“Pack Structure”

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while but……. Every time I try, I feel like my head will explode.

Giving it another shot:

Pack structure.

When, I got into dog training it was to help troubled dogs. To that end everyone was talking about various ways to enforce what many times is referred to as “Pack Structure”. There are lockdown style procedures that take away literally all freedoms. And more subtle programs like NILIF that even the “fairy farts and rainbows” crowd will condone. But everyone that works with rehab cases, at some point, throws some kind of “Pack Structure”, or “leadership building” stuff at you.

Here’s a list of the ones I use:

Resource Access (NILIF):

– NO resources, aside from water, should be freely accessible. including YOU (or other people) The dog should be “asking” to get affection. If they are being pushy and weren’t “invited” to interact, say “ah ah” and push them off. Only allow it if they stop and wait to be invited. And obviously you can initiate affection when you choose.

– You may slacken this protocol incrementally, as they prove they’re getting better manners.

Yielding/Drawing:

-Look for opportunities to step into your dogs space and have them yield to your Spatial Pressure. Also look for the opposite…. Draw them to you with body language. NOT A RECALL COMMAND. Just body language/sounds. This should be very subtle and organic. As simple as this practice is, it is PROFOUND in relationship development.

-Use this as much as possible as a style of guidance in the house. you should be guiding them through your home with your body language. You should be able to move them away, and pull them to you without touching them.

Kennel Training For Structure:

-Feed in kennel

-Feel free to put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

– DO NOT let any person/animal harass your dog while they are in their Kennel. Use spatial pressure to prevent this. It is a naturally understood pack language. And, all parties need to know you can speak it.

Tether Training For Relationship (Umbilical Cord):

-Try not to use the leash to “steer” them. Try to use the “Yielding/Drawing” protocol If that fails….. Ignore them and let them figure out that staying close to you is the way to turn off the leash pressure.

– Feel Free to calmly handle your dog while tethered. Look for any opportunity to Capture/NameRelaxation.

– Can Sleep tethered to your bed instead of you, if they sleep in your bed, or a bed in your room. Otherwise, they sleep in Kennel.

– If you are not able to adhere to these rules, or just need a break. In the kennel they go. You may put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Once they have a “place” command, you may put them in a hold instead of kenneling.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

Obedience Training for Team Building (Leadership):

– The purpose of this isn’t to make the dog more “obedient”. Or to develop “tricks”. This is to develop team building through learning how to work together to achieve a goal.

– This is done through clarity of communication, by learning how to give and receive information, feedback and consequences.

– After the relationship is developed “embedded” obedience will keep your team running smoothly.

………..

“”That is a great list…… Which one do I use?”

&

“Woah…… Do I have to do this forever?!?!?!”

For most old school style trainers, the answer is “all of them”, and “for as long as you need to”.

But, the problem is that’s just easier than trying to figure it out for every dog.

The truth is, you only need to use the ones that help.

And, you only have to use them until you don’t need them any more.

Yep….. They’ll say do it for a “while”. And, slowly reduce structure until you notice a backslide, then add more.

But that gets into the thought that forever dogs are little conniving shits, that are just WAITING for the opportunity to seize back their dominance!

I just don’t buy that in most cases.

But… I also work with people daily that have OUT OF CONTROL dogs, with ZERO structure. Hmmm.

So I’m left with these two contradictory paradigms.

Both I can see helping dogs in some cases, and failing them in others.

Both I can see value in but can’t figure out how or when to prescribe them.

Enter Temple Grandin and Suzanne Clothier!

Temple Grandin:

In chapter #2 of her book “Animals Make Us Human”, Temple discussed the difference in “Pack Structure”. She suggests that there are 2 distinct kinds:

“Forced” & “Familial

This is from a handout I give clients that briefly summarizes my understanding of the two:

PACK STRUCTURE:

Dominance Theory was postulated from observing “forced” “non-familial” packs. It is necessary in these situations to maintain harmony.

Wild Canids usually “pack” in mostly familial packs with a few “adopted” members.

In familial packs, when the relationship is intact, there is no need for Dominance Theory. The “parents” behave as “stewards” of the pack. They guide the actions, and development, of the pack.

For dog owners, this means that when introducing a dog to your family, or the pack, you are creating a “forced” pack, and must observe Dominance Theory to some degree. If, you are able to nurture the relationship between ALL members of the pack, it may become a “familial” style pack. This may take a day, or a year. It is strictly up to the strength of the relationship.

This explains the old school procedure of going into “lockdown” when bringing a dog in. And as they get more “trained” these rules can be relaxed.

What is happening, is that the relationship is becoming strong enough to shift from “forced”, to “familial” pack structure.

If the relationships cannot be developed. Or, there are too many unrelated dogs in the pack. Then, you may be stuck with Dominance Theory for long term.

If you get a puppy, or an extremely soft dog in a single dog home, you may be able to follow “familial” structure from the beginning. But, if issues arise…. We may need some structure for a time.

Here’s where Suzanne Clothier comes in….

How to tell which state your in OBJECTIVELY!

I use my version of Suzanne Clothier’s Relationship Assessment Tool.

 

Score 1-10. 1 worst- 10 best. Handler Towards Dog: Dog Towards Handler:
Connection Love: Love:
Awareness: Awareness:
Respect: Respect:
Communication Information: Information:
Feedback: Feedback:
Consequences: Consequences:
Commitment Attention: Attention:
Responsibility: Responsibility:
Trust: Trust:

 

Here’s the Clarity-Relationship Handout I give clients explaining each category…. In case it’s not super obvious.

But….. The idea is, do an honest assessment of these categories.

If they score low in  a lot of areas, their relationship is not strong enough for a “familial” pack structure.

They are in a “forced” pack setting and will need structure to not just not get into trouble but to DEVELOP the kind of relationship that makes that structure unnecessary.

If the dog (or handler) scores low in an area, use a modality (from above) to help shore up that area.

Like…. If communication is bad: Work on “Obedience Training for Team Building”.

If the connection is bad: Work on “Tether Training for Relationship.

Etc……

When they score higher, the structure is reduced. When a team has high scores throughout, they will need less structure and naturally fall into the “familial” side of things.

If a dog is scoring low on most of them, or is dangerous….. They get “Lockdown”. That’s ALL the modalities at once.

But, rather than “guess” when it’s time to reduce….. You have a litmus test. Each modality will affect different aspects. When they score well, that modality gets dropped.

Yeah…. If you have a pack of hard dogs, you may never get to full freedom. You may always have to use some structure strategies (hence the Milan “always” type of rules).

Or…. If you have some monster dog that is unable to fully connect. You may always have to have some structure.

I’m not stupid. I get it.

But….. If you can formulate a plan……

You may be able to get closer than you would’ve without one.

Anyway……

That’s my .02$

This is all a working theory! Just thought I’d share in case it helps, or gets someone’s wheels turning.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Comments 2

  1. Al Magaw

    some good points here – most, perhaps all, of the techniques I frequently use, although I add vigorous exercise before any hands-on work with virtually every dog – the kind of exercise that creates a tongue lolling, tail wagging, frustration free, happy dog – I’m fortunate to have the space and facilities to take a pack of dogs for a 4 – 6 mile run at a brisk trot – the dogs are secured in such a way that they are close enough together that they get the feeling that they are running as a pack, yet not so close that they can actually touch each other unless I so choose – after the run I work on boundaries, exposure to their particular problems, if possible, then give them affection for a job well done – there are some tricks I use to promote peaceful introductions between dogs, etc, etc, but the basics of controlled exercise, working together in a pack, exposure to their problems, boundaries, and affection, are used with every dog, health permitting – as yet, it’s helped every dog that’s been through the program – people tend to forget how important exercise is and many don’t realise that taking a dog for a walk at a human’s pace is inadequate to rid a high energy dog of it’s frustrations – my goal is to change dog’s attitudes rather than to teach behavior – in other words to exchange good habits for bad ones – once that has been accomplished, the dog is ready for some obedience training

  2. alienredqueen

    Thank you for this info. I really appreciate that you addressed the difference between observing a natural pack and a “forced” pack. I just took my final should receive my trainer’s certification shortly thereafter, but there is still so much to learn it can be overwhelming.

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