Dogs in multi-dog households do live together as a fixed social group, the members of which are determined by the owners.

When dogs live together in these forced social groups, do they have a defined structured hierarchy? Do groups of dogs have defined alpha, beta and omega members? Do they live by the definition of pack rules?

Surprisingly, they don't.Like human beings, dogs have individual personalities, and individual dogs value different resources to varying degrees.

DO MULTI-DOG HOUSEHOLDS
HAVE A STRUCTURED HIERACHY?

For example in my own household consisting of 6 dogs: Storm will assert himself when it comes to toys - his favourite resource, Buddy will assert himself in competition for hands on attention, Suzie and Charlie are food orientated and will steal food off other members and Ming's favourite thing to do is rush out of the door first and jump on the next dog out the door for a game.

They will take it in turns to instigated play and social interactions, and they will all at one time or another show either assertive or submissive behaviour to each other depending on which dog values the current specific resource. The notion that dogs have a linear hierarchical system i.e. alpha dominates all, beta dominates omega and omega gets no say in anything and must submit to everyone else, is not apparent at all.
In my house several of the so called 'pack rules' are broken on a daily basis - my dogs get fed before the family, are allowed on the sofa when invited, get a game or fuss sometimes when they ask for it, the family will engage in tug of war games (and sometimes the dog is allowed to win).

Despite this theoretical rule breaking, all my dogs are well behaved and generally obedient as they have been taught the rules of acceptable behaviour with positive reinforcement and consistency.

So despite the fact that they are allowed theoretical privilages according to pack rules, we do not experience any so called dominant issues.

IS BAD BEHAVIOUR LINKED TO DOMINANCE?


If an owner is experiencing problem behaviour, that individual behaviour must be looked at as an individual event and treated accordingly. There cannot be a 'cure all' answer for all training and behaviour problems, especially when trying to apply rules that have no foundation in the reality of dogs' social structure..Dominant behaviour has been used to explain every problem; some examples cited - the dog's status is too high if:

The dog ignores the owner's commands
(more likely to be a lack of training)

Showing aggression
(which could be for a number or reasons - including fear)

Jumping up, attention seeking, begging
(far more likely because the dog has been rewarded for these actions in the past) -

Pulling on the lead
(lack of training)
By applying a rank reduction program the owner is actually using punishment, which can seriously damage the bond and relationship between the dog and the owner, and can also stop activities that both owner and dog enjoyed and consequently remove much of the pleasure from the relationship.
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Perhaps an owner might consult a dog trainer because the dog pulls on the lead and when off lead will not come back when called. Pack rule theorists will say that the dogs' status is too high, and the dog is showing dominant behaviour.

In conjuction with dealing with the specific problem, the trainer might also ask the owner to assert their authority by applying rank reduction based on pack rule theory, for example stopping the dog getting on the couch. The owner is now made to feel that this mutually enjoyable activity is not only unacceptable, but indeed that this may have been one of the contributing factors of the dogs' disobedient behaviour.

Suddenly denying the dog access to the furniture, could potentially cause stress and confrontation, which is a far more serious problem. The trainer may ask for the feeding regimes to be changed, making the dog wait hours later than their usual feed time so the humans eat first.  Denying the dog the expected reward (food) constitutes punishment. Ignoring the dog when it seeks attention - withdrawing expected reward = punishment.

USING RANK REDUCTION BASED ON PACK RULES

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Instructor
"Saving one dog will not change the world,
but surely for that one dog,
the world will change forever."

Dog Training and Behaviour

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