An Introduction to Dog Pack Behavior

There are many misconceptions about dog pack behavior that lead to misunderstandings about what our dogs are trying to communicate. Though dogs are largely domesticated, studies done on wild dog packs teach us a lot about how they interact with one another but very little about how they interact with humans.

Dog Pack Hierarchy

Dog packs do contain alpha and beta dogs as well as middle of the pack dogs known as alpha wannabe's. Dog hierarchies are actually more fluid than once thought. There is not always one true alpha but several dogs that exhibit alpha behavior in different situations. For example, one dog may always eat first but another has first access to toys.

Males and females have a different hierarchy and, in mixed packs, the alpha female will not always give in to the alpha male, especially if she is in possession of resources. Often, the dog who has possession of the object is the "alpha", and won't be challenged.

Alpha dogs do not rule with physical coercion. If you see dogs fighting, they are usually alpha-wannabe's, fighting over a small difference in their status. Alpha dogs don't participate in this because they don't have to prove themselves. They will often be the most quiet, calm dogs. They rarely have to growl, bark or correct.

Pack Theory

Dogs in the wild travel in packs because it is less energy intensive. They can help each other hunt and can protect one another from danger. Because they need energy for hunting and protection, dogs do not want to use energy fighting. Fighting amongst other pack members is very energy-intensive and useless.

Thus, space and possession are very important indicators of status. If a dog controls a good sleeping space, he will often not be disturbed. Especially with females, a dog with a food item will not be interrupted. Beta dogs can be easily displaced, but fighting really only occurs among alpha-wannabe's.

Because of this, fighting with or losing your temper with your dog is never encouraged. If you feel the need to show off your "dominance," this would be a sign of insecurity in a dog pack, not an indicator of a strong leader.

Dogs and Humans

There is very little research on how dogs perceive mixed-species packs because it is very difficult to decipher in a scientific manner. However, most animal behaviorists believe that dogs do not see humans as a part of their pack. They understand the species difference and do not communicate with us as they do with one another. In multi-dog households, your dogs have probably worked out a hierarchy amongst one another, but it most likely does not include you.

Dogs do not communicate the way we do, yet we can learn from their pack behavior. You can be in charge of your mixed pack by controlling the resources. Make your dog work for his food, toys and entertainment by having him sit or perform some other behavior before he gets something he likes. Don't lose your temper during training, and don't get into a physical confrontation with your dog.