Every time I hear the term “pack leader,” I get that 60’s song “Leader of the Pack” stuck in my head. I can’t help it.
Cheesy songs aside, let’s discuss what being a pack leader is and is not. To do that, we need to define “pack.” According to dictionary.com, pack is defined as:
5. a group of certain animals of the same kind, especially predatory ones: a pack of wolves.
There are about 45 other definitions, but this one seems to be the most commonly used when talking about dogs. Already we’re kinda at an impasse. “A group of certain animals OF THE SAME KIND…” Hmmm. How can I be a pack leader if I’m a different species? Doesn’t my dog know that I’m not a dog?
Let’s go back a bit (yep, bouncing around all over the place in this posting!) and briefly talk about where idea of dogs needing a pack leader came from. Dogs are commonly thought to be descended from wolves, and wolves run in packs and have a pack leader, hence, dogs need a pack leader. And that wolf pack leader led by force and intimidation, and always got all the resources first, so I have to do that as my dog’s pack leader. If not, she will stage a coup and overthrow the household, possibly the world. Disaster would ensue.
But wait. All these wolf pack studies were done on captive wolves who were forced to live together. Let’s look at wild wolf packs. Do you know what their packs consist of? FAMILY. The “alpha male and female” are the sire and dam. The rest of the pack is their offspring. Order is maintained through respect of the parents, not fear and intimidation. Are there squabbles? Of course there are – don’t you ever argue with your family?
So, do your parents insist upon eating first? Do they go through doorways first? Do they shove you out of the way instead of going around you? Do they make you walk beside them? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. Because parents care for their offspring. Parents (both wolf and human) feed their offspring FIRST. They don’t care if they run around and have fun while on the move as long as they check in and stay out of trouble. They take an extra second and step around them instead of forcing them to move.
That being said, parents (both wolf and human) set rules and boundaries that need to be followed for the sake of safety and peace in the household/den. Teach your dog a cue that tells them to get their hineys off the furniture when you want to use it. Teach them to wait patiently instead of lunging for their food as soon as it hits the ground. Teach them not to jump on guests and mob them.
Be a leader for your dog. But think of your relationship with your dog as that between a dance team – there is give and take, but one person has to be the leader. But that leader leads with compassion and kindness, asking instead of forcing, teaching instead of punishing. Dance teams work together for the joy of it, not out of fear.
So, pack leader? The term will always make me cringe. Pet parent? Makes me cringe, too. I’m an owner/leader, and Inara respects me for that because I respect HER in return. Leadership doesn’t have to equal fear and pain, nor should it ever. Leadership and respect can be demanded/forced, but I’d prefer to earn it. Wouldn’t you?