in hierarchal order to feast on the kill. David Mech a senior scientist with the Biological Resources division in the US has studied wolves in the wild since 1958 and has written that in fact if kills were small then the breeding pair of wolves would eat first, but if food were scarce then the pups would eat first. If the kill was big enough then all the pack members would feed together regardless of rank. Indeed in times of scarcity pups are fed first to ensure their survival as a species. Mech L.D. (1999) “Alpha, status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs.” Canadian journal of Zoology.
Closer to home, logistically, if we were to adopt the method above of eating first then we would need to ensure all the family members were present to feed before the dog were fed to ensure the dog knew that all family members were above it in the rank order. This would need to happen ‘every time’ the dog was fed. As a puppy the dog could be fed up to four times a day and night. How would your children take to being woke up in the early hours of the morning to have something to eat just to reinforce their rank in the pups eyes. In my house the family members tend to be either spread out in many rooms watching TV or playing games consuls and most times we don’t even get home at the same time so synchronise feeding times and would be almost impossible in our house.

Keep the dog off the furniture.
Early research suggested that the ‘Alpha wolf’ maintained the highest spot in the den as a sign of its status. It is there fore vital to an owners rank that they never let the dog sit higher than them, for example on the sofa or bed. As this will raise their status. One of my dogs is a 10 year old Lab called Ben. He loves to sit up on the sofa at night with me watching the telly. Why, because his old bones are sore and he likes the warmth and soft bedding the sofa gives him. does he think he is higher than me? No. does he do it because its better than lying on the laminate flooring? Yes. But most importantly does he get down off the sofa when I tell him to? Yes. Individual owners will differ in their views on this. Some will not want their dogs up on the leather sofa and or their beds. Some will be quite happy to have their best buds sitting up next to them or sharing their beds. This is largely down to personal preference. I allow my dogs up on the sofa but they are not allowed up on the bed. The most important thing is that they are not allowed to refuse to get down when told, any attempt on the dogs part to guard the sofa or bed as a resource should be strongly discouraged through proper training. Most of these problems can be avoided by training the dog to come up only on invitation.

Never let your dog pull on the leash.
“The Alpha always leads from the front.” At least that is what early observers wrote when studying captive wolves. When going on a hunt the alpha would dictate the route and speed at which the rest of the pack went. By allowing our dogs to walk out in front of us pulling us along on the lead we are therefore allowing the dog to elevate its status deciding on where we should be going. In reality it is not always the ‘Alpha’ wolf that dictates the direction or pace. Within the family unit Mech has observed many occasions were a sibling has taken the lead in a hunt. As for the dog pulling on the lead. the reason is most likely to be because he wants to get were he is going as quickly as possible because its rewarding to him. But more importantly he probably hasn't been taught any different. By proper training we can encourage our dog to walk beside us by making the behaviour rewarding to them and praising them when they do. To get my dog to walk to heel I adopted the method of stopping and standing still whenever he got to the end of the lead whilst we were walking. and only after he came towards me giving me a slack lead would we proceed. In this way I removed the reward of moving forward whenever he pulled and replaced the reward with a reward of my own for walking on a loose lead, (Not necessarily right at my side). Never let your dog pull on the lead is correct, the last thing we want is to be dragged down the street possible pulling us over and injuring us. This especially true with elderly and younger handlers. There are times however when we want the dog to pull us on the lead. for example during recreational sports like sledging, Canicross and Scootering.

Never play tug with your dog and never let it win.
The theory suggest that wolves in the wild wold tug on a piece of meat and the higher ranked wolf would always win. In actual fact what the wolves are doing is tugging on a particularly tough piece of meat in order to break it up. Each wolf will eat what it ends up with. Playing tug with your dog is a good way of bonding with it. However to avoid any potential conflict through resource guarding of the toy, the dog should be taught a good ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it command’. If the handler keeps winning and never lets the dog win, how long would it be before the dog decided this game is no fun.

Never let a dog initiate play or seek attention.
According to Mech (2003) in his book ‘The Wolf. The ecology and behaviour of an endangered species. He writes “The psychological tendency to form strong bonds results from a mere desire for physical contact.” If a dog and its owner are to co-habit in a harmonious environment they have to form a strong bond. This will often result in the dog seeking attention from its owner. either for contact or to initiate some playtime. Like every other behaviour some thought has to be put into ensuring that this behaviour doesn't become too demanding. And through proper training and consistency the dog can be taught when its ok to initiate play and when to go and lie down for a few minutes.

In summary ‘Pack Rules’ as a training theory were devised from flawed research which was carried out on captive wolf packs which did not represent the true behaviour of wild wolf packs. The captive wolf packs were mostly made up of wolves from different parts of the world, different sexes, different ages and different families. Within these packs there were often skirmishes to establish a leading pack member. In the wild however I have shown that wolf packs were made up of a family unit, which existed in a much more harmonious environment. Studying the behaviour of wolves in captivity and suggesting this is normal wolf behaviour is like studying the behaviour  of prisoners in a maximum security prison and claiming that this is how behaviour is exhibited in normal society. Its not. Its also said that if dogs were cast out into the wild they would soon resort back to their wolf like behaviours since they are evolved from wolves. They would no more do this than humans would act like monkeys if left out in the wild. I have tried to show here that rather than status being the reason why the domestic dog behaves in a certain way it is more likely that it is their desire to ‘maintain and or regulate access to valuable resources’ that will be behind these behaviours. And if we are to reduce these unwanted behaviours we must do it through proper training like redirection and encourage them to offer an alternative behaviour which we then provide a much more rewarding outcome for.