The Old Trainer: New dog has to learn pack's rules

April 7, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: We had three dogs and just added Wishbone, a 1-year old Lab/German shepherd mix to our pack. Wishbone is happy and full of life and loves all the older dogs, but every so often one of them will growl at him and even jump on him now and then. It doesn't seem to bother him, but what should we do when it happens?

-- Larry, Fort Bragg

A: Don't do anything. Give them a few seconds, then call the older dogs and Wishbone over and thank the veterans for showing Wishbone the ropes, then tell them "good dogs" and pet them all.

The old dogs are just teaching Wishbone the rules of the pack. Watch them at work and enjoy the free seminar on dog training. One thing you'll notice is that Wishbone pays attention to them and doesn't make the same mistake twice.

It's part of canine psychology. The new dog must respect the perks of the older dogs and learn pack protocol. When one of the old ones bristles, it's because Wishbone has crossed a line and the old dog is teaching him not to do it again.

It happens with humans, too. When a new arrival joins the team or the office or the class, there is an established order and the newcomer must prove himself before he is treated as one of the gang.

Charley Weis, who won three Super Bowl rings as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, tells of the time when he was a rookie coach with the New York Jets and offered up an unsolicited opinion on the first day of training camp. Head coach Bill Parcells said, "You've been in the league for five minutes. Just sit there and shut up."

That's how the pack feels about Wishbone right now.

You can't have a successful team in business, sports or anything else, unless the team has a leader and everyone observes the psychological rules that govern group behavior.

One of the rules is that over time people develop habits of where they sit, who they sit next to, when they can speak, all the little requirements of group interaction.

There's a scene in "Mulholland Falls" in which the elite four-man squad of detectives is driving to a crime scene and one of the detectives asks Nick Nolte, "Max, did it ever occur to you that we always sit in the same seats?" Max doesn't answer, but the context is clear.

Max, the team leader, understands that those little unspoken rituals are what enable a team to perform at a high level.

The rituals are even more important in canine psychology. The older dogs had a successful pack before Wishbone arrived because they all knew and respected the rules. They are teaching them to Wishbone, and, as you have observed, that's fine with him.

It won't take long for Wishbone to fit in. He'll be happy, the pack will be happy, and you won't have to do a thing. The pack will do the work for you.

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