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Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people
The Foundation Of My Methods
I believe that the most important aspect of communicating with a dog relies on understanding this incredibly unique
species for what it is; an artificially selected creature that has been made by man in man’s image to work for and live
with man. Your dog is not a dolphin. He is not a little, furry human child, but he is not a wild animal, either. Your
dog is the result of purposeful selection of perhaps thousands of years. The primary intent of that selection was to
create an animal that could peacefully cohabitate with human-beings and even to do his bidding. If we disregard
this important aspect of dog’s character we sell him short during his training and management and leave him
unhappy and socially, emotionally or physically neglected.
Dogs are members of the canine family and most experts now believe they are genetically most closely related to
wolves. Wolves live in social structures with a hierarchy that supports peace in the pack and also provides for
opportunities to shift the balance when members leave the extended family. There is typically a dominate pair. All
others in the family group subordinate to them and also have their own hierarchy amongst themselves. If the
leaders die or leave the group, individuals that were once subordinate can easily assume the dominate position, it is
in their genetic code to do so.
If one watches a group of domestic dogs it is not difficult to see the resemblance to their wild cousins. Dogs that live
in groups develop their own hierarchies and spend time challenging and also enforcing them. They use different
behaviors to make peace, challenge another or remind a youngster her place in the pack. The similarities between
wild wolves and domestic dogs are fascinating.
We can speculate how early man began his relationship with wild canines. The possibilities are numerous. Did man
toss bits of his evening meal into the bush to attract wolves that could then warn the sleeping humans of impending
danger? Did a young boy steal a wolf pup from a den and take it home and raise it? Did a nomadic tribe come upon
orphaned pups and take them into their family? Regardless of how the pups were first brought into the hominid
community it probably goes without saying that those individual animals that became overly dominant or vicious
were banned or killed and those that remained subordinate to their humans, perhaps even accompanying them on
hunts, were retained. That is one example of artificial selection; the picking of individuals for breeding stock that is
based on qualities that may not have been imposed by nature, itself.
If we examine some of the unique breeds that now serve man, thousands of years after early man first began to
domesticate wolves; we can see examples of the artificial selection that man placed on the breeding and
development of domestic dog as a species. Sight hounds, like Greyhounds, Salukis or Borzois hunt for man using
their extraordinary eye sight. They take down the prey (often up to a mile away from their handler), but they do not
run into the bush and eat it for themselves. Instead, they offer it up to their humans. Pointers, Setters, Flushers and
Retrievers assist man on the hunt using their sense of smell. They identifying game or actually retrieve the fallen
birds. And like their sight hound cousins, they do not run off to consume the fresh kill, choosing instead to fetch it
back to their handlers. Herding dogs like the Border Collie, Australian Cattle Dog or German Shepherd Dog move
livestock where man directs, yet again, they do not take an animal for their own meals. And, the livestock guardian
breeds like Great Pyrenees, Komondor and Maramma can be left alone for weeks on end with thousands of sheep or
goats to protect their charges with their lives. If their humans do not provide for them, they may hunt rodents for
their own meals when they could choose the easy route and take a newborn lamb or kid for a meal, instead.
All these situations are illustrations of domestic dog’s incredible subordination to man. There are many other
examples. This compliance to human authority is genetically programmed into our current dog breeds and was
accomplished through strict artificial selection. While the developers of domestic dog tried to eliminate from the
population most individuals that had a natural desire to dominate or harm humans, they left in tact dog’s need to
subordinate to a leader.
That is the basis of my communication with dogs. I understand how stressful, difficult and sometimes even
traumatic it is for a pup to exist in a human pack that is dysfunctional from his perspective. The pup is genetically
programmed with an intense desire to subordinate to its human. Unlike his wolf cousins, he does not possess the
skills to assume the leadership role when a leader is missing from the pack. So, when a dog exists in a situation
where no human is equipped to assume the headship role, he may become terribly conflicted. He aches to exist in a
hierarchical society where someone, other than himself, is in charge. There is no leader. He does not have the skills
to become a leader, but there is such a need for him to have a chief that he may make the attempt to assume the
dominant position in the pack. The human sees this as naughty, destructive, socially unacceptable behavior and
claims that there is something wrong with the dog. In fact, there is something terribly wrong with the environment.
Some people object to the words “dominant” and subordinate” when discussing dog training. I actually read an
article by someone who said she did not “believe in” subordination, which for me is like not believing that trees exist
in a forest. I’m not certain why some of the contemporary trainers are so opposed to the concept of leadership. I
think it may stem from the misunderstanding that providing domestic dogs an environment where they can feel
comfortable with their position in the human family by imposing good, fair, sound control, rules and guidance is
somehow cruel. I happen to believe that a home where the dog cannot rely on his humans to assume the leadership
role is very cruel from the dog’s perspective.
We should always remember that humans defined this species by stripping from him some basic needs for survival
(such as assuming a leadership role when no leader is around) while leaving intact the species intense need for
sound hierarchy and fair leadership. You may not have taken part in the development of the domestic canine
species, but if you own one you must assume stewardship of it. In so doing, you must be empathetic to its desires
and supportive of its needs.
© 2005 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email
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