Yesterday I met a dog on the beach who asked me who is on top of the hierarchy in my pack. He had read my blog about knowing one’s place, where I state that Chuck is at the bottom of this hierarchy. The dog was curious where I stand. I thought it a very stupid question. I am on top, of course!
The dog who asked me this is not the brightest one and therefore it is not good if he uses his tiny brain for subjects that are too demanding for him. He’d better focus on necessary tasks (like finding food). That is why I gave him this answer. The correct answer to his question is not that simple. You see: a hierarchy in a group of dogs or humans or a mixed group is not static, but dynamic. Who is ‘on top’ depends on the task that needs to be done.
As I wrote before about the misconception of dominance, dogs and humans work together in a way that is best for a certain situation. Every group consists of leaders and followers, but they are not always the same humans or dogs. The human or dog who is most able to perform the task required is in the lead. So it depends on the task who is ‘boss’. I read in these management magazines (P reads them too) that it works exactly the same way in modern human organizations. There is no boss who tells everybody what to do, but there are specialists, working together.
That is exactly how it works in packs of dogs and humans, too. Humans know the way in the complex human world, so they guide us there. It is their speciality. Dogs know the way in the natural and spiritual world, so we guide our humans there. We teach them to be patient (when we do not come when called, for instance), to be clear in their intentions (you cannot lie to us, we see right through you) and we give comfort in hard times. Our hierarchy is fluid, it changes according to the circumstances.
Anyway, that is too difficult a story to tell the dog with the tiny brain, so I just told him I am the boss in our little hierarchy. He is a terrible newsmonger, I am sure he will tell all the beach dogs that I am the boss. Good! That’s great for my image.
We dogs are easy to understand, if you know what to look for. We live by a few simple rules. Hierarchy is one of them. To us hierarchy is very important. That makes sense, because we live in groups. In groups of dogs or humans, that doesn’t matter to us. In a group you need a hierarchy to function. Wild dogs need this structure to hunt and get their food. Can you imagine what would happen if every member of the pack would do as he pleases, one chasing a squirrel, the other chasing a rabbit and the rest of them snoozing in the sun because they ‘don’t feel like doing anything today’? Right: they won’t get anything to eat and they will die.
A lot of modern dogs do not need to hunt anymore. We are city dogs and farm dogs: we get fed by humans. But still we need hierarchy. It gives clear rules, a structure for us to function in. Like humans, we like to know the boundaries, so we can feel safe and free inside them. No structure means uncertainty and we do not like that. When there is no structure, we will make one ourselves. It comes natural to us, as you can see when dogs meet for the first time. They will sort out the rules and the hierarchy pretty quick. I noticed that humans do the same: as soon as they meet, they start exploring each others position in order to sort out the hierarchy. Funny, hey? Humans and dogs do not differ that much, surprisingly.
Like I said: we dogs live in groups and it does not matter to us whether it is a group of dogs or humans. We call it our pack, either way. My pack consists of M and P and Chuck. Sometimes it gets enlarged with other temporary members, friends from M and P or me. But this is my core pack. We have a strict hierarchy. Chuck is way down this hierarchy. That is why I let him sleep on my bed, but he has to stay on the ground. And I sleep in the chair. Which is more cosy and soft and also higher. We dogs take things very literal: higher in the hierarchy also means higher in height. A dog that sleeps on the sofa, the bed, in a chair is higher than the ones that stay on the floor. Like Chuck. I can even remove him from the cushion on the floor if I feel like it and he won’t complain, ever. Chuck knows his place, our hierarchy is very clear.