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Ask the experts

Pack theory for wolves is flawed and doesn't work for dogs


Many popular dog trainers talk about being the leader of the pack or alpha dog over our pets. The study they are referring to references a pack of wolves whose behavior was carefully scrutinized to study how the pack interaction. Then they described the relationship of wolves as alpha, dominant and submissive and assumed that all wolves in the wild lived this same way.

In the wild a pack of wolves is actually a family, with Mom and Dad taking on the leadership roles and the pups respecting their authority. The wolves in the study group were an unrelated group who developed a hierarchy. It would be like developing a theory of family life based on a season of the television show Survivor. Put a group of unrelated people onto an island and study their interactions then develop a theory of human nature by what they observe.

Most people act differently with family members than with their co-workers and friends. We may treat our parents differently than others with whom we have interactions. In this way, wolves are much more like humans than dogs.

In the wild, the wolves live in families. So the theory only the alpha wolves mate is incorrect. There is only one breeding pair in the group because they are the parents. As the pups mature they move out and form their own families.

The pack leader theory quickly took off as a model of how to work with and train dogs, but many who embraced it failed to keep up on further studies. More recent studies showed flaws in the original theory. Unfortunately there are still many people and even dog trainers who incorrectly refer to the pack theory when working with dogs.

Find a trainer who knows the reality of dog behavior. Dominance and force are never used in a family of wolves.

Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington, Columbia City and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the trainers are all graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.