Don’t Blame The Dog


I have just finished watching an interview on THIS MORNING about responsible dog ownership, dogs and small children/babies and dog bites. The interview conducted in quite an amateur fashion by some bloke from JLS and his wife from another pop group did not really touch on much of the important issues around this serious subject. They were interviewing a mother of a small child who was bitten on the face by a friends Patterdale Terrier and the CEO of Dogs Trust.

The one thing I was happy to see in this interview is that they had steered clear of choosing the easy target and heavily victimised breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, to talk about and instead opted for a breed which most people would not associate with bad press. I own 2 Staffies and a Staffy/Shepherd cross and they are fantastic, especially around my kids and nieces & nephews because of the way they have been brought up within the family, a point I will return to later, but it riles me to see this beautiful breed attacked almost daily by the press thanks to poor education and idiot owners. Again, I will return to this point later.

One of the most common and immediately obvious factors in stories we see and hear in the press is children being left alone with dogs. Another less obvious and much less reported factor in all “dog attack” stories is a lack of knowledge on the dog owners part in relation to dogs, canine and pack behaviour and the specific breed they have chosen to bring into the family.

I am by no means an expert in canine behaviour. I am sure there will be those who read this and will disagree with what I say from here on in. I have studied wolves, dogs, canine behaviour and pack behaviour for almost 4-5 years now in my own private time. I own my small pack of 3 dogs aged between 2 to 13 and have studied how the pack formation adapts and changes over the years within my home. I work quite extensively with dogs as a canine photographer, many of which are rescue dogs at rescue centres with a mixture of different personality and behavioural issues caused by abuse and ill treatment. There are also a few of my followers on Twitter whom I have helped with a variety of canine behavioural issues. I can not emphasise enough the importance of understanding as best as possible the animal you are bringing into the family unit BEFORE you decide to buy or adopt a dog. The MOST important thing to remember is that IT IS A DOG!

As humans we are very much guilty of humanising animals we encounter, especially those we bring into our homes. We take an animal which by nature is a pack animal. He is used to living, even if only for a very short time, with other dogs. He is used to his siblings being rough and having to “fight” not only for attention, warmth and food, but also in order to establish pack order. They communicate with each other and their mother & father by yelps, cries, barks, grunts and even teeth. They don’t talk, they cant push with their paws (not hands) they can’t say “WILL YOU GET OUT OF MY WAY PLEASE, YOU ARE ANNOYING ME”. If a dog of any age wants to communicate his annoyance with a fellow dog it will usually consist of growls as a warning and then often, but not always, a nip with teeth. Dogs use their mouths like humans use their hands. They explore with them, hold things, manipulate things (chew them), nip instead of push, bite instead of hit. We bring this animal with it’s natural instinctive doggy behaviour into our homes and we give him a name. This is normal HUMAN behaviour. We name each other to give us identity so it is only normal to do so with our pets. However, dogs do not understand that they have a name. Yes they may respond when it is called but it is not the word the dog is responding too, it is the sound and intonation of your voice. Quite often we bring them home and do not give any consideration to introducing the dog to the house, family, garden or any other part of it’s new territory properly. Humans are often guilty of ignorance when it comes to dogs. They expect a dog to understand the human way of living and adapt to our lifestyle as quickly as possible. In actual fact it is the human who must understand the dog’s way of living, adapt our lifestyle and behaviour and help educate the dog whilst respecting each other’s boundaries. I am a firm believer in responsible dog ownership and believe people should have to apply for a license to own a dog and pass a theory test to show they have a basic knowledge of canine behaviour and the responsibility of owning a dog. This is a topic i wont get into here but may write about later.

In a canine pack you will have an Alpha, the leader of the pack. This will be the most dominant male and/or female within the pack. The Alpha is responsible for the safety, welfare and future of his or her pack and will ensure that the others remain disciplined and behave themselves. When a new litter of dogs is born the struggle for pack hierarchy begins. The Alpha will always receive the best of the food in the wild and so it is common for the Alpha pup to feed from it’s mothers milk first. The Alpha will be more dominant and seemingly aggressive as he or she seeks to put the rest of the pack in its pecking order. Most canidea (dogs, wolves, foxes etc) rely heavily on a strict, structured, secure and stable pack and once the order of the pack is sorted it rarely changes (in the wild) unless another member of the pack challenges the Alpha and wins. In domestic dog packs the order is barely given chance to form before the pups are split up and sold on to their new human pack.

This is where problems can start to surface. Unless you have the knowledge available to you and are fortunate enough to have been able to observe the pup with it’s pack and observe the pack order already established then you will not know where you new family member sat within the hierarchy of it’s own pack. It could be that you have the Alpha and are now expecting him or her to let you take over without any objection. For you and your family, bringing a new puppy home is a wonderful and exciting experience. For the puppy however it can be traumatic, unnerving, scary and chaotic. He is leaving his littler, his pack, his security and stability, his source of warmth, food and affection and he is entering the world of a human with an already established pack and set of rules and boundaries. This too, if not addressed correctly can cause behaviour problems brought on by stress and fear.

The formation of a human family is similar to that of a canine pack in that there is an Alpha male and female (Mum and Dad) and then often other siblings who will assert their own dominance amongst each other but always know mum and dad are boss. Mum and Dad feed, clothe and protect them. Mum and Dad provide warmth and security. There will be those who know and the rest will have to imagine what it is like to be taken from this bubble of security and stability and this is not too dissimilar to what your pup will be feeling. The difference being and I will not digress onto this topic is that dogs, unlike humans, live for today. They don’t dwell on the past. Weeks later a dog isn’t going to be sad and begin missing his litter or his mum. They move on, adapt and if the human has done it’s research, will form part of a new secure pack.

It is vital then that before bringing a puppy home you have sat with your family or whoever else you live with and have set in place a structure and boundaries for the arrival of your new pup. Your puppy needs to learn to understand your rules and boundaries just as you need to understand your new puppy and the way he thinks, learns and adapts.

You need to ensure from an early age that your pup learns and understands that you are in charge of the pack and that he understands and respects the position of other family members, including children, in relation to himself within his new pack. Their a numerous ways of doing this and I can not stress enough the importance of seeking advice from educated sources rather than listening to your mates down the pub or at work or as is most problematic amongst older generations, believing you know best cause you have had dogs all your life.

The CEO of Dogs Trust on This Morning during the interview today made a silly comment which could easily be misunderstood by most people in relation to introducing a baby to a dog. She stated you must take time to ensure the dog understands he is “still top dog of the house” in order to avoid jealousy…. This I completely disagree with. Firstly, dogs, unlike humans do not feel jealousy. They may display behaviour which humans then interoperate as jealousy but in actual fact the dog is showing dominance and possessiveness against the child towards you, the pack leader. If left unchecked this kind of behaviour can quickly lead to aggression as your dog becomes frustrated that the new litter, the new pup, is not learning the way your dog believes it, a puppy, should. This is when nips and bites could begin to occur as your dog seeks to teach what he sees as a pup, not a small human. As Alpha, it is your job to correct the dog and help him understand that his behaviour towards the new arrival is wrong and that YOU will take charge. Again, do not behave in the way your human instincts may suggest, do not shout and scream and smack as this behaviour, to a dog, is seen as weakness and a failure in leadership. Always seek advice on how best to do this from a reliable and educated source. Which leads me onto the other reason I disagree with her comment. Your dog should NEVER believe he or she is “Top Dog of the house”! If you allow your dog to believe he is pack leader then you are paving the way for endless amounts of problems, perceived aggression, damage to property, dominance and ultimately a violent and aggressive dog which could go on to injure somebody or worse.

You must have a strict set of rules and boundaries when you have a dog in the house in order to avoid any unwanted behavioural issues from jumping up and begging for food to growling and aggression. If your dog is happy, stable and comfortable within his new pack then he will be good for life. If you can provide calm and assertive leadership, regular exercise, food and warmth and of course plenty of affection then your dog will be a life long companion.

If however you do not bother to educate yourself prior to getting a dog, do not instil strict lifestyle changes, rules and boundaries within your own family, do not provide the exercise, food, leadership, security, warmth and affection your dog needs, if you play aggressive games or teach your dog to bite and if you do not ensure you remain Alpha then I am sorry to say, any behavioural issue or future aggression your dog may develop is most likely down to you.

If you are looking to point the finger and blame somebody then look in the mirror.

Don’t blame the dog.



  1. sharrielynn

    I completely agree with you! Especially as the owner of a malamute, I am stunned to hear someone suggest the dog should think they are ‘top dog’. Absolutely not. I shudder to think how awful and downright dangerous my dog would be if he thought he were alpha. Luckily we had a great vet who gave us a ton of literature about dominant breeds when he was a puppy, and my husband and I (clueless newlyweds at the time) have a truly great dog–which I very much doubt he would have been if we hadn’t been educated!

  2. Walk With Me Canine

    I disagree and i feel you will argue but this is just my opinion, and if you will talk it out nicely, I’m sure we will both learn something. But I feel you have been studying wolves for too long and you have forgotten all the recent studies that have been done that show dogs have moved on a lot since being wolves. Some may say they don’t even form packs anymore, and even feral dogs have more of a (group of mates) mentality. They would rather stick to the dog with the most “friends” if you want to say it that way, rather than stick to the most dominant. I feel by promoting that you should make sure your dog knows you are the alpha, you are being ignorant to the new studies that have proven this wrong. Do you really feel that your dog is looking at you and going, oh i must go out the door first to make sure my owner knows I’m the alpha?. Now I know this is not what the article is mainly about. But as soon as I see “pack leader” I struggle to hold myself back as I’m trying to promote the new methods and studies in the friendliest ways possible. I do know that wolves and hierarchy is the way of life but dogs have been domesticated to live with humans. We feed them, we walk them, we tell them when its time to move, get up, lay down all that stuff. Also not forgetting that we are humans and they are dogs, and dominance is never something that is mixed between species. Dogs know you are the leader and your above them, they do not need to be shown that you are the alpha and nor are they trying to gain this hierarchy. I understand that the science is very new, and its very hard to move on from something that has been promoted for so many years, but if we do not try to catch up with this science, what good are we doing for dogs. If our dogs could tell us, they would probably think we are crazy. We just need to set good examples, be a good leader, like a good parent, Thats all. And never leave your baby alone with your dog no matter how much you trust him/her haha. I don’t want to start an argument and I hope this comes across as nice as it possibly can. I just want to make people aware that they are wasting their time trying to dominate a dog that does not care whether he is dominant or not. If a dog is being protective, its because he has not been shown what he should do in that situation, not because he thought he would take it upon himself to be dominant and make that their job lol!. I would love to hear your opinions back, please be nice lol, I know its a touchy subject.

    • canislupuspc

      Hi and sorry for such a long delay in responding to your comment but things have been very busy indeed. Your assumptions that I will “argue” or be anything other than friendly are completely unfounded. I am always more than willing to listen to other people’s opinions, especially on subjects I find so fascinating have enough knowledge and experience to discuss. After all it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. So Aristotle said anyway.
      I have to firstly state in writing my article and in subsequent discussions on twitter (if you follow me) I have neither ignored nor forgotten recent studies which seek to discredit past canine behavioural studies. One thing I have always been more supportive of, rather than scientific theory, is first hand experience and evidence. I spend and have spent a lot of time around dogs individually and in packs. There is absolutely no denying that dogs, when in a group, form a hierarchal pack system. Watching and engaging with my own dogs alone proves this much to me not to mention my experiences with other packs or groups of dogs, whatever you may wish to call them.
      Of course dogs have moved on a LOT since wolves, thank goodness for that otherwise we would be seeing a hell of a lot more problem dog situations, but natural instincts of Canines have not changed so much that this kind of behaviour no longer exists.
      From birth a pup looks to somebody to show it how to socialise, how to behave in certain situations, where to pee, poo, eat and sleep. What is considered good behaviour in it’s environment and what is considered poor behaviour in it’s environment. Like YOU say, a parent figure. Like nature says, a pack leader. This leader does just that, leads the pup in the right direction in order for it to grow up knowing and understanding the correct level of behaviour required. Regardless of what term you give this leadership, guidance or teaching, it still remains natural canine pack behaviour.
      The suggestion that a dog simply KNOWS that you, it’s human companion and pack member, are in charge is with all due respect ridiculous and there are far more studies and true life examples to show this than I believe exist to demonstrate your belief. In a way, you contradict yourself an support my theory of pack hierarchy. Because all of the things you state we need to do “set good examples and be a good leader” is EXACTLY the role of a pack leader. Without the pack leader the dog does not learn how to properly behave in a social and human environment. Without a human acting as pack leader and “setting good examples” the pup does not learn who is in charge. This leads to problems and the pup becomes an adolescent. This leads to perceived aggression. This leads to actual aggression. It is my belief that the existence of a calm, assertive, patient and more importantly FRIENDLY pack leader is essential in raising a balanced and socially aware dog.
      I am aware that theories keep changing and people have their own belief on what works and what doesn’t. This has always been the case when it comes to both wolves and dogs, however, to completely dismiss the pack and hierarchy theory is something I feel should not be done prematurely.

      I think we shall both have to agree to disagree on this topic? I do hope I haven’t been to critical or come across negatively. 🙂

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