Wolves and wild dogs throughout history are of course well known to live in social packs, and lone wolves or dogs would historically have been considered to be a very unusual situation. Today, dogs that are kept in a domestic situation as pets might be assumed to have abandoned the manifestation of pack behaviour, such as hunting as a team, being part of a hierarchy, and defending their pack against outsiders.
However, this interpretation of the mind of the modern dog is not entirely accurate. While it is true that pack behaviours do not manifest in all of the ways that we would expect to have witnessed in dog and wolf packs in the wild, domestic dogs do still display and respond to the pack mentality; even when kept as lone pets.
Once you become aware of the ways in which your pet dog still displays pack behaviours, you will see that while their behaviour may indeed have altered to account for their modern lifestyles, the dog is still a pack animal and wolf descendent at heart!
Read on to learn more about the pack behaviour displayed by the modern dog within the home environment, and how to interpret it.
The alpha position is reserved for the dominant male and female within the pack respectively, with the omega roles reserved for the dogs lower down in the pecking order. If you own more than one dog, it will usually be obvious to you which dog is the boss out of the set! Dogs will also include every member of your family as part of their pack, and you and any other adults within the home should automatically take the alpha role. Do not assume that the largest dog within a multi-dog household will automatically be the dog boss either; it is not at all rare for small dogs to take the alpha role, and not uncommon to see a small dog like a Jack Russell lording it over a large German Shepherd !
Within the pack hierarchy, the alpha dogs eat first, and then the availability of food and feeding order goes down the scale to the very youngest dogs and the dogs at the bottom of the pile. You should always be able to eat your own meals without hassle or pushiness from your dog, and your dogs should accept that you eat first, and sometimes, without them. Snappiness at meal times, aggression over food or stealing food from other dogs or members of the family is indicative of your dog not accepting their place in the hierarchy, or making a bid for dominance. This is something that should be nipped in the bud early on.
Pack dogs like to sleep together, and both dogs in the wild and those within the home will usually choose to share bed space and cuddle up together, in order to gain companionship, protection, comfort and warmth. However, even within this group desire to sleep with company, pack behaviour is prevalent. The alpha dog will generally choose the sleeping spot, and will get first choice over the best place and position to sleep. The other dogs will only get to share the bed with the permission of the alpha dog, and the alpha will control who can sleep where.
This is not only true for the dogs themselves, but for dogs that share a living space with people too. There is a great deal of debate as to whether or not it is ok to share your bed with your dog, but if dogs could speak, they would almost certainly say they should be allowed in the bed!
If you do share your bed with your dog, you should make sure that the arrangement is suitable and comfortable for you first and foremost, and your dog or dogs second. You should always get the best place in the bed, and your dog should move to accommodate you. If your dog is reluctant to move out of your space, or becomes snappy when it comes to dividing up the bed space or yielding the best spot, your dog may have their own ideas about who is the alpha in the sleeping stakes! Do not tolerate bad bedtime behaviour from your dog, and if they become a pain to sleep with or will not accept your moving them, it is time they lost their sleeping privileges and are restricted to their own bed on the floor!
If your dog is disobedient, unruly or will not listen to you when you are certain that they understand what it is that you are asking of them, the chances are that they are making a bid for the alpha role, or think that they are already in it!Dogs that think of themselves as the alpha or are trying to position themselves in that role do not automatically wish to fight for the position or show aggression or threat behaviour. A bid for the alpha role may simply come in the form of disobedience or wilful behaviour if your dog does not see you as a threat but is confident that you are not the boss of them. This behaviour is commonly displayed by dogs to younger children, even if the dog is perfectly well behaved with the adults of the household.
You should nip this behaviour in the bud as soon as you identify it. Your children might not be old enough or mature enough to convince the dog of their higher position in the pecking order, but if your dog is unruly with your kids or disobedient with you or other adults, it is time to go back to basics with training, rewarding compliance and giving your dog appropriate feedback for poor behaviour.
In pack situations, the alpha will not tolerate insubordination, pushiness or unruly behaviour by members of their pack; make sure that you, as the human alpha, do not allow this either.