Despite the pack theory being dismissed years ago, there’s still many myths and old wives tales about how we should train or interact with our dogs to ensure they know who is pack leader, where their place is in the pack and even false reasons to explain how they interact with other dogs. This theory is still deep rooted in many people’s beliefs when it comes to dogs, despite modern day evidence.
The first animal to be domesticated is thought to be the wolf between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, however where this happened is still a controversial subject. There is even debate about how many times domestication occurred with theories that it may have happened more than once, although with some branches contributing less (if at all) to the modern-day dog we know today.
Whilst the details remain unclear, there is one thing scientists can agree on; grey wolves and dogs evolved over thousands of years from a species of wolf which is now extinct. It is therefore not possible to compare dogs to the wolves we know today. Whilst some animals, including wolves, do live in hierarchical packs, there has been found that there is no ‘aggressive’ alpha wolf who dictates the rules of the pack. In fact, wolf packs work as a solid family unit, with studies showing that each member plays an important role and is vital for the overall wellbeing of the pack. The original understanding of many of the movements and body language while first studying wolves has also now been shown to be misinterpreted meaning most of these ideas that people still believe in are based on incorrect assumptions.
Dogs do not live in packs, even in multi dog households. They also don’t operate in a way a pack would, they do not need to seek shelter or hunt for food or act like their distant ancestors, just like humans have also evolved over time.
So, we know that dogs can’t be compared to wolves and wolves work as a family unit so why do we still think that our domesticated pet dog is trying to dominate our family and wants to be the alpha?
Some of the most bizarre but perhaps common myths revolve around eating before your dog, making sure they enter rooms after you, not being allowed to sleep on sofas or beds and in general trying to make sure a dog feels interior to the humans (or existing dogs) in the household to maintain the status quo.
Most trainers and behaviourists now support positive reinforcement methods and discourage punishment training due to the long term phycological effects it can have. So it’s time to rip up that old battered rule book and start questioning why? Is your dog’s ‘dominance’ with other dogs actually a sign of insecurity? Are they guarding food from your other dog because they want to show the dog who is boss or because they are used to not having access to that resource and don’t want it taken away? Are they growling at you because they’re trying to be the alpha or because they’re trying to communicate with you to tell you they’re not happy with the situation and need help to fix it? Does them sleeping downstairs make sure they know their place in the pack or does that make absolutely no sense in a dog’s brain? Owning a dog is a never-ending learning curve and in order to continue to improve and be the best we can for our dogs, we must constantly question what we know, what the generations before us thought they knew and be open to learning new things.