peckingorderMost pet owners have heard the term pecking order with the rise of television training shows and the internet, but many do not understand this concept or how to establish it with their pets. Pecking order is the way each dog, cat, or monkey’s, brain is hardwired to deal with the World. In the wild, the way the pack eats, hunts, plays, sleeps, breeds, and gives affection (which strengthens the pack bond) allows the function of the pack. Everyone has a place and everyone is important. This hierarchy does not disappear when domestic animals come into our homes as pets. If our dogs ran away today and found another pack of dogs this pecking order would be viable and established between them immediately.

A few things to think about:

  * As humans, how do we fit unto this natural function of our pets?
  * Why is this important to our pets?
  *How do I as a human relate to my dog this way?

As humans, how do we fit unto this natural function of our pet’s pecking order hierarchy? When a new pet comes into our home, our house is not a house- it’s a den. Our property is the territory. Whoever sleeps in the den/house every night is a pack member. A dog or cat does not see us as a human, but as a two-legged animal. It is one thing to know that as a fact, but is a whole different relationship to realize that is truly how our pets view us! This fact probably hinders the understanding of most pet owners to relate to their pet. This is why we begin to see behaviors in our pets, that are technically natural dog or cat behaviors, but are unacceptable to our human lifestyle, i.e., chewing, digging, marking with urine or feces in the house/furniture, biting, dog fights, aggression, barking, and jumping on people. Dogs and cats bond with humans the same way they bond with each other. There are simple behaviors that dogs and cats display that humans do not read correctly in our society today. For centuries, humans have used dogs to protect their camps, hunt, protect and guard their livestock, etc. and they did not use a food treat, a pinch chain, a clicker, or shock collar for the dog to act accordingly! They understood how the dog naturally worked in the pack. The dog still retains this mentality, but we as humans have lost our understanding in the past 50-100 years in our society.

Why is this important to our pets today? Proper pecking order makes our pets the absolute happiest and most peaceful they can be, and this must be accomplished by becoming both a nurturer and balanced disciplinarian. Dogs and cats, are a lot like children because they can be manipulating, and recognize our weaknesses and inconsistencies- they both crave guidance and leadership to trust you. When a dog comes in our home, the first 4-5 days they look for basic needs: food, water, shelter, and bathroom. After those initial days, they begin looking for pecking order, and go about establishing it if it’s not being provided for them. Simple behaviors that I see in practice are my 3 big negatives: a dog putting its feet or mouth on a human or other animal, or pulling tension on the leash. This interaction between human and dog, or dog and dog, is NOT play! It is pecking order. Also, pecking order has nothing to do with a daily routine!

How do I as a human relate to my dog in this way? Boundaries! Think about pecking order as military ranks. Each rank has a specific hierarchy with respect and is necessary for everyone to function. This is very similar to pack order, so the army private would never think of stepping out of line to shake a colonel’s hand without being asked? Never! Affection is also an area where pets run over us humans. The dog coming and demanding my affection, however sweet, is a breach of order. If a dog is constantly touching us, it can become emotionally imbalanced . Your pet can suffer from separation anxiety or emotional dependence, and is so stressed it tears up the house or yard. Humans must create boundaries for our pets just as we do for our children. Establishing a boundary creates a relationship where your dogs views you as a trustworthy leader.

In years of practice, I have found that people have more difficulty disciplining their dogs than their children. This is largely because we can explain consequences to children, but are unsure about how to discipline our pets without being mean or damaging. A balance of energies, both positive and negative, is a great way to communicate with your dog. The most important reason to learn how to be our pet’s nurturer and balanced disciplinarian is to gain their trust. Some people think pecking order is about control. It is not- It’s about PEACE. I do this work with my own dogs so we can enjoy life and travel. I personally own 3 pit bulls, a young male Rottweiler and a cat- all with big personalities. We have peace because I understand the most important aspect of my pet’s lives: pecking order. Dogs do not trust based on love and emotion, instead they trust based on guidance and leadership.