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Pack mentality:Can it be seen in domestic dogs?

In the recent weeks, I have heard and read too many people saying domestic dogs do not possess the same “pack” mentality that wolves do. Seriously? I have studied canine body language and behavior “hands on” for 20 years. From all my research and the cases that I have worked with, every dog understands their own language (pack behavior and body language). Dogs are pack animals, period! Even the smallest of breeds will demonstrate this! I recently read an article about a pack of Chihuahuas that attacked a police officer in California! Now granted, a pack of Chihuahuas cannot do serious damage (besides some ankle wounds), but these dogs were defending their owner in a pack-like manner!

I believe a lot of this has come to debate because of the “Dog Whisperer”, Cesar Milan. Many trainers and people dislike him and his methods of training, some think his stand on pack behavior is incorrect. While I do not agree with all of Cesar’s methods, I do agree with his theory. I find many people who have studied pack behavior and have worked with aggressive dogs (successfully), understand them, and work with them in the language they understand. Dogs are naturally pack animals and follow their instincts and their own language.

I have had a great many debates over this with other trainers and clients. I have had trainers tell me that training a domestic dog is completely different because they are not wild. Some trainers think human alpha training is wrong and that there should be a canine pack order among a domestic dog pack. They regularly suggest letting one dog be the alpha (usually the older weaker dog); feeding them first, giving them more attention, and taking them on walks alone (essentially, they make them a target). I believe these people have slept through the news about packs of domestic dogs that have attacked livestock and humans when abandoned.

First I would like to quote what Wikipedia declares in their article on dog attacks. “Dogs as pack animals will often seek to dominate others in their pack or family (acquire more status and authority) if they feel they are able. A dog that seeks to dominate may use aggression as a means to elevate its perceived power and authority, or to make others respect its wishes and not challenge it. Pet owners are generally encouraged to not allow a dog to become overly dominant due to the aggressive behavior that may result. Dominance may include “pushy” behavior, refusal to show respect or obedience to humans, attempted “ownership” of high status locations such as beds, sofas, or doorways, and in general, any type of behavior the animal sees as furthering a dominant social role.”

Again, the above is directly from the Wikipedia site.

When I lived in NY, Queens was the dumping ground for unwanted dogs. There was plenty of open space where owners could just pull up and let their dogs out. As awful as this sounds to us dog lovers, it happens all over! There have been many domestic dog pack attacks in Queens. Obviously, we all know wolves do not live on Long Island. In Dec. 2001, a 74 yr old man was attacked by a pack of 5 abandoned dogs. This pack went on to also attack a jogger before they were captured. According to the victims, the dogs circled and stalked them prior to attacking. They attacked like “wolves” because it is their instinct. In Feb. 2005, a pack of 3 dogs found to be abandoned by their owners, terrorized a local neighborhood including an elementary school. The animal control declared these dogs as not vicious and said they were most likely someone’s pets that were left to fend for themselves. Again, these dogs relied on their instinct to form a pack and hunt and defend the same way a pack does.

All over the world stray dogs have formed packs to survive! In Jan. of this year in Bainbridge Georgia, a 73 yr old woman was attacked by a pack of five dogs. These dogs had also been responsible for attacking local livestock. Then in Feb of this year in Dayton Ohio, a pack of dogs was responsible for attacking a German Shepard and several other animals in the neighborhood. In Morristown, Tenn., a 22 yr old woman was attacked by a pack of 8 heelers while jogging down a rural road. They were owned by a local resident who was charged for letting them roam free. Even in Italy, a 10 yr old boy was killed by a pack of famished dogs that were owned by local woman. They were not properly cared for and fended for themselves the way wolves would. And here in Texas, a pack of dogs in Lakeway was responsible for attacking local livestock a few months ago.

To say domestic dogs do not “act” as wild dogs or wolves do is ridiculous. Any dog will go back to their natural ways if abandoned or given the opportunity. It does not matter how long they were owned or “spoiled” by us humans. I have cases that owners have contacted me for, where one of the pack has been killed or seriously injured by another pack member. These dogs were not mistreated, nor neglected. They were domestic dogs that were cared for properly but given the right to have a pack order among themselves. The dog they killed or attacked in most cases was the weak, old alpha or another strong dominant dog that wanted the alpha position.

Remember in a pack, the leader will “size up” the situation and decide whether it is a good idea to attack or not. The pack will not act unless the leader says it is ok. If it is, they will circle, stalk, and one or more of the pack will attack from the best and safest position; usually from behind the victim. If the leader feels threatened in anyway by a situation, the pack will attack. It is a natural response for them. This is also seen in households. You are your dogs pack and hopefully, their leader.

Anyone who owns a dog needs to realize that they are pack animals. You cannot change this, no matter how long their lineage is, what size, or how well treated they are; they are still dogs and they still have a natural pack drive. This is not a bad trait; this is why a dog is such a loyal companion!

If you understand pack mentality and talk to them in their own language, dogs are calm, happy, and very obedient. Even a dog who has an aggressive history can become a great dog with the right owner and proper training.

Tara, Brandie, Amanda & the “pack”

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