Learning the hierarchy


Dogs are pack animals and as such they have to learn to live within a hierarchy, which means they have to control their desires based on the rules of the pack. The hierarchical structure imposes rules which govern when they eat, when they express their sexuality and where they are allowed to sleep and play.

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In a pack the dominant male eats first, controls the comings and goings of all other dogs and is the only one allowed to express its sexuality in front of other members of the pack. Until weaning, the puppies feed at their mother’s teat in a free for all without rules. During weaning the mother directs them towards sources of available food in the pack. When they move towards food they are violently pushed away by the adults. They have to learn to wait their turn until the dominant dogs have eaten their fill. If a dog attempts to get too near to the food it will elicit the growls of the leader, which may bite if the youngster persists.

At around 5 or 6 months in males and from the time of the second oestrus in females, the dogs will be chased away from areas occupied by dominant males and females. The females will have less and less time for their puppies, which are forced to find a place to sleep on the edge of the pack’s territory. This is also the stage in which the dogs gain control of their sexual behaviour. Only the dominant dogs are entitled to express their sexuality openly. Subordinated adolescent males have to do so out of view. Their sexual behaviour is inhibited in the presence of the dominant males.

Controlling biting

During socialisation the puppy is taught inhibited biting, both through play, from the age of three weeks, and by its mother. Puppies bite each other when they play and they will squeal if bitten too hard. The mother reacts by picking up the perpetrator by the scuff of the neck, shaking it vigorously and placing it back down. The puppy in question will squeal and adopt a submissive posture. As a consequence of this punishment, the puppy learns not to bite too hard and to better control its motor skills in general.

Biting should not be accepted in a family situation. The puppy is not teething like a human baby. Teaching the puppy that biting is not acceptable will rule out any problems in later life when the dog is more powerful. Bite intensity varies depending on breed, line and individual. Some breeds, such as Labradors, can withstand very strong bites.

© Diffomedia/Royal Canin

During socialisation the puppy is taught inhibited biting.


Breaking the attachment

Socialisation is also the period when the mother starts to teach the puppies to be more independent. By the fifth or sixth month the female displays increasing intolerance towards its puppies, especially the males. The female displays less affection, plays less and demands that the males find their own place to sleep. The females, on the other hand, remain with the mother until around the second oestrus. In the human pack, if the puppy retains a strong attachment to a particular person, when that person is not present it will develop behavioural problems which can encompass wholesale destruction of property, uncontrolled urination and defaecation, and continuous vocalisations.

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Learning the hierarchy
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