Alpha Dogs and Pack Mentality – Revisited

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Alpha Dogs and Pack MentalityWe’ve all heard the advice that as dog owners, we should be the alpha dog or pack leader in our house or else our dogs will assume the role, take over, and pretty much make our lives miserable. That’s the basic theory behind traditional dog training methods, made even more popular by a certain TV-show dog rehabilitator. The training style commonly uses dominance and force-type methods based on the notions of alpha dogs and pack mentality. Those concepts evolved from studies done more than half a century ago while observing wolves in captivity.

In contrast, positive reinforcement (+R or force-free) training takes a different approach based on using rewards to train and shape dog behavior, often controlling the resources a dog wants or needs and encouraging appropriate behavior out of the dog’s own self interest. In the world of positive reinforcement training, the terms alpha and pack leader are usually considered taboo, as they’re often associated with using force, threats or intimidation and sometimes create anxious or fearful reactions from dogs. But in this era of political correctness, have we gone too far in totally dismissing the notions of alpha dogs and pack mentality?

“In this era of political correctness, have we gone too far in totally dismissing the notions of alpha dogs and pack mentality?”

My Thoughts on Alpha Dogs and Pack Mentality

I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement training but I also know how effective a well-timed correction can be, as I talked about in the post Using Corrections With Positive Reinforcement Training. I believe domesticated dogs are still pack animals and even though we’re not part of a traditional canine pack with them, we are part of their social pack. As in any pack, there’s usually a leader that sets the rules for acceptable behavior and if the leader governs with fairness, rather than fear, there will be mutual respect and harmony within the group. In both animal and human social circles, I’ve noticed there’s usually a status ranking or pecking order between members of the social group. Here are a few examples.

Example #1 – The Human Starting a New Job
Entering a new work environment is stressful because you’re often unsure about how you’ll fit in with your peers. Once you’ve met and sized up your co-workers, you feel more comfortable about your place within the business and social hierarchy. It can also be stressful to the group when a new co-worker joins the team as the team’s hierarchy could be restructured.
Example #2 – The Horse Moved to a Different Pasture
When my parents had their horse farm, it was interesting to watch the adjustment period when a horse was moved into a different pasture with an established group of horses. The pecking order would often get reshuffled as the newcomer tried to figure out where they fit into the existing hierarchy of the herd. After some kicking, chasing and displays of dominance and submissiveness by several of the horses, a new pecking order would be established and harmony was restored.
Example #3 – The Dog Entering a Dog Park
When taking a new dog into a dog park with a group of regulars that play together, you can expect the regulars will be anxious to check out the newcomer and along with lots of butt sniffing, there might be some growling, snapping and posturing as members of the now larger pack figure out how the newcomer fits in.
Dogs Swimming

Am I the Alpha in Our Pack?

Yes, I do think of myself as alpha over Haley. It’s a popular notion these days for dog owners to think of themselves as equals with their dogs. Even the term dog owner is offensive to some people, but I’ll save that topic for another discussion. I don’t see myself as an equal to Haley because somebody has to create and enforce the rules, provide the food and shelter, drive to the vet’s office for medical care, etc. It’s my responsibility to assume the alpha role although I’m not sure Haley views me the same as she would view an alpha dog in a canine pack. What’s more important is the fact that we have a hierarchical structure based on mutual respect, and it works very well for us. Here are my roles and responsibilities as an alpha.

  • Protector – The most important role is to protect Haley and keep her safe from harm. She should feel relaxed and confident knowing that I’m in control so she doesn’t have to assume the role of protector.
  • Provider – Beyond providing the basics of food, water and shelter, I make sure Haley is healthy, fit and stays both mentally and physically active and challenged. She gets plenty of affection and playtime too!
  • Teacher – There have to be rules and training for acceptable behavior and what works best for Haley is positive reinforcement techniques using clear communication and direction. But it’s not just all about rules. There are plenty of fun and exciting tricks, skills and activities you can teach your pup too!
  • Leader – Dogs need leadership and guidance based on love, trust and respect. A consistent and fair leader with positive energy can keep even a pushy dog from becoming a nuisance without resorting to using force, threats or intimidation.

Dominant DogIt’s a shame that the terms alpha and pack leader have become so closely tied to old-school, discipline and dominance-based training methods because the principles are still relevant and important. Some people may dislike the terms, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone has to lead, set the rules and keep the peace. In fact, the lack of leadership and structure is one reason some out-of-control dogs are surrendered to shelters by frustrated owners at their wits end. It’s also worth noting that every dog is different and some need more structure and guidance than others, but it should always be given via positive and humane methods built on trust and respect.

If your goal is to have a dog that listens and respects you, forget the notion of submissive alpha roles or making sure your dog never goes through a door before you. Focus instead on using positive methods of training your pup and you’ll become a truly benevolent and respected alpha in your pack.

What are your thoughts on alpha dogs and pack mentality? Alpha Dogs and Pack Mentality

What’s Your Pet’s Pet Peeves?

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What's Your Pet's Pet Peeves?I have a few pet peeves when it comes to people and these three are at the top of my list.

My Pet Peeves

  • The grocery shopper that blocks the aisle with their cart, then gives you an annoyed look when you politely say “Excuse me”.
  • The driver that forces you to slam on your brakes because they pull out in front of you when there’s nobody in sight behind you. Usually they end up driving well below the speed limit too.
  • The person that crunches loudly when eating food or chews with their mouth open.

Here’s what’s strange. I know it’s not their fault, but noisy eaters bother me the most. Ironically, I don’t mind watching or listening to Haley crunch food or chew with her mouth open. As a matter of fact, I find it amusing.

Why am I so tolerant of Haley’s crunching when sometimes I have to leave the room when a human is eating the same way? The truth is, there are very few things that bother me about dogs compared to humans. Yes, it’s not always pleasant when a panting dog gets in your face to greet you with their steamy dog breath or when you reach down to pet your pup only to realize they’ve just rolled in some nasty smelling substance, but I generally find dogs to be much less annoying than people.

I wonder if dogs feel the same way. I’m sure they have their people pet peeves, but are they more tolerant of humans than other dogs? Haley prefers the company of people over dogs, but I can always tell when she’s irritated with me. She’ll walk away from me but turn her head enough to give me “the look” or she’ll slowly lie down while letting out a grumble of displeasure when she doesn’t get her way. If I had to guess, these would be Haley’s top three people pet peeves.

My Pet’s Pet Peeves

  • Haley’s not a fan of having food balanced on her nose then trying to catch it in the air. I think she feels it’s quite demeaning.
  • Loud sneezes from the humans will sometimes send her out of the room.
  • Hearing the phrase, “In a little bit” means maybe later to Haley and I usually get a little doggy back talk in return.

Whether it’s loud crunching or loud sneezes, I guess we all have things that irritate us sometimes. Are you more tolerant of pets than people when it comes to peeves? Go ahead, vent your most annoying pet peeves in the comment section and let us know your pet’s pet peeves too!

10 Tips for Keeping Your Car Clean With a Dog

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10 Tips for Keeping Your Car Clean With a DogWhether we’re off to discover a new hiking trail or just traveling a few miles up the road to visit Grandma and Grandpap, summertime means more trips in the car with Haley. She loves going everywhere with us, but we don’t particularly love all the hair, mud and mess that’s left behind in the Jeep when we get back home. Over the years, we’ve discovered these tips for keeping your car clean when traveling with a dog. Well, “cleaner” at least!

10 Tips for Keeping Your Car Clean

1. Groom Your Dog
If it’s shedding season or your dog is a nervous shedder when riding in the car, brush or comb your pup before leaving the house to keep excess hair out of your vehicle.
2. Stick With One Vehicle
If you have multiple cars, pick one to be the dedicated dog hauler so you only have one car to clean and deodorize. Our older Jeep Liberty has become our dogmobile which keeps the other vehicles fresh and fur-free.
3. Restrain Your Dog
Whether you use a crate, seat-belt harness or just keep your dog in the back area of your vehicle, containing your pup in a smaller area means less mess and hair to clean later. Check out Barbara’s recent post on K9s Over Coffee for some safe options for restraining your dog in the car.
4. Protect Your Seats
We’ve always had leather seats in our vehicles which make cleanups easier, but a dog’s toenails can still scratch the leather. Invest in a durable seat cover to protect cloth or leather seats and to keep mud, hair and other unmentionable messes contained. Most seat covers are easy to install and can be easily removed and washed when dirty. Hammock-style seat covers, like this one by Plush Paws, not only protect your seats and floor mats, but they also prevent your dog from falling into the floorboard area if you brake unexpectedly.
5. Protect Your Carpet
SUVs and dogs are a perfect match! I lower the back seats so Haley has plenty of room, then I cover the carpeted area with a heavy, twin-sized quilt. The quilt stays in place well, keeps her hair from getting embedded in the carpet fibers and absorbs any mud or water if she gets wet while hiking. It can be easily removed and washed when needed. Rubber-backed bathmats can be used for smaller dogs and nothing beats WeatherTech floorliners for protecting floorboard carpet. For even more protection, cover carpeted areas with the clear, adhesive carpet film you often see used in model homes.
6. Assemble a Cleaning Kit
Muddy Dog Car

Who’s going to clean this mess? Not Haley!

While on the road, it’s handy to have these items when you need them: Paper towels, pet wipes (especially if your dog likes to roll in nasty-smelling things), microfiber towels, a slobber cloth (for drooling dogs), plastic bags, dog brush or comb, lint brush (for you), tick-remover tool/tweezers and a spare bottle of water.
7. Use T-shirts for Heavy Shedders
If your pup is a heavy shedder, have them wear a lightweight t-shirt while traveling in the car. Gather the loose area of the shirt around their lower belly, twist the fabric, and tie into a loose knot so it fits well. It may not contain all the dog hair, but it will prevent most of it from flying around inside your car.
8. Leave Dirt and Critters Behind
After hiking, clean your pup before getting back in the car. Brush off any loose dirt, use the spare bottle of water to rinse muddy paws and towel off their fur to remove any excess water. If you’ve been hiking in an area where ticks are common, comb through your dog’s fur and check for any of those nasty critters.
9. Clean Your Car
This is a no-brainer, right? To keep doggy odors out of your vehicle, clean your car right away when you get home. Remove the seat cover or quilt and wash if necessary and make sure to ventilate the car well if any areas got damp from your pup’s adventures. A small Shop-Vac with a crevice tool is perfect for vacuuming any pet hair left behind and ArmorAll and Windex wipes quickly take care of any dirt or nose prints left on windows. If any odors remain, sprinkle the area with baking soda then vacuum up after 24 hours or use Febreeze spray to freshen upholstery or carpet.
10. Remove Stubborn Dog Hair
Using seat covers will keep most of the pet hair off your upholstery and lint brushes or adhesive lint rollers can help remove any additional stray hairs. If your dog’s fur seems to get stuck in the fabric of your seats, a ScotchGard-like fabric treatment may help seal the fabric and free you from spending an entire weekend using tweezers to remove those pesky stray hairs. For hair embedded in carpet fibers, put on a pair of household, rubber gloves and rub your hands over the carpet to pull up and remove the hair or try the fine-grain pumice stone method used in the video below.

Yes! You can take your dog on car rides and adventures all summer long without your vehicle becoming a stinky, muddy furmobile. With a little planning, and armed with your cleaning kit, you’ll always be prepared for the worst. Then, by taking just a few minutes to clean your car when you get home, your vehicle can still be a pristine, sweet-smelling ride for your next night out on the town.

Got any tips for keeping your car clean? Share them in a comment below! 10 Tips for Keeping Your Car Clean With a Dog

Do Dogs Feel Guilty?

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Do Dogs Feel Guilty?Every time I see one of those dog shaming images with a guilty looking pup displaying their confession written on a sign hung around their neck, I wonder if any of those dogs really feel ashamed. Even though they may look or act remorseful, do dogs feel guilty?

What Do Researchers Say?

Most of the research on this subject suggests that dogs aren’t capable of having complex emotions like jealousy or guilt. It’s believed that when dogs act guilty, they’re usually responding to being scolded after they’ve done something wrong. Okay, I can easily accept that theory because I know how most dogs react when you raise your voice or use a stern tone with them, whether they’ve done something wrong or not. It’s also a common belief that dogs mostly live in the moment and don’t understand why they’re getting reprimanded for something, unless they’re caught in the act of the transgression.

…But Then There’s This Scenario

When I come home and Haley’s not standing at the door, ready to greet me with her wagging tail, I know something’s up! This happens on the rare occasions when I forget to move the kitchen trash can before leaving the house and Haley decides to have a field day redecorating the kitchen floor while rummaging through the can for tasty tidbits. I will find her lying in her bed with a guilty look on her face. You know the look: head lowered, ears back, pleading eyes and in Haley’s case, an ever so optimistic slowly wagging tail.

I have to admit, I have mildly scolded Haley a few times in the past for getting into the trash, but I haven’t done that for years because I realize now that it’s my fault for forgetting to move the trash can before leaving home. So, if she doesn’t feel guilt, as most researchers believe, why doesn’t she greet me at the door? If dogs live in the moment, wouldn’t she forget about her little party in the kitchen by the time I get home? She must know or feel that she’s done something wrong, because she won’t even look in the general direction of the trash can after I come home.

Here’s what I really wonder about. What’s she thinking or feeling during the time between her dirty deed and when I arrive back home? Does she look at the mess and think that sometimes I get upset when there’s trash on the floor? Does she lie on her bed for hours feeling bad about what she’s done or dreading the moment when I return home? I sure hope not! The fact that she doesn’t come to greet me means she’s feeling something and hasn’t forgotten what she’s done.

Dog Getting Into Trash

Remnants of the after-party party

Luckily, I don’t often forget to move the trash can when leaving the house and thankfully, Haley’s never eaten anything that made her sick but I’m glad that dogs don’t have opposable thumbs and the ability to create their own shaming signs and internet memes of us!

Despite the widely accepted theory that dogs don’t feel guilt, these two articles by Live Science and Scientific American suggest the verdict may still be out on whether dogs experience guilt or other complex emotions.


What do you think? Do dogs feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong? Do Dogs Feel Guilty?

Why You Should Celebrate National Pet Month!

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Why You Should Celebrate National Pet MonthI know, you’re probably rolling your eyes at the thought of another “National” something or other day or month, but this one is all about our best friends. Let’s face it, we all get lazy sometimes or settle into a routine with our pups, so the month of May is a perfect time to shake things up and celebrate National Pet Month!

What the Heck is National Pet Month?

National Pet Month is a holiday that was started in England to celebrate the benefits that pets bring to people’s lives. It’s celebrated during the month of April in the UK and during the month of May here in the US. Here are the four goals for celebrating this holiday.

  • Promote responsible pet ownership
  • Make people aware of the benefits of pets for people and people for pets
  • Increase public awareness of services available from professionals who work with animals
  • Raise awareness of the role, value and contribution to society of working companion animals

10 Ways to Celebrate National Pet Month

1. Adopt a Pet
Yep, this would be the ultimate way to celebrate! Head to your local shelter and see if your new best friend is waiting there for you.
2. Foster a Pet
If you’re not ready for a furever friend, consider fostering a dog or cat in need.
3. Volunteer
There are many ways to volunteer your time or talent to a local shelter or rescue. Maybe you can volunteer to work a few hours each week or offer your expertise to help train or take pictures of dogs to make them more likely to be adopted. You can also post images of adoptable dogs and cats on your own social media networks.
4. Donate
While doing your spring cleaning this month, gather any towels, blankets, pet toys, food or treats that you can donate to a local shelter. Of course, they also appreciate financial donations as well.
5. Recommend a Professional
If you love your vet, dog trainer, groomer, pet sitter, dog walker or any other pet professional, help spread the word about how fantastic they are.
6. Walk a Dog
Walking a shelter dog is a perfect opportunity to exercise while also helping a dog get some exercise, socialization and training. All of those things may help a shelter dog get adopted sooner. Some shelters even supply vests for the dogs to advertise they’re available for adoption.
7. Therapy Dog Training
If agility and fly ball don’t appeal to you, but you would like to do something more with your dog, think about taking a Canine Good Citizen certification class. As a therapy dog, your pup can help kids learn to read at your local library or bring some cheer to children or seniors at a local hospital or senior care facility.
8. Visit a Friend
Dogs love to get out of the house and perhaps you know a friend, relative or senior that would enjoy a visit from you and your cheerful canine.
9. Share the Joy
When someone stops to admire or pet your dog, share with them about how much unconditional love and joy your pet brings to your life and the many benefits of owning a pet.
10. Set an Example
Promote responsible pet ownership by training your dog and setting a good example of pet etiquette.

Our dogs give us their unconditional love and companionship, they make us laugh and lower our blood pressure, they keep us healthy by being motivational exercise partners and so much more. Our sweet pups do so much for us even though we sometimes get into a rut, skip a walk or get caught up in our busy lives. National Pet Month is a good reminder to keep things interesting for our dogs and to take some extra time to give something back, like trying some of these fun activities.

10 Fun Ways to Celebrate With Your Dog

1. Go Exploring
Take your dog for a walk or hike somewhere new and give them extra time to stop, sniff and explore all of the new scents.
2. Playtime With a Friend
Dog ParkVisit a dog park or arrange for a playdate with your pup’s favorite play buddies.
3. Make Some Treats
What dog wouldn’t want to hang out in the kitchen while you mix and bake his favorite ingredients into some tasty homemade treats?
4. Go Shopping
Visit your local pet store and allow your buddy to pick out a few toys or a bone.
5. Shop Online
Order a new, stylish collar or maybe upgrade that old, worn out bed with a new model. Plenty of beautiful handmade dog products can be found on Etsy.
6. Challenge Your Dog
Most dogs love a challenge, so teach your dog a new trick, set up an obstacle course in the back yard or play a game like Find It.
7. Plan a Day Trip
Visit a new park and explore some interesting trails or plan a trip to a beach or lake where your dog can swim and dig in the sand.
8. Try a New Activity
Try something completely different with your dog, like kayaking or canoeing or relax with a Reiki or Doga class.
Dog With Tennis Ball
9. Give a Massage
If your dog loves belly rubs, he’ll really enjoy getting a long, relaxing massage from you. Good news! It’s beneficial for you too because it helps reduce stress and anxiety.
10. Let Your Pup Decide
Whether it’s a hike, belly-rub or some playtime, you know best what your dog enjoys the most. Spend some quality time together, then head to the nearest Starbucks and treat your pup to a Puppuccino! :)

I don’t take most of these “National” holidays too seriously, but sometimes they can be a helpful reminder for us. Feel free to skip National Whiners Day and National Have a Bad Day Day, but do at least one thing this month to promote the benefits of pets and spend some quality time with your dog or cat. How do you plan on celebrating National Pet Month?