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  • B. Katzenberg

Is Your Dog Leader of the Pack? Part One

In our daily lives, we are constantly bombarded with words, images, and TV personalities, telling us to be dominant and to be our dog's “pack leader.” But what does that mean? And what do your efforts to be the “pack leader” mean to your dog? Are our dogs really just wolves in cute fur and a collar?

In the wild, our dog's ancestors form packs based on need. Wolves form packs whose size depends on the size of their prey. When hunting elk or bison, the packs tend to be large, and when subsisting on small game, the packs are very small or non-existent. Makes sense, if you consider the problem of having to share a ground hog with six full-grown, hungry, wolves, not to mention having to bring some meat back to the den to feed the pups. Moreover, dominance in a wolf pack is almost non-existent, and only shows up when the size of the pack exceeds the available prey/food, forcing a contest for limited resources. The hierarchy of a wolf pack seems to be based on competence and cooperation, and lasts only as long as there is a need for it.

Domestic dogs have been selectively bred by people to retain many adolescent behaviors into adulthood, effectively keeping them in a perpetual state of puppyhood. Domestic dogs never form packs the way wolves and coyotes do, and, even when living a feral life, do not hunt large pray. There may be some loosely organized groups of dogs, but they are not true packs, and cooperation between the members is limited.

There is, however, one “pack” that is formed by all canines, and that is the family unit. Pups are born in a group of other pups, and are cared for by their mother and father. And, as with all mammals, since the pups start helpless and somewhat blank slates, most of what they need to know is learned from their parents. Within this family unit there is no dominance, only guidance and teaching.

So, where do we, people, fit into this? Can we dominate a dog and be his or her pack leader? Should we dominate a dog? Let's take this in order:

· There is little dominance in a natural wolf or coyote pack.

· Most domestic dogs don't form hierarchical packs at all.

· Most domestic dogs are bred to be perpetual adolescents.

· All dogs learn the rules of existence and survival from their parents.

So, what are we to do? A natural conclusion would be that attempting to dominate our dog would be engaging in a behavior that is foreign to it, and may serve to distance it from us, instead of bringing it closer. But what if we instead took on the role of parent/teacher? When we bring a puppy into our home we take in an animal that does not really know yet how to be a dog, and certainly does not know how to live in a human home. By engaging in a teaching method that dogs have evolved over countless millennia we can help them become happy, well-balanced, and well-behaved companions we can be proud of.

In part two, we consider the different dog training methods and how they fit into the pack leader idea.

Boris Katzenberg is the owner of Behave Dog Training, LLC, a dog training company located in Trumbull, CT. He can be contacted through his website, at

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