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The Ground Work to Establishing Pack Structure by Ed Frawley

I've been training dogs for 50 years, 30 of those as a professional dog trainer. I've heard the following sayings and they've made plenty of sense to me:

  1. "Dog's don't know how to be good unless we show them."
  2. "You create your dog's value system.
  3. "People don't give birth to a brat!"
  4. "You can feed, water, and love your dog and he will like you, but he very well may not respect you."
  5. "Dogs know what you know and they know what you don't know."

Establishing pack structure is crucial for every single dog out there. And if you have an adult dog, it's not yet too late. This article is aimed towards owners with adult dogs. It's important that you establish pack structure, especially if your dog is showing signs of dominance and aggression.

I have owned, bred, and trained police service dogs. Some have been very tough and difficult to control due to their dominance but the way I train them works. I have control over the aggressive dogs once I establish myself as the leader. Being a pack leader also helps dogs grow confidence. They know that you are the leader and that you will protect them. You're telling them not to worry because you'll lead them.

You need to adopt the attitude of a pack leader. It doesn't involve aggression towards a dog. It doesn't involve rolling him on his back either. There is no need to have hard leash corrections or even to raise your voice at your dog. What it needs is a leader's attitude. As a dog owner, you need to learn how to do this.

Every dog knows a leader when he's in the presence of one. They can sense it. Leash corrections won't tell them you're the leader. Inappropriate corrections will only make the dog look at you in a negative view rather than respect.

"Dogs know what you know and they know what you don't know." In this article, I'm going to show you "what I know." I will explain how I establish responsibility and have restrictions in order to build relationships with my dog.

Love is Not Enough

Many behavioral problems in dogs are caused by mistakes made in the basic foundation of how relationships were set up between owners and their dogs.

These are the mistakes made in ground work (GW). Ground work is "the work which involves establishing pack structure with a new dog."

Many people believe that loving a dog is enough to form a good relationship but this is wrong.

Unconditional love is never enough. Love always has conditions and boundaries. It also has mutual trust and respect. Unless humans deal with the respect issue in love, they will never have a pack leader relationship with the dog.

What is Groundwork?

When I talk about GW, I'm not talking about training a dog to come, heel, or sit. What I'm talking about is teaching the dog how I plan on living with it. I'm talking about establishing pack structure with a new dog.

We handle a dog in our day-to-day life by teaching him about ourselves, our pack, and our pack rules.

How and when I do anything with the dog whether it is grooming, feeding, or exercising him will tell the dog a lot about our future relationship. Even my general attitude will give him a hint of what it'll be like in the future.

I call these the first steps to establishing family pack structure.

When we bring a new dog into our home, the decisions we make on how we live with that dog and the methods used to train that dog have long-term implications on what kind of relationship we develop with the dog.

I'll tell people, "They might not think of themselves as a dog trainer but the fact is, every time we are around our dog, we are teaching the dog something." You need to determine if you are teaching something good or something bad. Some people won't know the difference. My article and DVD as well as other resources from the website will help people know this difference.

The Solutions to the Most Behavior Problems

Solutions to behavior problems usually lie within the owners. The owners need to change the way they live with the dog.

While humans use the past to find answers to current problems, dogs will live in the present. Using the past to figure out a dog's behavioral problem isn't going to work.

Of course, I'm not saying that you don't need to make changes for a dog that was abused in the past. The term "abuse" is used far too often when trying to explain behavioral problems.

I wouldn't change my philosophy of how to live with or train a dog just because it had a bad experience in the past. I think about what it needs to work on now and the changes I can do to establish myself as the leader.

It's Never Too Late to Change

If you currently have a problem with your dog, it's never too late to consider making changes on how you live with your dog.

If you do have problems with a dog, it's crucial that you make changes! The way you've been living with your dog has allowed these problems to develop.

Never forget this: Dogs live in the moment and they miss nothing. The old saying, "You can't teach an old dog a new trick," is bad information. Don't rely on it.

It is never too late to start doing things correctly. You just need the patience and confidence in what you're doing to fix your problems.

Which Breeds Need Ground Work?

Every breed needs ground work. Dog training is not breed specific. It is temperament and drive specific.

Every new dog needs to go through a solid ground work program. Age, breed, and size don't matter. His background and past and even his level of training shouldn't deter you from going through a solid program.

Ground work exercises will help control dogs. There are new owner experiences required in learning to handle the character traits a new dog has.

These groundwork exercises will result in owners having more confidence in handling dogs. The more ground work there is, the more experience and the more confidence every new dog owner will have.

Many Rescue Dogs Genetically Have Faulty Temperaments

People who rescue dogs are oftentimes told that their dog has been abused when that isn't the case. Dogs will be turned into humane societies because of their faulty temperaments. In some cases, these dogs just didn't have a healthy pack structure.

Dogs with faulty temperaments are also dogs with pack drives. They simply react to the "rank" portion of their pack drive differently than well-adjusted house dogs do.

These dogs need the pack structure training more so than normal dogs. Many of these dogs will have temperament issues and as a result, people will treat them anthromorphically (like a human child) rather than as a pack animal. This will cause BIG problems.

Owners will come to their senses when their dogs develop serious dominance problems. Others will just turn the dog in to animal shelters and others will give up and put the dogs to sleep.

The First Weeks

When I bring a new dog into our home, I socially isolate the dog for a period of time. Some dogs may only need to be for 3 or 4 days. With dominant dogs, it can take weeks.

Social isolation means taking care of the dog's basic needs. Food, water, walks, a clean place to sleep, and nothing else. Don't pet the dog. Don't play with the dog. Don't talk sweet to the dog. You need to act aloof, as if it's not there.

During this social isolation period, the only time the dog is out of the crate is while in the house, when it is on its way outside.

Always on a Leash

The instant I let the dog out of the crate, I hook a leash to him so he is always under complete control. I will never have the dog off the leash, even when I walk him from the crate to the door.

When I do allow him out of the crate, he is always on a leash. If I watch TV, he is on a leash. If I work on the computer, he is on a leash. He'll also always be by my side on the leash. This dog doesn't get free run of the house--not yet.

When the dog starts to misbehave, it needs to go back in the crate and stay on the leash when it's in the house. Being free in the house is an earned privilege. Many pet owners will forget this.

It will become crystal clear to the dog that I am in total control of it's environment. This is very important to teach a pack animal.

During this time, you don't need to correct the dog to make him understand that you control his life. He will know.

While formal training on an adult dog may not start for several weeks or even a month there is a lot that the dog can learn while you wait.

The dog needs to learn that it is his new home and that I am his pack leader. Before doing formal obedience work, you need to bond with the dog.

Be consistent and fair. Keep him on a leash and control every aspect of his life. Don't issue an unwarranted correction. Play fair. If it's your fault for not paying attention to him when he breaks a chew toy or pees in the house, then YOU are the one that needs the correction--not the dog.

I go out of my way to act 'aloof' around the dog. I don't make him feel like I don't care about him. I act like this is a job-that I would rather be in Florida than be spending time with him. My initial goal is to teach him that he has to earn my "affection and respect."

I may take care of the dog for the first few weeks but I don't act gushy over him. I'll take him for a walk but I own't play with him. I'll just walk and put him back to where he was. This is what an alpha wolf does in the pack. They are aloof and having that aloof attitude will signal the dog that I'm potentially, the pack leader.

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A well-trained dog always has an owner that is a respected pack leader. When we establish a meaningful bond with our dog, we both wake up everyday, wanting to spend time togheter. Don't understimate the happiness this kind of relationship can bring to your life