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My Dog Thinks He’s The Pack Leader


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Does he really? What makes you say that? “Well, he’s the pack leader because he walks in front of me, he growls when I get near his food bowl and he refuses to get off the couch when I tell him to.” Or maybe you can say “He’s the pack leader because German Shepherds are dominant dogs.” The answers may be very different and varied since no one really knows what a dominant dog is. In fact, every single person would give me a totally different answer if asked them to define dominance. What is a dominant dog, after all? Does your dog fit into that category?

alpha dogFirst of all, the dominance theory is just a myth. Why? Well, due to several factors. The dominance theory came up after a succession of occurrences and ideas that were wrongly applied and extrapolated. First mistake: people observed wolves living in captivity and extrapolated what they’ve observed into wild wolves. In the wild, wolves have a very complex social structure that is relatively similar to a family: there’s the breeding pair and their offspring; like in any other family, the oldest animals set the rules and guide the younger ones. Actually, the terms “alpha” and “omega” are no longer applied to wolves by those who study them, since things aren’t really that linear. However, when they’re placed into a captivity environment, they become much more competitive for the available resources, aggressive behaviors are much more often displayed and their hierarchy is much less flexible. Second mistake: they thought dogs behaved the same way as captive wolves did. Well, dogs aren’t wolves. And they’re definitely not captive wolves! So, why should we give credit to a theory that was born from a conjunction of mistakes? Besides all of these flawed assumptions, someone decided to do something else: apply it to human-dog relationships. Once again, this is wrong. Hierarchies are intraspecific and, when it comes to dogs, they’re not even linear. Dogs establish non-linear hierarchies with other dogs. Besides all of this, dominance is not a characteristic of the dog’s personality.

So, what does it mean when the dog walks in front of us? Pulls on the leash? Growls when we try to touch his food? Simply put, dogs will do whatever works for them. They pull on the leash because it works, we keep moving! They walk ahead of us because they naturally walk faster than humans. They growl when we try to touch their food because we remove our hands when they do so. They’re not being dominant and they’re definitely not trying to be the pack leader. If their behavior is being positively rewarded, they keep doing it. Operant conditioning 101! How can’t they be the pack leader if we control every single aspect of their lives? We decide when, where and what they’ll eat; when and where they’ll eliminate and what sort of toys will they play with. Let’s start using science instead of myths!

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Marilia Domingos
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