‘Lack of a Natural Pack Leader’
Some thoughts on the truly Dominant Dog
Owning multiple dogs is always a challenge. But something that I was lucky enough to experience for 14 and a bit years was one that was a natural pack leader. A naturally dominant dog. In losing my natural pack leader this January I have found some interesting changes taking place amongst my crowd.
A naturally dominant dog is nothing like the stereotype bandied around by the silly things suggested as being ‘dominant behaviour’ by those who find the phrase fashionable. The stereotype of the humping, pulling on the lead, begging for food, getting on furniture, pushing through doorways and gates, growling at other dogs, canine. That dog couldn’t be further from a truely dominant dog. He is a dog that has found those behaviours work to get him what he wants or to another place quicker. Nothing more. Nothing less.
A truely dominant dog leads a fairly quiet life. He does a lot of watching. A lot of relaxing. A lot of avoiding confrountation and allowing lower ranking members to sort problems out amongst themselves. And very occasionally he takes swift and decisive action that is memorable and very rarely ignored by another well socialised dog. These dogs are, in my experience rare. They are also often known as the loners. The ‘sideline’ dogs. Because they rarely dive in and kick off and they certainly never display actions that in human terms would be ‘nag nag nag’ they tend to take a backseat really in a group of dogs. They do not come forward often to take charge because well socialised dogs know instinctively they are IN charge and therefore no display of that is needed.
That does not mean this dog is unfriendly or antisocial. Far from it. He will trot through life enjoying play, its just usually the rules of the game are, subtley, his, and the game always stops when he wants it too, even if the other dogs begs for more…he just blanks out the pleas.
Since Dylan died things have slowly become a little more confusing for the dogs at my house. Pack ranking, if you like to call it that amongst domestic dogs, is fluid in the main. One day you can watch your dogs and say ‘ahhhh you know I think *Flossy* is the bossdog here…’ Then the next day something happens and you think its actually ‘Bonzo’. That is entirely natural as its actually neither generally. They are middle rankers who will swap and change daily and of course, in a domestic environment the guidelines change daily. In a wild environment they do too amongst the middle rangers because of bitch seasons, pregnancies, litters, increasing age etc etc.
Its easy for a human to be what we view as the boss and it is essential of course that in the main you have a easygoing but foirm and clearly defined role to your household dogs as you being the ‘guv’. But there is nothing like having a canine natural pack leader in your household to keep things running really smoothly.
There is an awful lot of humping going on in my household (amongst the dogs Wink ) at the moment. This has noticeably increased recently since Shineys puppies have left. This may well be down to the fact that she has many of the traits of a naturally dominant dog, but lacks some of the self control of one. She also has no desire to take charge of situations unless they are entirely play based. The lack of a natural leader has meant that the others feel that they kind of, have to keep playing at seeking one out. The fact that everyone, at some time, appears game for the role means that none of them really are. I also know my current dogs and KNOW that, right now, none of them really are.
We have had little plays of bolshiness between the testosterone charged adolesent kid, Fish, and the other entire male, Deeds. Nothing serious, just a tendancy to stiff legged approach one another after Deeds has had a mating, or take a few steps towards each other at feed time. Generally speaking Fish is a middle ranker of the highest order, and Deeds would be asleep under a pile of leaves and not even acknowledge the word ‘rank’ exists (grin) BUT the lack of what they USED to have is what is driving them to try and establish one again.
A hell of a lot of backleg kicking after weeing and pooing is taking place. Something that virtually never occured when Dylan was around and something Dylan never once did in his life. The dogs are trying to kick their scent over as wide an area as possible. Another minor gesture of not having a pack leader around as that would be ‘insolent’ if there were one.
You don’t miss what you never had so quite probably if we had never had a leader dog here, we would not be having this interesting time of imbalance. The dogs clearly feel slightly lost without their canine leader.
I have noticed on walks, the bitches approaching litters and seasons that would usually be kept an eye on by Dylan are now on their own. They get hassle that just didn’t happen in the past. They have noone to watch their back and give them the confidence to stand up to the dog hassling them as they used to. They knew they had *heavyweight* back up in the past if things got extreme. Not so now. None of the others will bail them out.
Tension between the girls is spilling over in the way of rougher play than ever before. They are also randomly cleaning each other more where as they used to queue up to wash Dylans eyes and ears.
Tom the small puppy has not yet learnt not to dive into others food bowls when fed. In the past i would station the puppy next to Dylan and stand back. the puppy got one SERIOUS telling off and maybe the next day a serious threatening growl when approaching, and he never stole food again from other bowls. Now noone will step up the plate, so to speak, and do this. It will be my job. But I certainly won’t do it so efficently and conclusively.
They are clingier to me and Allan. They generally feel less settled. The clasp is missing from the chain.
These are just small things. Niggles. Spats. Arguments that never occured before. Displays of sexual behaviour between them that never occured. Deeds hassling the girls when he feels fruity – that would never have occured in Dylans time, or not really, only in play, and recently some of the hassle has had a more serious tone to it.
So its a facinating time for me as a ‘dog watcher’. Knowing the dogs involved personally also makes it double facinating. I don’t think many realise their truely dominant dog may sometimes be the quietest of their bunch because we are overloaded with the idea of noisey, raucous, out of control behaviours as being ‘dominant’.
I miss my natural born leader for so many reasons. For one, because him being so also made him my best and most respected friend. There was no employer/employee relationship. We ran the show together as two self employed individuals from the same company.
I hope you might enjoy any updates on how this may pan out, and also that you might possibly look to your own dogs and think about things in a slightly different way.
Di – June 2009
Dylan – My Natural Pack Leader…. and friend. 1994 – 2009.