Amichien Bonding Establishing Leadership of the Pack

No one could have a higher regard for the intelligence of the dog than me. There are still times when I seriously wonder whether they are wiser creatures than some of the humans with whom I come into contact! Even I have had to accept that one thing is beyond them, however. Dogs are never going to learn our language. The bad news is that to communicate successfully with our dogs, it is up to us to learn their language. It is a task that requires an open mind and a respect for the dog. No one who regards a dog as their inferior will achieve anything. It must be respected at all times for what it is.

The good news, however, is that whereas humans speak in a bewildering range of tongues and dialects, dogs share one universal language. It is a silent and extremely powerful language, yet at its heart are a simple set of principles that—with a few subtle variations — influence the way all dogs behave. To understand the principles of this language, we first have to understand the society within which all our dogs believe they are living. And the model for this community is the wolf pack.

The modern dog's appearance and lifestyle is, of course, far removed from that of its ancient ancestor. Centuries of evolution have not removed its basic instincts, however. The dog may have been taken out of the wolf pack, but the instincts of the wolf pack have not been taken out of the dog. Two immensely powerful forces guide the life of a wolf pack. The first is its instinct for survival, the second its instinct for reproduction. The means it has evolved to guarantee these ends is a hierarchical system as strict and successful as any in the animal world. Every wolf pack is made up of leaders and subordinates. And at the head of every pack's pecking order are the ultimate rulers: the Alpha pair.

As the strongest, healthiest, most intelligent, and most experienced members of the pack, it is the Alpha pair's job to ensure its survival. As a result, they dominate and dictate everything that the pack does. Their status is maintained by consistent displays of authority. Underlining this, the Alpha pair are the only members of the pack who breed. As humans we have, of course, developed along different, what we would like to believe are more democratic, lines. Yet sometimes I wonder whether it is we rather than the dogs who took a wrong turn. How much trust can we really place in our leaders? How many of us have even met them? Within the wolf pack no such uncertainty exists. The Alpha pair control and direct life within the pack and the remainder of the pack accept that rule unfailingly. Each subordinate member is content to know its place and its function within this pecking order. Each lives happy in the knowledge that it has a vital role to play in the overall well-being of the pack.

The hierarchy of the pack is constantly reinforced through the use of highly ritualized behavior. The ever-changing nature of pack life—in which Alphas and their subordinates are frequently killed or replaced through age—makes this essential. As far as the wolf's modern-day descendants are concerned, however, four main rituals hold the key to the pack instinct which lives on within them. They are central to all that will follow.

It is no surprise to discover the Alpha pair are at their most dominant during hunting and feeding times. Food, after all, represents the pack's most fundamental need, its very survival depends on it. As the strongest, most experienced, and intelligent members of the pack, the Alpha pair take the lead during the search for new hunting grounds. When prey is spotted, they lead the chase and direct the kill. The Alpha pair's status as the pack's key decision makers is never more in evidence than during this process. The wolf's prey can range from mice to buffalo, from elk to moose. A pack may spend hours stalking, cornering, and slaying its target, covering as far as fifty miles at a time. The organization of this operation requires a combination of determination, tactics, and management skills. It is the Alpha pair's job to provide this leadership. It is the job of the subordinates to follow and provide support.

When the kill has been made, the Alpha pair get absolute precedence when it comes to eating the carrion. The pack's survival depends on their remaining in peak physical condition after all. Only when they are satisfied and signal their feed is over will the rest of the pack be permitted to eat—and then according to the strict pecking order, with the senior subordinates feasting first and the juniors last. Back at the camp, the pups and babysitters will be fed by the hunters' regurgitation of their food. The order is absolute and unbreakable. A wolf will act aggressively toward any animal that attempts to eat before it. Even the fact that the pack contains its blood relatives will not stop the Alpha attacking any animal that breaks with protocol and dares to jump the queue.

The Alpha pair repay the respect the pack bestows upon them with total responsibility for its welfare. Whenever danger threatens, it is, once more, the role of the Alpha pair to protect the pack. This is the third situation in which the natural order of the pack is underlined. The Alpha pair perform their leadership role unblinkingly, and from the front. They will react to danger in one of three ways, selecting one of the "three Fs" — flight, freeze, or fight—and will run away, ignore the threat, or defend themselves. Whichever response the Alpha pair select, the pack will again back up their leaders to the hilt.

The fourth key ritual is performed whenever a pack is reunited after being apart. As the pack reassembles, the Alpha pair remove any confusion by reasserting their dominance via clear signals to the rest of the pack. The pair have their own personal space, a comfort zone if you like, within which they operate. No other wolf is allowed to encroach into this space unless invited to do so. By rejecting or accepting the attention of other members who wish to enter their space, the Alpha pair re-establish their primacy in the pack—without ever resorting to cruelty or violence.

We may consider them to be pets but our dogs still believe they are functioning members of a community that operates according to principles directly descended from the wolf pack. Whether its "pack" consists of itself and its owner, or a large family of humans and other animals, the dog believes it is part of a social grouping and a pecking order that must be adhered to at all times. What is more, all of the problems we encounter with our dogs are rooted in their belief that they rather than us, their owners, are the leaders of their particular packs.

In our modern society, we keep dogs as eternal puppies, feeding them and caring for them, so they never have to fend for themselves. This is why dogs should never be given the responsibility of being Alpha of a pack, as they will simply be unable to cope with the decisions they face. The responsibility puts immense pressure on them and leads to the behavioral problems I so often witness.

In the course of the last few years, the many dogs I have worked with have suffered symptoms ranging from biting to barking to bicycle chasing. Yet in each and every case, the root of the problem lay in the dog's misplaced belief about its place within the pack. So in each and every case, I have started the same way, by going through the process of Amichien Bonding. I have never deviated once; it is absolutely fundamental.

The bonding takes the form of four separate elements. Each correlates to the specific times I have identified when the pack's hierarchy is established and underlined. On each occasion, the dog is confronted with a question which we must answer on its behalf.

• When the pack reunites after a separation, who is the boss now?

• When the pack eats food, what order do they eat in?

• When the pack is under attack or there is a fear of danger, who is going to protect us?

• When the pack goes on a hunt, who is going to lead us?

This is a holistic method of working; all four elements must take place in conjunction with each other, and they must be repeated constantly, day in, day out. The dog must, in effect, be blitzed with signals. It needs to learn that it is not its responsibility to look after its owner, that it is not its job to care for the house, that all it has to do is sit back and lead a comfortable and enjoyable life. It is a mantra that must be repeated over and over again. Only then will a dog get the message that it is no longer in charge; only then will it be able to exercise the most powerful form of control, self-control. After this has been achieved, the task of tackling the specific problems of the individual dog becomes infinitely easier.

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