In my online course modules I begin by talking about free-living canines, as group living animals, being organised and using rituals to establish their essential societal structure. I show how their survival is based on capable leadership and that our dogs look within our families for capable leadership proof and will take on the lead role if they don’t see it in a way they understand. And this is very stressful for them, causing all sorts of undesirable behaviours. When we begin to use these instinctive canine rituals to teach our dogs and prove ourselves capable of looking after them, we enable them to be at their most relaxed, and able to let go of the unwanted behaviours.
I go on to talk about the huge importance of food and why there is symbolism around it that they use, every single day. If we can use what they do in their natural state we can make sure we provide our dogs really good information allowing them to be their most relaxed and happiest.
Acknowledging that dogs live in a hierarchical structure and use essential rituals to establish their roles, we understand that all pack members have roles within the family pack but the role of the decision makers is hugely important and their success means survival for the family. These decision makers are fully responsible for the safety and welfare for the entire pack – it’s a very responsible role… and this means it’s important for them to be and remain as healthy as possible.
Food is essential, and when it is there, in their natural habitat, and also in the domestic environment, food is often used very symbolically and ritualistically by the group to re-establish structure and hierarchy.
So, it’s actually another key tool of communicating everyone’s roles. It’s a conversation! It’s never “just” food!
In a well organised group of canines, it is accepted that the senior leadership team eat first as they have to remain fit and healthy to lead the group and make good decisions. This called “the power of food” and the rest of the group are fine with it! The decision makers eat first, displaying a clear hierarchy, and when they are satisfied, they simply walk away, the next ranking pack member is able to eat. Lions do this too, by the way, and it’s all about reinforcing leadership with this quick and instinctive information that they are capable of looking after the rest of them, meaning the rest of the group to relax into their more junior and less responsible roles.
Ok so if we now know that canines use food in a ritualistic manner to help establish hierarchies, there must be a way we too can benefit from this and …help our dogs understand we take care of them, not the other way around.
I’ll explain more in the next blog about how we can use the rituals around food to benefit our dogs… click here