Family or Pack?

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a spot in Dr. Rebecca Ledger’s Typical and Difficult Dog Behaviour classes at Langara College. I really wasn’t sure what to expect out of these first two sessions of their Professional Dog Walking program but I was very pleasantly surprised at the amount of useful information Dr. Ledger was able to cram into just over 7 hours of time. She prefaced the day by mentioning that she had a hard time dividing the content into ‘typical’ and ‘difficult’ categories because typical dog behaviour is often difficult and difficult dog behaviour is often typical. After years of living with dogs this definitely sounded right to me.

For the first half of the day we went through the different breed groups and the behaviour that is typical of each group. My dog, Sage, is a Labrador Retriever and the description of the Gun Dog group was pretty much bang on (some pun intended). We then moved on to dog emotions which according to Dr. Ledger were something the scientific community did not even recognize dogs as having until recent years. It’s hard to believe that anyone who has seen a puppy frolic happily in the park or mope around listlessly when their owner leaves for the day could deny dogs have emotions but thankfully advancements have been made in this field. Discussions of anxiety, fear, frustration (and joy!) and their affect on dog behaviour followed before we broke for lunch.

Funnily, it was in the line-up at Tim Horton’s that I learned something that has stuck with me since that day. While we waited for our coffee orders to be taken most of the class ended up chatting about our dogs and sharing photos of our furry kids. I was sheepishly showing Dr. Ledger a snap of Sagey lounging I had taken that morning, nervous that she would be appalled that I was letting my DOG ON THE BED. She laughed and told me not to worry because her dogs were always on the bed and the couch and pretty much everywhere else they pleased.

What?? Not the response I had expected after hearing for so many years from ‘dog experts’ that you should never let your dog on the furniture because it can lead to dominance issues and challenges to your authority as ‘Alpha’. I felt so validated. This very distinguished authority on dog behaviour was a Dog Mom too. Someone who understood that dogs are like children for so many people and while it is important to set boundaries for both kids and pups it’s just as important to enjoy snuggle time.

This point was discussed again back in class when we looked at an interesting article by L. David Mech called “Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf?”. The author talks about how the original idea of the ‘alpha’ wolf was based on a flawed study of wolf social behaviour and that “science has come to understand that most wolf packs are merely family groups formed exactly the same way as human families are formed”.  I’m hopeful that since the thinking that you have to dominate your dog (a descendant of the wolf) to show them that you are the alpha and the pack leader in your house was most likely originally derived from this same flawed study eventually more people will come to realize that it’s okay to treat your dog like family. I know I do!