Trainers and dog behavior consultants used to believe that walking order had a significant impact on the relationships between your dogs -- and you. It used to be believed that whomever was in front was the dominant member of the group. However, in recent years scientific observations of dogs have dispelled this myth.
The Dominance Myth
Almost every pet owner has heard some variation of the dominance myth. "You must control your dog before it controls your home." "The dominant dog gets everything first." This outdated theory has been debunked repeatedly by experts studying dog behavior. Rather than viewing dogs as wolves trying to take over the home, try viewing dogs as beings who learn, share and respect in much the same way human children do. In fact, many behaviors described as dominant are nothing more than fearful reactions or temper tantrums meant to obtain the food, space or security the dog needs. In this way, we are the same.
The Truth about Dog Relationships
Rather than looking at dogs as attempting to control one another, view these relationships as fluid. There's a lot of give and take between dogs. For example, watch two dogs play together. Most likely, they take turns chasing each other. When wrestling, they reverse who pins and who gets pinned. Likewise, when sharing resources, dogs may prize the tennis ball on one occasion, and focus on the sunny sleeping spot the next. The point is, everything depends on mood, context and value. It's fluid.
How Does This Apply to Pack Walks
When dogs walk together, they are sharing the experience of being out. Though usually controlled by a leash, given the choice dogs will wander and sniff to and fro. They take turns reading the pee-mail on the telephone pole, and they often follow each other to the next point of interest. Granted, when walking multiple dogs the frequency of leash pulling makes it appear that they're competing. However, this is often a manners and training issue, not a status problem.
So, Does It Matter Which Dog is First?
The short answer is no. The long answer is -- it depends. If you're having behavior problems such as leash pulling or fighting on walks, then seek the help of a qualified trainer to address manners training and pack relations. However, more than likely, you simply need to focus on rewarding the good dog for walking nicely -- soon enough, everyone else will follow suit. And if perfect leash manners aren't your thing, simply sit back and enjoy the adventure as your dogs take turns leading.
By Shelly Volsche
About the Author
Shelly Volsche has worked as a professional dog behavior consultant, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and a diploma in canine nutrition. She has written for "The Chronicle of the Dog" and Lucky Dog Magazine and is currently pursuing her PhD in anthropology with a focus on pet parents.