Hannah's Column


Mountain Mist Productions

Pack Discipline in Household Dogs

                                                                               © L P King


I’m writing this article from personal experience. Having rescued, raised and nurtured German Shepherds for over thirty years, you kind of get into the groove of co-existence. I acknowledge the whole pack animal theory; I find that the Shepherds even welcome it. It helps for them to know their place in the scheme of things. They are quite OK with this and even accept and expect that there will be a pecking order, rules and rewards.


In my household the Shepherds are friends, companions, confidents and security guards. They form an integral part of the family and I have never had any problem integrating them with other members of The Gang from Hannah’s Column. German Shepherds, miniature horses and cats. They all end up as friends and actually, there is never a question about that right from the start.


So how do you manage that? It all stems from basic respect and trust. Just like any relationship. German Shepherds are every bit as intelligent as humans and you can quickly get to the stage where you can talk to them just like you and I would talk to each other. They have an understanding of our vocabulary that would put many kids to shame. The cutest thing ever is to watch a young Shepherd intently looking at you and the head is turning in an inquisitive way from side-to-side as they concentrate to “figure out” the gist of what you are saying to them.


This would not be possible without all that trust and respect I’ve mentioned. They recognise me as “Mum”. I am the one doing the providing-for and the looking-after and as I always say, animal companions have to fit in with the rest of the household, toe the line and know the rules.


That does not mean I have to be a consummate disciplinarian, constantly yelling, hitting and brandishing and using weapons to enforce “discipline”. Do that and you will just end up with a dog who is cowered, flighty, sad, lonely and either not willing or unable to get it together enough to be a valued member of your household. You know very well what I mean – look at the dog body language. Any dog not standing upright with their head level to the rest of their body has serious confidence issues. And what are they going to do when you need them to defend you? Drop to the ground? Run away and hide? Sit and not move a muscle? Any of the above.


So what is the answer? Just as with little kids, it is a learning process. Having had seven German Shepherds in thirty years, I am convinced that the solutions start with the owners and then the dog takes up the baton once it is handed it. A puppy needs to be nurtured, encouraged and taught the ropes. I have only had two puppies and the adult dogs have come into the household already knowing their basic commands. Two of them were greatly damaged emotionally, obviously from previous owners who either abused or neglected them. You can tell.


Whatever stage the animal is at, it is up to you to make it fit in, learn the ropes and get into a routine. Don’t give it enough love and you are the one who suffers the consequences because they will not be there for you when you need them.


Most Vets now have Puppy Schools and obedience training. There are also many books and videos on the Internet now. Have a look at them and decide what is right for you. I just scooted around and looked at a few and I am not so sure about some of them. The basic premise seems to be that a dog is dangerous until proven otherwise. Therefore you have to control the dog and again, I think a lot of the dog’s natural instincts and confidence may be eroded as a result. All it means is it is up to you to know your own dog. This is a pretty big discussion area and I don't have time at present.


What needs to be said is it is OK for other people to give you ideas but at the end of the day you have to decide what works for you. I think basic obedience is necessary to stop a dog behaving like an out-of-control maniac who rules the roost and steals your breakfast. Basic commands make life a lot easier. Take it a step further and it is easy to become obsessed with controlling the animal and that is where you will run into trouble because that is all the animal will see. Fear will determine everything they think or do and you may not want a dog cowering and looking to you for advice when some bozo is trying to force their way into your house. I see the need for dogs, particularly if they are for security, to have the confidence and leeway to make decisions for themselves.


The two dogs I have at present are the best two ever. One came as a ten-week-old puppy and the other was 9-months-old. Both are incredibly loyal and well-mannered. I only have to raise my voice (don’t even have to yell) to get the message across that what they are contemplating doing might not be such a good idea. Well, that works most of the time. We will discuss the banana cake incident on another occasion….


My dogs show unconditional love and are big sooks around the house - they moddy-coddle the cats. It is lovely to see. I also know they will turn when they have to and if anyone comes into my space who should not be there... they had better watch out.  And that is what the dogs are for. That is their job - it is nice to know they understand and recognise that.


I respect them and they respect me. That is not to say there are never any challenges. There are times when you will get frustrated and you have to decide what works and how you will handle that. The good thing about an intelligent dog is that they will understand this and forgive the fact that you yelled at them at 100 decibels and made them feel like crud. Ten minutes down the track they will be sidling up to you and asking for a treat. With an intelligent dog the lesson will be learned. Both of you will learn. The lessons may have to be repeated now and then but by and large there is simply no need to perpetually conduct your household like you are in a canine boot camp.


That’s my experience anyway. I’m going to go off now and give both of my guys a big cuddle. Give one a cuddle and you could be knocked over by the other trying to hone in for their share. Just as with kids, it is important not to show favouritism – let them know everyone counts. Your reward is being safe in the knowledge that you count for them too – and they will be there when you need them to be.


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© L P King 5th July 2017.
Updated 9th August 2017.
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