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Soft Paws: To dogs, you stand as the leader of the pack

Maverick is a sweet 3-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier mix. He is pictured with CGHS/SPCA Adoption Counselor, Meghan Parmalee. Maverick was surrendered to us as he didn’t get along with the other pets in the home. He loves to play — especially with squeaky toys — and would do best with older children. He is looking for a single-pet household and someone to give all of his doggie kisses to.
April 13, 2018 11:35 am Updated: April 13, 2018 11:48 am

The opening preamble to my beginning training groups goes something like this:

Dogs always do what they think is right.

They are reactors — not actors on this great stage of life. They live in the moment, very Zen, and make their split-second decisions one after another.

Their decisions are always drive-driven, based on one of three canine drives. They have no malice, no ill-intent. They do not spend their waking moments trying to “get back at us,” manipulate us, out-maneuver or analyze us. They take us as we are, responding more to body language than any verbal treatise we may deliver to them.

Dogs are not jealous, they are anxious and insecure. Dogs are not spiteful, they are again anxious and concerned about abandonment. They are not disobedient, but more likely are confused or untrained.

The guilt is almost always on us, the human pack leaders (I was raised in a strong Judeo-Christian tradition), who aren’t consistent with the lessons, the timing, the directions, the repetition, the reinforcement, etc.

Mother Nature wires all canines with three basic drives, be they your chihuahua, your hunting dog, my purebred German shepherds, your mixed breed — they are all wired the same way, though the intensity of the drives vary from breed to breed and individual to individual.

Our domesticated predators respond to their environment based on these drives. They are as follows: pack, prey and defense. The most important lesson my packs of German shepherds have taught me was there was only one No. 1.

My dogs — whose numbers were No. 1 through No. 12 — never looked over their shoulders to see what the numbers behind them were doing; they all looked up that hierarchal ladder to the No. 1 dog, and the presiding No. 1 pack leader: me.

The problem many dogs face in multi-person households is they’re never quite sure who is No. 1, or they only show deference to the most consistent member of that household. It is tantamount to the success of our dogs, in any family structure, to have a consistency of “job descriptions,” using the same words for those jobs, as well as a clearly delineated “signal” to let them know the second they’ve done it right, that they’ve done it right!

A 2011 canine also requires a paycheck or currency (a “minimum wage,” if you will) for their employment to be steady and reliable.

“It’s all about money,” I chirp to my students. Your canine kids are putting in over 40 hours a week, and if they’re not getting state minimum wage at your house, they’re going to head to a fast-food restaurant where they’ll be guaranteed benefits by law.

A dog in pack drive desires to be part of a group, a team, particularly in reproduction and tending, and they thrive by living by the rules. We pack leaders should be safe (Dr. Phil’s “a safe place to fall”), trustworthy, easy to understand, giving direction, empowering, nurturing and freely giving guidance.

Good dog training and pack leadership is a lifestyle. Pack leaders address the food gathering and survival. The pack drive of our dogs is the instinctive behavior, which ultimately makes them such a pleasure to share our lives with — our beloved dogs reigning as the supreme companion animal.

Our dog training style should set limits for sure, while we boast being the best game in town, and that game is Follow The Leader! We’ll dissect prey drive next time.

I want to put out an APB for any needy families to take advantage of our bulging dog and cat Food Bank. Our donors were most generous at some recent food drives, and I believe there are many families, our senior citizens in particular, who could use our food surplus.

Many seniors have transportation problems, so it is my New Year hope neighbors, friends, relatives, employees of the departments of Social Services and Aging, volunteers, etc. will come, pick up and deliver food for these animals of families in need.

We supply our pet food to a number of local food banks, as well.

Charlene Marchand is the chairperson of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA Board of Directors. She may be contacted at