Busting The Dominance/Pack Myths
Many trainers, behaviorists and dog owners today are still buying into an old, outdated, and very flawed myth about dominance and pack mentality in domesticated dogs, and in wild wolves, also. In this blog post I’m going to explain the truth and bust those old myths, based on science.
A long time ago, some researchers threw wild wolves from different “packs” and locations together, in a captive environment, and published what they observed. They touted this violent alpha/pack/dominance behavioral model that we now know is total garbage. We know for a fact that wolves in the wild react to each other very different than wolves in captivity. In captivity, you have wolves from different groups, and different geographical locations forced into a limited space together, no need to hunt, no need to mate, and they get confused and aggressive. Just like when you cram a too many humans into the super small spaces of a prison. You do not see the natural behaviors, you see behaviors brought on by the overwhelming stresses of captivity in an enclosed space, and then forced to rely on some other animal for resources.
Many studies since then have proven this singular, poorly conducted, misleading research project to be absolutely wrong in some very significant ways. What the many legitimate studies of wolves in the wild have found are that what we refer to as a “pack” is actually a “family” unit that acts as such. Violence between the members is super rare, caring for each other and cooperation of all members is paramount. That “group” of wild wolves is a pair of parents, having a litter of pups every year. Many of those pups once they reach the age of two or three years old, leave the family to go find another lone wolf to mate and start their own family with. When food is most scarce, they feed the youngest pups FIRST. So that alpha crap is simply referring to the parents, so there goes that myth.
Domestic dogs have been scientifically observed in their feral state. These dogs join and leave groups all the time, unlike wolves to remain with the family until they mature. These dogs are not related to each other. And these dogs are scavengers, they can’t hunt properly. No, your dog will not survive in the woods away from humans on its own, period! They do not have the hunting patterns of wild wolves. Even in wild wolves, hunting patters are learned, not genetic.
Your dog does not see you as another dog, so it doesn’t expect you to act like a dog. Your domestic dog had no dominance behaviors at all. Not even with other dogs. Some dogs are more social, some are more shy, and they all have different bodies and abilities. Wild wolves have not changed at all in thousands and thousands of years. Domestic dogs have been breed in so many ways it’s not funny.
A wild wolf can use over sixty facial expressions. A German Shepherd, one of the most closely related to today’s wild wolves, can only express about twelve. A pug can only express a bit less than twelve. So your domestic dog must learn to recognize body language of many other dogs, some who can express things they can’t, and can’t express some body language your dog can. Wild wolves on the other hand, they’re all physically the same.
I recently saw an ad on Facebook (I get flooded with dog training and product ads on FB as you can well imagine) for a guy who claimed to be a world authority on dog training. He said if you have a German Shepherd never get on the ground to be eye level with them, never pet them too lightly, never do this or that, because they will see it as a sign of weakness and dominate you. Really? I do that stuff all the time with mine, and she’s never tried to boss me around. I’ve never owned a dog who even had a second thought about bossing me around. I’ve never seen a dog try to dominate a human.
What I HAVE seen are dogs just being dogs. Some are excited, some are afraid, some are super comfy meeting strange people, some are very shy and afraid around new people, but never do they try to dominate. What I have seen other people point out to me as dominance behavior, according to the scientific studies done, are simply a dog trying to communicate their needs and feelings, simple as that. So PLEASE reject anything you hear or read about “packs” and “dominance.” It’s all unfounded bullshit, period.
I very highly recommend the book Dominance In Dogs: Fact or Fiction by Barry Eaton. It’s a short book and a fascinating read as he lays out all of the research and scientific facts about this subject. You’ll gain great insight into your own dog’s behaviors. If you’re considering a dog trainer, ask then if they’re familiar with this book, and the book Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. If they don’t know either, find another trainer! IMHO every trainer and dog owner should read both, cover to cover. Both are short, easy reads, fun, and packed with factual information that will blow your mind, and make your relationship with your dog much easier and pleasurable.
I originally learned to train my own dogs many, many years ago with very bad information. Training was difficult, most people ignored it, and we were fed tons of garbage information by tons of garbage sources. Research of dog behavior, physiology, and training has grown by leaps and bounds. Today as a trainer I’m always reading, taking seminars and courses, always trying to keep up with the latest research. I’m a major geek in that fashion, and proud of it. I have found training a dog is really easy if you are armed with the proper information. I no longer use, or tolerate the use of prong collars or e-collars. I no longer attach leashes to collars that tend to damage the structures of a dog’s neck, and discourage the very dangerous head harnesses (all based on physiology and science) and use a proper, safe harness or vest instead. I still have a collar on my dog, it has her rabies vaccination tag on it. But it’s there only for that purpose and to show she is not a stray, if she ever gets away from me. But I will never attach a leash to it, unless a specific (and rare) situation leaves me no other choice.
So read these two books, stop fussing at your dog, and learn to talk calmly to your dog, in their own language. There’s no dominance, there’s no pack, there’s just your dog being a dog, and they are strictly family oriented to you, your friend, your partner, if you raise, train, care, and communicate with them properly. If you have any questions or comments, please go to the Contact Us page and let us know.