Your dog is a social pack animal. However, the way in which he relates to other dogs, people, and even other animals in his life is much different than how we humans relate to each other.
The nature of the dog’s pack instinct is such that he perceives any other animal (human, dog, cat, turtle) he comes into regular contact with as being part of his family, or pack. And how he relates to other pack members is largely governed by instinct and early socialization.
In any pack of dogs, either wild or domesticated, there exists a social hierarchy. Within this social hierarchy (similar to a pecking order) there is an alpha-dog (the pack leader), a beta-dog, and so on and so forth, with the weakest dog being at the bottom of the pecking order. The Alpha-dog is dominant to all the other dogs in the pack.
The Beta (second) dog is also dominant to all the other dogs in the pack, but subordinate/submissive to the Alpha-dog. And of course, the Omega-dog– the dog at the bottom of the totem pole– is subordinate to every dog in the pack and dominant to no one.
Keep in mind, while your dog is happiest when he has an Alpha-dog to provide him with firm, fair and consistent leadership, it is also his instinctive nature to want to better his position in the pack. In the wild, if the pack leader were to die or become injured, there needed to be another dog (the Beta-dog) ready to step in and immediately assume the leadership responsibilities for the survival of the pack. This is why, especially when training begins, your dog may test you to see if you are truly worthy of being respected as his pack leader.
Remember, the way in which dogs relate to each other is through dominant and submissive behavior. But what constitutes a pack leader and why is it important for dog owners to know this bit of trivia? Because the easiest way to establish, develop and promote a proper relationship between you and your dog is to work in conjunction with your dog’s natural drives and instincts. Your dog instinctively not only wants a pack leader, but needs a pack leader.
And what this means is that for him to be a happy dog, you must provide him with such leadership. Does this mean you have to adopt another dog which may be more of a pack leader? No! No! No!. Remember, your dog naturally relates to you as a pack member, so why not be his “Alpha,” or pack leader?
You… the Leader of the Pack
In the pack, it is the Alpha-dog who makes all the important decisions. The Alpha-dog decides when the pack goes to hunt, where they hunt, and when they return. It is the Alpha-dog who always eats first after a kill. And it is the Alpha-dog who leads the pack in much the same way a benevolent dictator would rule over his kingdom. Firm, but fair.
When you begin to develop a more proper relationship with your dog– by becoming his pack leader– you will generally see four things begin to change. Your dog will start respecting you like never before, he will begin responding to your commands (your commands will suddenly have meaning), he will bond to you much more closely, and he will begin actively wanting to please you.