Throughout history, our beloved friends who sit on our living room floors originated from a highly intelligent and social creature- the wild wolf. Since initiating a long study into wolf behavior, my philosophy and work with dogs has changed tremendously. I have found that by treating domestic dogs more like the animals they originated from, I have been able to solve and prevent severe behavioral problems from occurring with tremendous success. I ask you to open your minds into thinking of your dog in wolf terms and allowing these simple rules and education to play a part in your every day lives. This is the language and the soul of the wolf- not the ideas of a human being. Those that live their life in the wild taught me the following…
1) FEEDING THE MIND (The Hunt, The Chase, The Kill):
Wolves spend mornings and evenings looking for food. When they spot a heard of Elk, much thought is put into the role they play in the chase, how to expend the least amount of energy possible, figuring out the easiest and weakest animal to take down, stalking and then chasing & bringing down the animal. Once the kill is made, the alpha or alpha pair eat first and decides who gets to eat or who has to wait their turn.
When domestic dogs eat, the food is given to them with sometimes no rules established, rank in pecking order or work prior to eating. Some dogs get a free buffet all day! By setting rules and routine during the feeding process, you are taping into your animal's natural instincts. Feeding time is one of the most important times in your dog's day. In order to speak their language, we need to mimic the hunting drives within them. The following should take place every morning and evening before eating:
Play is like school. Through play, wolves and dogs are able to practice and use skills that they would need to hunt prey in the wild. They see who can run the fastest, spin around, jump and co-ordinate or come up with agile moves. Play also can work out issues within the pack, keep social status by keeping younger members down in rank, etc. Play can also teach confidence to puppies and younger members. Some wolves will allow a pup to get above them to teach them how to become confident. You can control your dog's confidence in the same way. By playing a game such as tug of war, the more you let your dog win, the more their confidence will rise. The more you let your dog loose, the more their confidence will decrease. However, if you always win or you always loose- the game is not much fun and your dog will get bored.
If your dog tries to engage you in play, you can either reciprocate or not. Play however can come at times of celebration such as after training or even after eating once the stomach has settled. This is very important to the dog's state of mind as most play involves quick movements and thinking. Just as a human plays a sport, which involves agility, thinking and quick decision-making, your dog receives the same mental and physical exercise. Not only that but wolves and dogs can think of this time as recreation- they love it and it's fun! Play can also come in different games such as ball chasing, Frisbee, tug of war, etc.
3) THE ALPHA'S ROLE:
The role of Alpha Male and Alpha Female are the two most fundamentally important roles of the pack. In order for the pack to have longevity, these two provide not only the gene pool base but also leadership. As a human, you are providing your dog with the same essentials as a pack leader would. You provide food, water, control, direction, boundaries and rules without even knowing it. If your dog has ever been on a leash or in a house, you've already asserted control and provided shelter. An alpha pair or single alpha wolf will provide the same direction. They tell the pack when to move, when to hunt, lead the way most of the time, find the food, find water and an alpha female provides a den for her puppies. So long as your dog is living in your house, goes on a leash and eats the food that you provide for him, he already sees you as the alpha. Where your dog gets confused and where most behavior problems start is when you start giving him mixed messages. Some of these include: Allowing your dog on your furniture or in your bed, letting him lead you on the leash constantly by pulling you down the street, not providing rules and boundaries, letting him push through doors first, allowing your dog to tell you what to do or any dominant or pushy behavior. If you are giving your dog mixed messages by saying you are the alpha in one context but relinquishing your control in others, your dog may start showing signs of dominancy, anxiety, fear, confusion, depression or aggression. You want to make sure Fido understands that you are the boss all the way around. When this is done, your dog relaxes and is happy and problem-free.
Being an alpha male or female is about attitude. You have to present yourself as confident but kind, fair but tough, loving but firm. Before praise is given, leadership has to be proven, as this is the way of the wolf and the way of your domestic dog. To show strength, confidence & leadership means safety and security to your pet.
The highest form of dominance is to ignore. A true Alpha will never get into a fight- they don't have to. By asserting your leadership through strong body language and attitude, you'll never need to get in a fight either. Your dog will understand that you mean business just by a look you give or even a growl. It's a part of all canine's nature to try to get to a higher position in the pack even if they aren't successful. This may occur for some dogs on a daily basis. The more submissive dogs may not need to test the limits as often. However, if something happened to you as the leader, they would take over that position in the pack naturally. If you've ever observed wolf and dog behavior, you would see that by putting a submissive adult dog around puppies, their confidence would rise. By putting a confident dog around older more alpha dogs, the confidence would decrease.
It is important to all dogs that you have rules. Some can be as simple as not going to the bathroom in your house, not allowing a dog up high (only the Alpha wolf will sit high above the pack on a rock), not getting under your dog or on their same level on the floor, going out doorways first, etc.
It's also important to ignore during times when you most likely as a human want to praise. For instance, when you come home from work… Instead of getting your dog more excited with hugs and kisses when you walk in, ignore them for five minutes until they are calm. Once they are calm, you can give praise. By acting aloof, we set the stage when we walk in the door.
An Alpha male- when a wolf pack is threatened will stand tall against danger. When all the other wolves run for safety into the forest, it is the Alpha that faces the danger head on and remains ready to fight. You are the protector of your dog. You make the decision of fight or flight for your pack. You need to protect your dog in all situations especially with other dogs and children. Should you be walking down the street and a dog comes out of no where and attacks your best friend, the friendship or connection will now have mistrust because the dog doesn't feel that as the Alpha, you are protecting him. It is essential that your dog feel safe although unfortunately, not all situations can be prevented.
Many times someone will get a breed such as the German Shepherd or Rottweiler. They have chosen this breed to protect them. This is a mistake. If you want your dog to help you protect you in the pack, you must still show leadership. When your dog feels safe, they thrive. Lack of leadership presents confusion which is a distraction from protecting you. You must relate to your canine in pack terms like a team or family.
4) THE STRESS FACTOR:
After a three year long study was done on Alpha and subordinate wolves in Yellowstone National Park, it was found that elevated stress hormones were more common in Alpha wolves then subordinates. (Credit: Yellowstone Wolves: In the Wild by James C. Halfpenny) This is interesting because subordinate wolves tend to have other pack members releasing their aggression on them and are picked on constantly.
Psychologically, when you are a true Alpha wolf and your dog is a subordinate member, you are relieving them of stress.
5) SHARED RESPONSIBILITY:
In your household, there may be two adults living under one roof. It is important to understand that the Alpha pair (you and your partner, roommate, family member husband, wife, etc.) should share the responsibility of leadership. It should not just come from one member in the household but if possible two. This can also go down the line into children who are old enough to understand this role as well as down to your actual dog. Previously, we talked about a security or protection dog. This is a good example of shared responsibility to protect your territory. The security dog should not run the show rather the dog learns it is his responsibility within your pack to protect your territory (i.e., car, home, office, etc.). You are still the leader. However, the dog is fulfilling his share of the responsibility.
6) ACCEPTING NEW PACK MEMBERS:
Each day, thousands of dogs across the country attend dog parks; see each other on walks around the neighborhood, and meet one another on social terms. It is fundamentally important that we teach our domestic dogs from a young age to accept new potential members of the pack. It's un-natural for dogs to be running around meeting so many other dogs these days but as a part of our society, they should and have to do it. When attending a dog park session, it is important for you to treat the social interactions between dogs greeting each other as new prospective members of your pack. When walking into the dog park, you should still show your alpha status to all who are there. It makes a big difference if the dog has been to the same park many times or if it's a first visit. If they go to the same park everyday, they're going to treat it as more their territory than a first time visit. As the alpha, you may make all the decisions when meeting other animals. If you welcome another dog into the park by a successful greeting, so should your dog. If you show aggression to another dog, your dog should back you up. Obviously, we don't want to show aggression but a sense that you welcome in all dogs to your pack. If you've ever watched two dogs behind a fence and the subordinate member starts barking at another dog passing by, the alpha will turn on that dog to say "I'm the only one that barks here- not you". That is your relationship with your dog when greeting other dogs or people. Should your pet bark or become aggressive, you should get after him to say that it's your job to initiate the aggression- not his.
6) PUPPIES AND YEARLINGS:
As much as the socialization process is a key element in very young dogs, so is the case with wolves. From birth until about five months old, wolf pups (males and females) must learn to become social members of the pack. With young dogs from six weeks to six months, it is vitally important to socialize and continue doing so throughout the life of the dog. A common problem I see is from vets and breeders insisting not to socialize until all shots are given. This however is a big mistake and I'll explain why… The most crucial socialization stage in a puppy's development takes place between six and eight weeks. Although making sure your pup does not pick up a disease, there are ways of getting around this. What I do is take puppies to meet people and other dogs by holding them. So long as your pup doesn't smell an area where other dogs have gone to the bathroom, you should be o.k. I suggest to my clients to take their puppies to outdoor malls, outside grocery stores and even carry them outside a dog park. If you let your pup greet people at this valuable time and let them watch other dogs socialize, the benefits cannot be captured at a more crucial stage in their development. By holding your dog up, you are not allowing exposure to disease.
Wolf puppies learn a lot from each other. They socialize, play, practice future hunting moves and start establishing pecking order with each other. These elements are necessary for survival. Such is the case for puppy dogs. It's a very good thing to allow your pup to play with other puppies once you receive them so long as those puppies are for a fact- healthy. It is also good to allow your puppy access to adult dogs that are not in their geriatric stages of life. Adult dogs (so long as they do not hurt your puppy) can teach them a lot more than a human can. Very dominant puppies can become more submissive by being placed around good adult dogs. Be forewarned though- your puppy can learn good AND bad habits from an adult so make sure your adult gets some good training in first before bringing home another dog.
One of the most important elements in a wolf's life is up until about two years of age. A big part of a wolf's survival is the hunt, kill and chase. Adult wolves will start puppies on dead mice then on half-alive small prey such as mice, squirrels and rabbits. The wolf puppies have to understand the association between food and kill. Your puppy should associate the same thing. Just as adult dogs are psychologically developed in this manner, the hunt, kill, chase-feeding program should start at a very young age. This may include playtime first (if they are two young for exercise), giving the puppy a command before feeding them and then they eat. As your dog gets older, more exercise can be weaned in at the right age. Too much exercise in young puppies can lead to improper bone development however. Always check with your vet first to decide how much exercise can be given for your breed and at what age the exercise can be increased…
As wolf puppies play with mice and small prey, this is the time to start implementing play with toys in young dogs. Again, we want to mimic as closely possible to what would take place in nature. By playing with toys first and eating after, we are duplicating the hunt, kill, and chase philosophy.
As wolf puppies get older, they start to go on real hunts. This can be very challenging as they have to learn to stalk silently, go after weak members of a heard, when to make a move vs. when not to and finally- the chase and kill. Wolf puppies make many failed attempts before success is rendered and if it weren't for the older adults making the kill, they may go hungry.
As your dog gets older, it is important to challenge them to work for their food. Getting your dog to use their brain at this stage is crucial. Teaching them to make choices and decisions through training is critical. I teach many young dogs a lot of tricks. It's not because I want them to become the next Lassie or Rin Tin Tin but rather to start getting them to figure out solutions to receive food. By doing this, you are creating more activity in the brain which will only help your dog learn to problem solve in the future.
7) THE HUMAN ELEMENT:
Preventing problems from occurring in domestic dogs is one of the most important elements of my interactions with my clients. I have found after twelve years of starting my business and a lifetime of working with these creatures that their psychology is simple- yet the human element is the one complicating factor. Because our society is ever evolving and changing, we are forcing our pets and domestic animals to change too. It's not just happening in dogs but in many other species of animals. Horse people are finding that many women who are not having children right away but have successful careers want stallions. Pet clothing, cat strollers and furniture, vet services, kennels and doggie day cares are booming. More and more humans are staying single longer and more have decided not to have children right away. Moms and Dad's that send their kids away for college want a replacement child so they get a pet. The evolution on our furry friends has a human element that must not be forgotten…
Many people get pets now to receive un-conditional love, companionship, a furry child or friend. We must not forget that these animals are not far off from the wolf. To humanize is something they don't understand. Your dog would pick up their own survival instincts much faster if you left the front door open for them to roam the earth than teaching them to live life as you do like human. You can't make a dog think like a human. You can make a human however, think like a dog. Both human and dog, understand wolf. We have many of the same social elements as a wolf in our every day lives. When you go to work, you have a boss or you may be the intern- who's the subordinate here? When you eat your food, you may be hungrier after you exercise. Why is that? Because humans used to hunt for food. Wolves are our teachers. As primitive creatures- we used to watch them hunt. They have given us much more than we have given them. Now the question is raised: did dogs domesticate us or did we domesticate the dog? History has many different theories on this idea but I believe in the intelligence of the wolf. After our hunts, they became somewhat scavengers of our scraps. By living close to these creatures we started the human element by giving them food in return for companionship. Over time, we took the most social wolves to breed and before you know it, we have the dog that sits before you today.
Persecution, selfishness, money and hunting have lead to the extermination of the wolf in most parts of North America. Wolves are fearful and shy of humans with good reason to be but we have a piece of them within our soul. So does your dog except on a higher level. The majestic traveler, the family existence of the wild wolf is something we can all learn from and to give back to your dog a sense of what Mother Nature has intended is priceless. Just take your dog out into the woods and explore. You as the leader, he as the lower pack member. See how he lights up with a smile when you take off on your journey into the unknown. When you come home, watch him rest and relax in peaceful harmony for the rest of the day. This is the way of the wolf and this is the way of our human ancestors.
8) DOGS LEARNING FROM WOLVES:
I once did an experiment with my three German Shepherds and a female wolf fence to fence next to one another. I was interested in seeing the effects a wolf's behavior has on a domestic dog. I observed that the female wolf was very clear in her communication. When she growled or engaged in play, there was no mistaking it. Her growl although threatening in dog's terms was a normal wolf growl with just a warning behind it. Interestingly, this growl sent enormous messages to my dogs. Both the dogs and the wolf understood each other completely in their communication styles. Had my dogs been at this wolf sanctuary for a long period of time, they would learn to howl with the other wolves. This has been observed with other domestic dogs living around captive wolves that do not know how to howl. It would not be far fetched to say that a domestic dog such as the German Shepherd or Alaskan Malamute could become part of a wolf pack in the wild. I noticed that the female wolf was able to- with one communication; send a message clearly to my dogs, which may have taken another dog longer to do. There was no mistake as to what she was saying and my dogs listened intently.
They engaged with her in play and respectively backed off when she wanted them to. This wolf was able to be so clear in her communication that the three German Shepherds did not push the limit. This proved to me that not only do wolves and dogs speak the same language but also wolves have the power to teach dogs on a different level. It's just like learning things from your high school teacher vs. a Harvard professor… The wolves are much more intelligent than dogs and can teach them more than any other dog or human can.
8) SOLVING SEVERE BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS USING THE WOLF METHOD:
To not take away that there are some severe behavior cases that involve medical conditions such as thyroid, brain tumors, etc. Or some dogs that cannot function without the help of medication and rigid behavior modification, many behavior problems even severe ones can be solved by going back to wolf behavior in the wild.
An example of this would be the case of a severely dominant and aggressive Rottweiler named Jake. Jake has gotten so aggressive that he has slowly stopped letting his owners in their own home without biting them. The reason for this has been lack of leadership throughout Jake's life and also a lack of exercise off the property. The bites have gotten so severe that his owners have received stitches to their legs and arm.
In this particular case, Jake needs to see someone as a leader and fast. He is confused in his position. Although Jake looks very mean he is actually incredibly stressed out and unhappy living life this way.
To begin, I ask the owners not to feed Jake for one day. No treats, no food whatsoever. I'm going to put him back into fasting mode. This would be the same if he was scavenging for food on the streets or if he were a wolf. He may not be successful in hunting for one, two or maybe even three days before eating a big meal so now he's going to have to work for it. Wolves can travel up to twenty miles or more to locate food. Jake will now have to travel to find his food and I as the leader, will take him there.
Jake sees humans at this point as subordinates or potential threats to his position in the pack. His territory is well marked which is a warning for me or other humans to stay out.
Before arriving the second day to meet Jake, I ask the owners to put Jake in his crate or kennel. This first session is between Jake and myself. Both dogs and wolves tend to do better with females than males. This I have observed from captive wolf experts that allow people to interact with wolves on a one on one basis. The human female is less threatening than a male because of our energy. Male's present more testosterone, which to a dog of this nature can be threatening. Males also tend to give off natural dominant- energy. Therefore as a female, my chances of rehabilitating this dog can be a bit quicker than a man's because I am not here to physically dominate Jake. I am here to psychologically dominate him. With this type of aggression, to physically dominate will cause more damage, which is not good.
I show up with a hot dog upon my first meeting and was welcomed into the house by Jake's un-easy owners. I can hear Jake full-forcibly attacking the kennel from inside the back bedroom. I wait until he settles down a bit. I put a small piece of hot dog in my hand and walk into the room. He attacks the kennel again by barking and growling viciously. I ignore him and stand in the room. Eventually, he calms down. Once he calms down, I move closer to the crate. He again, tries to go after me. I ignore him. He calms down. I throw in a small piece of hot dog into his crate and he eats it. I move closer and again we repeat the same thing over again. This is the morning and time for Jake to eat. He will not receive food now until he is calm and he's catching on rather quickly. When I move, he goes into prey drive. Jake now understands that I am in control of the food. He is also getting that being calm means reward. I have now become an alpha female and I'm treating Jake like my puppy to regurgitate some food into the den but just as a wolf, I can teach him to be calm and not bother me so much before he eats.
I ask the owners to prepare a small meal for him and they bring it into the room in his bowl. Jake goes nuts again. I wait it out. He's calm so I put the food on the floor. I move with the food on the floor- now he wants to eat and is focused on his food bowl instead of me so I give him some kibble with my scent on it. He eats it- now we're on to something. I walk around the room again and Jake looses focus and barks at me. I leave with his food in hand not to return until that night. I instruct Jake's owners not to feed him again.
The second session goes smoother and now this dog is hungry. It's been almost two days since he's had any food and he knows now that as the leader, I control the food source and I decide when he gets to eat. This time Jake isn't so inclined to be as aggressive with me. I'm now able to use his food bowl to my advantage. With his meal on the floor, I can move back and forth without him acting aggressively. I reward him with small bits of kibble.
Now it's time to get him on a leash. I take control again of the food and hold the bowl in my hands while the owners put the leash on. The owners hand me the leash, bowl gets put away and Jake and I go out for a hard hour walk and run. By the time we get back, Jake is exhausted. I have his food bowl in my hands and he is starting to trust me taking over his position. I put Jake back in his kennel. I place the bowl on the floor with chicken in tin foil inside the bowl for me to eat. I eat on all fours, out of his bowl just like a dog while he drools and watches me.
When he gets up, I growl at him hovering over the bowl asserting my status. When I decide I'm finished and Jake is now in submission, I open the crate door and he eats his food. Now I'm in control of the pack. Now it's time to have the owners do what I just did.
In order for this dog to thrive in his new position, it is important to place strict rules on the entire family. Two hours of exercise a day, giving Jake a job through training and using food as control. For this situation, control will now be placed on every aspect of this dog's life except while he's at rest. He is under strict rules around the house- no more babying and more importantly, the owner have to become now the wolves. They have control on where and when he goes to the bathroom, where he sleeps, when he sleeps, eats, plays and exercises etc. There is a reason why the alpha's have higher stress levels- in some cases it's a lot of work!
As time goes by and the owners take the lead, we see a different dog. The aggression is gone but they will always be tested. Jake has now taken a sigh of relief in his new position and is a carefree, well-rounded and balanced dog…
Another example is severe dog aggression. Daisy, an alpha female wolf whom I've done work with, was notorious for causing severe injury to males that would go after her food stash or try to flirt with her. One injury cost another wolf his life over a piece of meat. Wolves will kill or injure other wolves if they ask for it. The biggest killer to adult wolves at Yellowstone is other wolves. Because their territories are so close to one another, conflicts arise frequently. If however, Federal law in the park did not protect the wolves; the biggest killer would be human hunting.
Should a wolf cross a boundary line or territory, that wolf is at danger of attack. If a wolf threatens another wolf's position, they may also be at risk of attack.
Daisy is a prime example that within every dog, within every man, there is a breaking point. Whether defensive, prey, inter-male/female, territorial, resource guarding, etc. A dog can unleash havoc on another animal.
Down in Florida, I worked on a "dangerous dog" case where a German Shepherd had killed a Daschund for no reason. This dog had gotten worse and worse over the years and had previously gotten off leash and attacked several other canines. Lack of socialization was the main factor and lack of leadership was another. Again, it is so important to think of yourself as the first one to bark or growl- not your dog. In this particular case, I used my three German Shepherds- two males and a female. The animal that I was working with was named Gretchen or "Gretch" for short. I used a prong collar with Gretchen and a six-foot leather leash. In some cases, prong collars are used to mimic another dog's bite. I cannot bite Gretchen when I want to be the assertive one so I have to use another tool. I do not use choke chains as they statistically damage a dog's neck however when using the prong collar properly, it does not. I also premise this by saying that not all dogs need prong collars…
When a dog gives another dog a warning bite, on fur it feels much differently then we would feel it on our fragile skin. The idea is that when walking Gretchen past my dogs and she would go into prey drive, I will take over as the Alpha female just like two dogs behind a fence. No one has ever successfully stopped Gretchen from acting this way and this dog having gone through the court system, is on death row unless rehabilitated.
Gretchen has never learned how to be a good high-ranking dog. As long as she is below her owners or me in rank, but wants to be more dominant over other dogs- I'm going to let her. Huh? Yes. She is going to learn how to be a true alpha female around other dogs. Unfortunately, Gretchen has never learned the art of ignoring and she has never learned how to properly socialize so we are going to teach her…
To teach a canine how to ignore, I use an out of sight, out of mind technique. To do this, I place Gretchen in the sit position between myself and a simple distraction such as her owners walking by. When she looks away from me I give a gentle tug on the line and tell her "Fuss" (foose) which means heal in German. I teach her that this command means to keep her eyes up on me no matter what's going on kind of like a horse with blinders. We next bring in my dogs and place them in a non-threatening position in the down stay. I bring Gretchen out and from a far distance as she goes nuts, I'm able to get her in the sit and tell her "Fuss". She looks up at me and receives calm praise. I get closer and closer to the dogs until she is now able to do this extremely close to them without a reaction. Next the owners are taught the command. We do this both on the sit and at a walking pace. Gretchen's head is right on their left leg ignoring my dogs. The next step is walking my dogs around her then eventually, allowing them run around her. Finally the Shepherds are asked to come up and sniff her with her head remaining on the owner's leg, eyes up- out of sight and out of mind. Gretchen is now ready to learn how to "shake hands" with another dog as she has now been somewhat desensitized. We teach her how to sniff another dog without being aggressive and how to allow other dogs to sniff her. This whole process doesn't happen over night but is gradual and takes place slowly over weeks at a time. After she can be trusted on leash with the dogs, we go to a long line and give her more freedom. Any dominant signs of aggression I stop before they accour based on reading into her body language just as an alpha wolf would. After she is fine on the long line, she is trusted with one dog at a time off leash, then more dogs and finally- the breed of dog she killed, my mini- Daschund, Jack. Gretchen is now a social dog but it will be up to the owners to continue socializing her daily, asserting rules and regulations at home, incorporating exercise, paying attention to her body language, practicing the "Fuss" command and finally- the owners have to become always the wolf.
The thing to remember about aggression is that you can never take it out of a dog. It's always in there but as an alpha, you have control over it.