The Pack Experience
What you are about to
read are my hands-on experiences with 35 years of working with dogs. Being
of an obsessive compulsive nature, I have researched through thousands of
sources from books, journals, magazines, periodicals to natural videos,
National Geographic series, and other documentaries. Along the way of those
3 decades-plus, I have attended numerous workshops and seminars by dog
trainers, handlers, field & hunt trialers, judges and anyone else purporting
any experience with dogs. I have participated in countless animal science
courses and studies, so any similarities to anyone else's training methods
or theories is purely possible/coincidental. My philosophy when working with
dogs is very simplistic, give them dignity and try different things until
The Pack Experience Chapter 1
How many of our pet dogs have ever been allowed to experience their inherited, primal prerogative to be able to run in a social pack of dogs? This innate trait is paramount to the survival of the species in the wild. Although, some experts claim that dogs have been at man’s fireside for over 35,000 years, their instinct to form social packs is still intact and would if need be return to usage when dogs are left to fend for themselves, such as feral packs of dogs do in some of today’s urban & rural wastelands.
A dog’s ability to fit in and abide by the packs unwritten rules, to function according to the personality stamped at conception and to perform whatever role is associated with that particular personality, will determine if the individual dog will be accepted by the pack rulers and directly affect that dog’s ability to survive itself.
In working with dogs, in particular Labrador Retrievers for the best part of the last 35 years, I have accumulated an undocumented wealth of understanding of how important pack mentality affects the individual dog in its transition to be assimilated into man’s social environment. I use this knowledge and understanding on a daily basis with dozens of dogs and owners that come to me for training.
Those dogs that successfully integrate with man and provide the companionship that man desires are those dogs that would fit into a social pack of dogs with ease. Dogs that have been deprived of the pack experience, especially those that were removed from the dam and the siblings way before the natural weaning process took place, are the ones most likely to exhibit poor social skills needed for the integration process with either man or canine packs.
These socially deprived individuals will act in various inappropriate and un-predictable manner when confronted by any demands or minimal contact made by either man or dog. The mannerism make take the form of unsolicited dominant aggression or fearful aggression response, either of which could very well lead to an unprovoked physical attack upon man or dog. Other responses may be total submission by rolling over, urinating or cowering, total avoidance by running away, barking excessively, snapping, jumping, pawing and a myriad of other acts that have been documented in hundreds of books and articles authored by animal behaviorist, dog trainers and the like.
Those dogs that are brought to us for any type of training are evaluated for their individual personality, perceived problems and their ability to fit into a social group.
Before any training procedure is implemented with an individual dog, identifying their unique personality is essential for any successful treatment of that dog.
One of the first steps taken with any dog that comes to us for training is to determine how much of the pack mentality the dog possesses. How well the dog recognizes its surroundings and how it reacts to normal situations is the first step in the observation process. The observation process starts as soon as the client pulls up in front of our gates.
As we only accept clients by appointment, I will sit 75 feet from the gate and casually observe the interaction with the owner and dog as they exit the vehicle and walk towards the locked gate.
When we meet the client and dog for the very first time at the front gates, we have a short chat before I will open the gates, with the usual greetings and pleasantries being exchanged. I make no contact with the dog as I ask the owner to enter through our gates into a fenced section of our 5-acre property. As soon as the dog and owner have entered our property, I will ask the owner to remove the leash from the dog and allow the dog to act freely as we make our way to some chairs a distance of 75 feet.
Half way from the gate to the chairs, towards the right of the property is a row of 7 runs or pens, with each run measuring 6 feet by 12 feet. In these runs are housed dogs that are presently staying with us for development and training. Some are here for the 21-day Basic Obedience Training, while the majorities are here for training, conditioning and show handling. Although there are more of these runs further back in our kennel and farm, these serve to expose those dogs in training to the most traffic, both human and canine, thus this area serves as our “High Distraction Training Zone”.
This area also serves to expose the potential new client and their dog to a pack of dogs, albeit behind a fence, but non-the less, a resident pack of dogs that the new intruder most deal with. How the visiting dog deals with the resident dogs tells me a lot about the dog’s ability to integrate as a pack animal.
As we make our way to the chairs to sit and talk, the owner is asked not to communicate with their dog and to allow me to observe the dog’s reaction to its new surroundings. The new dog must content with an overpowering scent of all the dogs that are worked daily in our environment. As I also perform fresh artificial inseminations for many of the local breeders, stud dogs are brought in for extraction and bitches in full-blown heat are brought in for deposit, the senses are at full tilt.
As the new dog makes his way around the ¼ acre front yard, his each and every step is observed, as I casually talk with the owner. Some of these new dogs that come for evaluation will make his or her way to the 7 runs and make some type of contact with the penned dogs while others totally ignore that area of the yard.
Since the 7 dogs in the front yard are the most trained, on command from me, each dog there will settle down and this serves as a message to the new dog that I am in control. In essence, the fact that I am in control of this pack of dogs makes me the leader of the pack. This fact has already been noticed by the visiting dog, for dogs communicate by body language and all the body language that I have exhibited since his arrival outside of the property has told it that I am the “leader of the pack” around these parts.
The simple act of greeting him and his owners, opening the gate and allowing them inside, directing the movement of where we are to sit, the fact that I sit with my back to the resident dogs and a host of other innocuous and subtle signs are a complete open book to the vast majority of dogs that are brought to us for evaluation and eventual training. Notice that I say majority, for there are a few dogs that are devoid of this ability to “read” body language and these are the few that may not subscribe to the normal training methods.
The evaluation process eventually proceeds with a hands-on, physical manipulation of the dogs to further test out certain traits, however, 90% of the evaluation has been completed way before I even touch the dog.
Fitting into a pack is paramount for a dog’s survival in the wild, the ability for a dog to recognize the “pack mentality” is paramount for the dog to accept any kind of training.
TO BE CONTINUED. This will be an on-going essay on our training methods. This is installment #1. The succeeding installments will be listed at the Opinion's Directory and will be marked with the date of publication to the Website. Keep in mind that what you read here is "fresh" material and may not be found documented elsewhere, in books or by any other trainer. Any similarities to any other training methods are totally coincidental, as most of what I use in training has come about from trial and error through my 3+ decades of working with Labrador Retrievers.
The Pack Experience Part 2 measuring dog intelligence
The Pack Experience Part 3 dominant type dogs
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