Do I need to be a pack leader?
Question: Are domestic dogs true pack animals? Answer: No.
The dangerous but common misunderstanding about the concept of dominance and pack theory in the dog world is based in large part on research collected from studies performed on a pack of unrelated, captive wolves in the 1970s by Dr. L. David Mech . The results of these early studies suggested that there was a rigid hierarchy in which 'alphas' (leaders) had priority access to resources, forcefully maintaining the group structure through displays of aggression to others. Because dogs were believed to have descended from wolves, it was then assumed that similar social groupings and violent 'pack' dynamics must therefore exist among domestic dogs as well.
What is more, the formation of these dog packs was supposedly based on the desire or drive of certain dogs to be the alpha or top dog of the group, and the resulting hierarchy was based on competitive success obtained through aggressive confrontations.
This theory became so popular that despite the obvious (and very important) fact that dogs and wolves are separated by thousands of years of evolution and that dogs and humans are completely different species, the concept was attributed to explain not only the social interactions between dogs, but also between people and dogs and how dogs should be trained.
But dogs are not wolves, and even if they were, those captive wolf studies have since been renounced by the very scientists who performed them and drew their original conclusions ->
When I casually use the word 'pack' I simply mean 'my human family and my dogs that live together' - I am not under any illusion that my domestic pet dog may see me as another 'dog' and certainly not as an 'alpha' and after dogs have been living with humans for about 15.000-30.000 they are a distant example of what their ancestors were. Just as I call my dogs 'my babies' I am aware I am not their birth mother.
Being a good 'leader' or 'role model' however is what I aim to be as much as possible so that my dogs can relax knowing I will take care of everything and they can trust me. I certainly do not try to 'dominate' them through unnecessary aggressive outbursts, aversive techniques, the use of uncomfortable or painful equipment or threats. I 'lead' with knowledge, compassion and fairness. Very few people are good leaders all of the time. It can be hard to keep calm when things don't go to plan. To be a good teacher. To not dwell on the past. To be understanding of differences in dog and human behaviour.
Click the button above for my article on Dominance in dogs and the Pack Theory Myth
Dr. L. David Mech talks about the terms "alpha" and "beta" wolves and why they are no longer scientifically accurate.