(Republished from years ago. Leon, Jackie,and Jazz have since passed away. These are my dogs used as examples below of how individual pack members drive pack dynamics)
While science may try to dispute pack theory, there is no question that group dynamics are relevant and exist when dogs and/or humans hang out together. I first became aware of how a group of dogs could change with the introduction of just one new member when I used to volunteer to train Dobermans at Doberman Rescue Unlimited. In fact, the dynamic impressed me so much, that in the future I would like to offer rotating group classes where the individuals switch up constantly in order to improve obedience with a VERY powerful distraction.
There are many reasons why this new member may be fascinating to others, may be intimidated by others, may be bossy towards others, or may cause others in the group to be very concerned. Dogs are expressing themselves in a foreign language (to us humans) to each other that include body language, eye contact, mouth position, tail movement, and other various methods to which we are largely unaware, unless humans happen to be to dealing with groups of dogs on a regular basis.
A fair amount of my dog training business deals with multi dog issues. This relationship is more complex than a one dog to human family relationship. So many things may be affecting the dogs from unrealistic expectations of what the relationship should be, resource guarding, power struggle, geriatric issues, health issues, lack of training overall, nor rules or boundaries or allowing another dog to abuse another (just to name a few).
In my pack, some changes have started to launch the pack dynamics around here. One my grand dame, Jazz, has died. She has been the undisputed boss of the canines (besides myself of course) for 13 years with me. She was fair, just, tough, and fun all at the same time. Every time a new boarder came, the very first thing she did was lie on their bed with or without them. The message I believe was "you are welcome here, but understand this is my domain." Instead of upsetting the dogs with this, I noticed that all dogs respected and looked up to her. We have had many pass through here that sought to learn from her and definitely play with her. A very special presence has left me, my dogs, and my client's dogs lives.
It's not just that which has started to mix things up. Jackie had an unfortunate altercation with a daycare client who collided with him during a dash through the woods a few months ago. That seemed to change every one's demeanor for a bit, and start Jack off with bullying Leon (our other Doberman). At this same time, I have been getting Jack ready for open, which has launched his hardwired resource guarding issues. I readily admit that due to the amount of work to get him to where this is, I had put working him around key items on hold. Now that work is being done, which also means things that were simply managed before have made it to the training threshold point. This is not a short process that is solved in hours, days, or weeks. We are talking about months for improvement to take hold in a consistent and reliable fashion. Again, his brother, Leon, remained the favorite punching bag.
Therefore it's important to consider every one's needs or the Pack's needs if you will. Leon needs to feel safe and free in his own house. My husband and I need to feel that Leon's safety and the safety of our client's dogs are not in jeopardy. At the same time, even though it's concentrated training time for Jackie, his needs are also important in respect to exercise, attention, stimulation, and having fun. Training also remains an activity that can supply this, but it's important to know that your dog can not be in working mode 24/7. Service dogs, police dogs, and all sorts of dogs need a breaks even when they totally love their work.
A leader's most important tools in working with a project like this are knowledge of their dog's personality and triggers, rules and boundaries, consistency and a well thought out training plan. Mine has relied on the additional skills that my dogs know such as "place", "go", "fetch", "give", "out", "leave it" and "over". These are in addition to basic obedience skills of heel, recall, stand, sit stay, and down stay. A pack problem is truly difficult if you have done no reliable training work with your dog. Leon's fetch, for instance, has helped Jack understand that I approve of Leon "getting" items for me, and this is not to be interfered with.
It's not about dominance training or dominating Jack. My only goals are to 1) make it clear that Leon is not his to abuse, 2) make it clear that performing the commands has huge rewards, 3) remind Jack the benefits and joys of having Leon as his friend, and 4) teach Jack alternate ways to deal with his resource guarding. I did something like this with my dog, Neptune, and dog aggression many years back. It worked so very well, and I am beginning to see Jack pick up some understanding of this. Retreating, looking to me for direction, giving a look instead of attack, bringing his toy into his crate (by the way he is never unsupervised around toys) ET are all appropriate ways to get his point across.
Management had worked up until this point. I may not have even picked this battle up right now, except that Jack did two very inappropriate things that were inappropriate in two situations with Leon. Had these remained at a "let them work it out themselves level"; I may have chosen to regard this as an internal household mild issue that came up now and again. It became clear though that Jack was trying to gain inappropriate and damaging control of Leon, which was affecting Leon's quality of life. There is always the option of keeping the two dogs separate or always under strict supervision when together. In analyzing the situation though, I could see the additional work that could be done with Jack. Had I already met that threshold and no improvement had been made, this most likely would have been my solution to the problem. Jack always seems to improve even through my doubts on some things. For instance, the obsession he had with seaweed when we first got him. I didn't think he would EVER be able to just walk on the beach.
Be aware, relationships can change with your dogs, and it doesn't mean you need to throw in the towel. It may mean you need some help to evaluate exactly what is going on. Some are easy to solve, and some are more challenging. I have yet to see a multi dog situation that was not able to be resolved with a bit of elbow grease and maintaining some rules, boundaries, and consistency. That is not to say that there are not sometimes really wrong matches in dog relationships. Most of my cases to date have been dogs that have lived together for a long time, but "something" has changed the chemistry of the relationship.
Having problems in your pack?