The Lord Of The Flies Principle


By Sean O’Shea

If you have a multi-dog household, and are experiencing tension, squabbles, or all out fights, the reason is almost always lack of leadership, structure, and rules. This results in doggy chaos. When dogs don’t have a strong pack structure in their house – meaning if they’re not 100% sure who’s in charge, what’s allowed and not allowed, and that someone will effectively enforce the rules – they can quickly become stressed, anxious, pushy, bratty, possessive, worried, fearful etc.

As you can imagine, dogs co-habitating in this fashion are going to be ripe for trouble and fighting. If you’ve ever read The Lord Of The Flies (I know this is going back a long way for most of us!!) you’ve got a great example of the psychological and behavioral breakdown that occurs when structure, rules, and authority are absent. Just replace all the kids in the story with your dogs. 🙂

When structure, rules, and authority are removed, stress, anxiety, and fear start to manifest. Why? Because of survival instincts. Social creatures understand that the absence of structure, rules, and authority mean danger, risk, and fear, and that puts everyone on edge. It also creates the opportunity for personality traits that might have remained managed or suppressed in the presence of authority (dominant, bratty, possessive etc) to surface and blossom when that authority pressure is removed.

So understanding this dynamic it becomes clear that in order to create a harmonious household with multiple dogs (and of course this applies to single dog homes as well!), we need to make sure that we clearly and consistently share STRUCTURE (place command, thresholds, structured walk etc), RULES (no jumping on people, no harassing or pressuring other dogs, no possessive behavior etc), and AUTHORITY (sharing believable and valuable consequences for unwanted behavior etc).

The absence of these elements creates the opportunity for chaos and unhappy, stressed out dogs. (And kids!!)

Remember the end of the story, when the boys where finally rescued? They immediately reverted back to their normal, courteous, polite, thoughtful, and civilized selves. Why? Because they had to – and also because they wanted to.

For those of you not familiar with the book, here’s a link:


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1 comment
  1. Doug H said:

    The book alluded to is a true classic of modern literature. As a pretty skilled amateur trainer and dog rescue volunteer, I have a view that is difficult for many people to accept : People do not enroll in training class from fear. The fear of looking foolish, or stronger still, of punishing the dog seem common. I have noted that almost no rescue women (it’s easily 9 women to every man) are amateur trainers with basic skills and understanding. Ordinary logic would suggest a person who rescues dogs would do basic behavior practice to make the ‘foster’ dog adoptable (sit on command, walk tolerably well on a leash, not sleep in the bed but in a crate, etc.). But it’s not that way.
    Dog owners are more ready to admit ignorance and take class(es). But the irrational (and wrong) bias against prong collars, electronic collars and even a discussion of their correct use is nearly always rejected. I find it to be almost as bad with veterinarians and ‘behaviorists’, who condemn both collar types, but neither are trainers. And a dog owner will nearly never have the time and skills to ‘positive reinforce only’ to stop a biting,barking,lunging, out of control dog.

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