Feb 24, 2011

Stop Being The Pack Leader.

Don't Be The Pack Leader

Just Be Your Dogs Friend

Pack Theory



We hear it a lot today about being the leader of your pack. This is usually followed by why and how:

You, the human, must walk through the door first. I agree, because I don't want to trip over the dog, but why is it a must? It's good manners, sure - don't dive out the door, taking me with you. But it has nothing to do with being a pack leader.

Once you make it out the door, never let the dog walk in front of you - he'll think he's in charge. Well, sled dogs and hunting dogs are always in front of you, with no adverse effects.
You must eat first - the alpha wolf gets first dibs on the kill, taking the good meat for himself. Let's clear one thing up right now: dogs are not wolves. Wolves are predatory hunters. Dogs are opportunistic scavengers. And even the so-called alpha wolves actually regurgitate food for their partners upon returning from the hunt.

Never let the dog sleep in bed with you, as in his eyes, this will make him equal in status. But if you do let your dog sleep in bed with you, he must sleep below your waist. Wait - what happened to NEVER in the bed?  And is the dog really trying to show his status, or is he just trying to be more comfortable?

All of the above ideas were put into dog training after researchers started studying wolves in the 1940's. Scientists such as Rudolph Schenkel took a bunch of wild wolves from different "packs," put them in a small enclosure, and then watched them fight it out for leadership positions.

Newer research, however, shows that this situation was completely unnatural. Wolves in the wild do not roam around and form gangs in order to catch prey. They are, in fact, families much like our own - Mother, Father, and children. When the mother and father have another litter, previous offspring simply become older brothers and sisters to the new pups - no fighting is needed to tell who is above who in this family. Once the wolves reach adolescence, they tend to wander off in search of a mate to start a family of their own. David Mech was the first researcher to find out the true hierarchy within the wolf family. He initially agreed with Shenkels research, but after 30 years of studying and living with wild wolves, he published articles correcting his position on the "alpha" theory. In modern wolf research the "alpha's" are now referred to as the breeding pair, i.e. Mom & Pop.

So why does the outdated alpha model still prevail in modern dog training?

In my opinion, two reasons:
1. TV trainers, or as they like to call themselves, "dog psychologists." I think they chose that term because it sounds more science-y. But if they were really based in the world of science, wouldn't they actually stay on top of new training methods instead of sticking to myths and old wives' tales?  But those myths and old wives' tales make for good TV and good paydays.
2. I also think people like to hold on to the romantic idea that little Fido, the teacup chihuahua, may still have some wolf in him. Grrrr...

As I have said above, dogs are not wolves. In fact, they may not even have descended from wolves - the science is starting to lean more towards Coyotes and other wild dogs. Wherever they came from, they are thousands of years removed from their original wild ancestors and have become our best friends as well as family members. So can we please stop trying to teach them with fear and punishment and get back to treating them with compassion and understanding?

Let's do away with "alpha" and "pack leader" thinking, because dogs simply don't think this way. In fact, dogs really don't like conflict - they would rather avoid it altogether. If pack theory were in fact true, my job would be hell on earth. Each day, I take up to 28 dogs out on playgroup. This group is made up of a different combination of dogs each day, yet they all get along just fine. Could you imagine the chaos if they were all trying to dominate each other and be the pack leader? I think I would be looking for another line of work...

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4 comments:

  1. If they didn't know that you were in charge, there might well be conflict. These symbols of alphaness are not the only way to be assertive. The witness of your ability to interface with these canines is you know how to be alpha without the symbols you've read about. Not that you aren't in the position of alpha.

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  2. If they didn't know that you were in charge, there might well be conflict. These symbols of alphaness are not the only way to be assertive. The witness of your ability to interface with these canines is you know how to be alpha without the symbols you've read about. Not that you aren't in the position of alpha.

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  3. Hi Mark; I'm a dog care professional myself and agree that you don't have to be so strict. We have dogs all over the furniture and like it that way. Sometimes we eat first, sometimes they do. Depends what else is going on that day. They're part of the family. When walking, it doesn't matter to me if they're in front, as long as they don't pull. Some dogs DO like to dominate though and you have to assert your authority and make them aware that you're in charge, otherwise they won't listen to you at all. Obviously, as Skylos said, you are the Alpha, whether you realize it or not.

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  4. Hi Debbie, Thanks for your comment. I will though disagree yet again about dogs being dominant. Most people confuse their dogs signals. If a dog meets another dog and starts to display threat signals (curly lip, hackles up, growling, etc), we as humans see that as the dog is trying to dominate the other dog, but these signals actually come from a dog that has a lack of confidence about what the other dog intends to do. So it gets ready to fight. If this dog had more confidence in itself it would not be afraid of the other dog. I have read much about this subject and the conclusion is that dogs do not live in a dominance hierarchy. They do, in fact, practice avoidance if at all possible.

    Research has shown that dogs who frequently threaten can be greatly helped with anti-anxiety medication.

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