The many different dog breeds we have today, from the huge Saint Bernard and Bernese mountain dog to the tiny Chihuahua, are all descended from wolves. Like wolves, dogs have a pack mentality, and understanding that mentality can help you become a better dog owner.
Alpha and Omega
Dog and wolf packs are hierarchical in nature. The top male and female are alphas. The omega dogs are at the bottom of the pack. Alpha dogs are in charge. They decide the pack rules, the direction the pack takes and wear the proverbial crown of power. Omega dogs are at the bottom of the pack. They are submissive creatures who give ground to other pack members. In the middle of the pack is a subtle ranking of dogs, including other dogs who aspire to be alpha one day. These dogs growl and posture and may even fight the alpha for leadership.
At mealtime, alpha dogs and wolves eat first. They can eat the choice parts of the prey and leave the rest of the carcass for the rest of the pack to divide up. Omegas eat last, if there is anything left to eat. This age-old tradition is why many canine owners believe people should eat first, then feed pets afterwards. Feeding pets in separate dishes after the humans eat reinforces that humans rule and dogs, well, dogs drool until humans decide to feed them.
Pack animals tend to sleep together, but even in a big cuddle puddle, the best sleeping arrangements are left for the alphas. Other dogs only cuddle with the alpha's with permission, and any dog can be ostracized and forced to sleep alone. This pack habit is one reason your pet would prefer to sleep with you but should only be allowed to do so with your permission. Preferably you will maintain the best position in the bed and the pooch is relegated to the bottom of the bed, but anyone who has slept with a Labrador retriever knows how hard it is to keep your fair share of the mattress.
When teaching your pet discipline, take a lesson from alpha wolves. Avoid barking. Use the tone of your voice, your stance and consistency as your favorite tools. The wolves who want to be alpha are the ones who mouth off. They have something to prove. You do not. You are already alpha and need to act like one. Consistent treatment of your pack lets them know what is expected of them. Prompt action against discretion tells them you will not tolerate disobedience far better than all the yelling in the world.
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