I learned something last week when I was visiting Wolf Park in Battleground, Indiana.
Wolf packs donʼt have pack leaders. Thatʼs right. NO pack leader.
As it turns out, the concept of the pack leader was a mistake. A mistake made many years ago by people studying a group of unrelated captive wolves that were placed together in an enclosure. The fighting and aggression that ensued became the basis of the “Alpha Wolf / Leader of the Pack” theory. The problem? This was an artificially created situation that would never have occurred in the wild. The conclusions taken from this study had nothing at all to do with how wolves actually behave.
What is the truth?
The truth is that wolf packs are actually family units. They are composed of a male and female and their pups. Some of the pups stay with the pack for several years and possibly their whole lives, while others stay with the pack for a shorter amount of time before leaving to join another pack or start their own pack. The juveniles in the pack naturally defer to the adults who are considered the alpha male and female. Within the family pack there is little to no fighting for position. In fact the dominant wolves do not need to physically dominate the others because the lower ranking wolves will naturally submit to them.
Now of course, as in any family, there may be occasional disagreements. In all but the most serious altercations (when an alpha wolf is deposed), no one gets hurt. In the wild, fighting that results in injuries is very bad for the overall health and survival of the pack so it is highly selected against. Instead, nature has worked out a system where disagreements are resolved with very highly ritualized aggressive displays, rather than with true aggression.
It is not unlike a human family. A child may occasionally push a parent too far, and the parents might reprimand the child. However the parents are not constantly physically abusing the children to keep them in line. Similarly, a toddler who occasionally pushes dads buttons is not likely to be considering taking over control of the family.
So why is this important? Because the mistaken dominance ideas have led to much human and dog suffering by convincing owners that hey need to dominate their dogs.
So if you feel a bit uncomfortable being a bully to your dog, trust your instincts! The dominating and intimidating that people are inflicting upon their dogs is based on incorrect observations and is both cruel and dangerous. Not only is it not necessary, it is terribly counter productive to your relationship. You are naturally the one in charge because you are the HUMAN. Trust me, you can be in charge and have a great dog without being a bully and Iʼll be telling you how in the next article.