The Dog Hierarchy

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

We’ve been doing some serious training with our 11-month-old Coton puppy, Cody. As we’ve been gathering tips, taking lessons, and buying treats, its come to our awareness that there is a hierarchy of actions that Cody and presumably other dogs take in response to the stimuli in their environment. Brought on by the excitement of the world, this hierarchy of actions drives their behavior so that they seem to have no other choices.

The hierarchy includes (1) chasing—(2) eating—(3)smelling. I brought this idea up to Cody’s dog trainer and when I asked what we could do to keep him from chasing after the rabbits in the yard, his instructions were clear. “Good luck,” she told me.

Biological forces are powerful and each of us possesses our own hierarchy of responses. Our advantage as humans is that most of us can think our way past our initial responses to arrive at a more balanced and effective response than chasing a rabbit that can outrun us. Taking that extra few moments to consider choices when we just want to act is what helps fuel our good stress hormones and builds resilience.

© Richard Citrin, All rights reserved, 2016


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4 thoughts on “The Dog Hierarchy”

  1. having the dog practice the “wait” or “sit at the door” until you go through the door, entering or leaving builds in the capacity for inhibition of impulse… its a slow process… but I believe its a foundational place to start… it helps establish you as leader of the pack, and I believe builds the capacity for impulse control, that can eventually, slowly, be generalized to other behaviors and challenges.

    1. Agree with your comments, Richard and that is certainly what our trainer says as well. However dogs, like people, have the capacity to do their own thing and respecting that capacity helps to diminish the frustration of chasing him around screaming “CODY”

  2. Greg Seavers

    I am an EHS professional and shared the Dog hierarchy with one of our Supervisors. My point was to demonstrate how people can react to environmental stimuli In the workplace much like Cody chasing rabbits. We , however, must put practices, processes and procedures in place and maintain them so as to assist our employees to press the pause button – think before they act – so as to slow down before they hurt themselves or others. It also lessens the stress of the worker and the Supervisor.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Greg and I think your point is so well made particularly in relationship to EHS (Environmental Health and Safety). Getting folks to hit the “pause” button instead of moving ahead like Cody would help prevent a lot of injuries and create a safer work environment.

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