Why those who call pack theory outdated are themselves outdated
As one of the millions of hopeless Facebook addicts, I cannot help but read posts that pop onto my screen about dog behaviour. After over 15 years as a Dog Listener, and having learnt alongside my mother Jan Fennell, I am often confronted online and in person with an outdated argument against pack theory in dogs. In fact, I was once thrown off a chat room for implying that it existed. I received a message from the President of the Club herself, telling me categorically that there was no such thing as pack hierarchy. When I pointed out that she was the President of a club…
There is one fundamental flaw in the argument against pack theory and above all the role of the Alpha in the pack. There is almost a universal belief that the Alpha, or pack leader, uses physical dominance and force to achieve that position. Unfortunately, this is not helped by certain “trainers” who indeed use force and physical dominance. Some of the films I have seen from these people are cringe worthy. They too are mistaken in their belief that the Alpha uses force. This belief comes from a study of captive wolves in the 1970s. Ironically, one argument to debunk this study is that the captivity makes the findings about wolves null and void. What are dogs if not canines in captivity? If anything, it would make the findings more relevant, not less. However, the notion of using dominance as a way to take charge is still not necessary.
Firstly, the natural instinct of hierarchy is not only and well in dogs, but also in humans. Take for example my friend, the President of her club. I am sure that in that club there is also a secretary, treasurer and maybe even other elected (a key word) members that make up the committee. Similarly, just like canines, humans are still tribal animals with a strong sense of territory. Do you support a sports team? Maybe you are proud of where you live. Perhaps you love (and would protect) your family. These are all perfectly natural and part of our make-up to this day.
Secondly, the notion of leadership is everywhere too. If that President I mentioned earlier is reading this right now, I am expecting a bit of trolling (or maybe this will actually make sense to her). Monarchs, presidents and prime ministers are at the top of the tree in their countries. Of course, there have been – and continue to be – those in charge that use force, but fortunately they are increasingly in the minority, and those of the past have been judged and often met with a sticky end. Yet, the need for a leader is still imperative. France had its revolution to remove the monarchy, yet less than 20 years later they had an Emperor. On a smaller scale, parents are above children. On a much larger scale, the ultimate hierarchy figure must be God. In fact, in certain beliefs there is even a hierarchy among the gods themselves!
Here is the key difference between the belief of the debunkers and reality. A good leader inspires trust, not fear. They are responsible and it is their job to look after those beneath them. This is essentially where those that argue against pack theory and the Alpha role make the mistake. They think that leaders use force, yet all around us there is evidence that the best leaders earned trust by example. That goes the same for canines in Nature and those who live with us. A pack animal feels secure in a structure where they know their place. If nobody is there to be the decision maker, another must replace them.
As a Dog Listener, I know that the #1 reason why there are problem dogs is that they have been accidentally given the role of leader in our world – a world they do not understand. The only thing they possess to help them is their instinct which comes directly from their cousins and ancestors. My job is to show owners how to convince the dogs that they can trust the humans with the decisions. This is done using no physical dominance or force. Neither does it use complicated gadgetry or drugs. Once you understand the way dogs communicate, you can give them the information in their language.
One final point – I have also heard it said that dogs know we are not like them physically, so it is ridiculous to think they would accept us as members of their pack. Have you ever seen a dog and cat from the same family get along? Conversely, have you ever seen what happens if that cat sees another dog, or vice versa? Monty Roberts is the inspiration behind the Amichien™ Bonding method, and he will be the first to tell you that he is not a horse. However, he does know their language…
To sum up, pack structure is alive and well even in human beings in 2015. It is much wiser to accept rather than to deny it. Also, being a leader does not mean using force and dominance. People will happily follow someone they can trust, but that person needs to earn their trust. Amichien™ Bonding works along this principle. Those who call it “out-dated” may need to update their own knowledge.