Snuggled serenely in his bed, Rover doesn’t look like a member of a dog pack. He walks on his leash, sits on command and comes when called. Pack behavior isn’t limited to snarling wolves in the wild, though -- it also manifests in domesticated dogs in a less aggressive manner.
Social Structure of the Pack
Much like a military platoon, a dog pack has a social structure, and every member of the pack plays a specific role. Since most of today’s dogs don’t roam free, the typical pack today consists of the dog’s owners and other family pets. For everyone to get along well, it’s essential that a dog not think of himself as the platoon commander.
The Alpha's Role
In the wild, the head of the pack, called the alpha, holds an important leadership position. The alpha initiates hunting, eats first and dominates the other dogs in the pack. In a home situation, the dog’s owner should play the alpha dog role. Most dogs accept this authority structure, but a dog that growls at its owner when told to get off the sofa or when the dog is eating is exhibiting dominant tendencies.
Dominant and Submissive Roles
Dogs naturally develop a hierarchy, even for the short time they play at a dog park. When two strange dogs meet, they sniff each other’s rear ends, and one dog takes the dominant role. The dominant dog will stand tall and may puff out his chest. The submissive dog will lower his head, chest and tail. Naturally submissive dogs might crawl along on their bellies or roll over on their backs to signal submission. A meek dog might also squat and urinate a little bit to indicate that he has no plans to challenge the other dog.
The Human Pack
Pet lovers who want nothing more than to pamper their new puppy by allowing him to eat on demand and sleep on the bed might be encouraging him to think he’s higher on the chain of command than he really is. This can lead to the dog thinking it can dominate family members, especially small children.
Dog behavior expert Cesar Millan of “Dog Whisperer” fame suggests establishing family members as higher in the pack by making your dog “work” for his food. Work can be walking on a leash or sitting on command before feeding him. Give him his own bed on the floor, and don't tolerate growling or aggressiveness toward family members.
- Cesar’s Way: How to Be the Pack Leader
- Canine and Feline Behavior and Training: A Complete Guide to Understanding Our Two Best Friends; Linda P. Case
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images