The Rules

the "pack" rules

Dogs are selectively bred to become something different from the wolf

Dogs are neither wolves nor human, or a mix of the two. The domestic dog is a species in its own right!
The mistaken idea that dogs form packs because they are wolf’s descendants, was fashionable during the 1980s and 1990s.
Unfortunately is still defended today by a number of authors, TV-personalities and dog trainers.
This concept encompasses any behavioural problem that, hypothetically, derives from the dog’s attempt to “dominate” his “pack” members, like other family dogs – or even humans.
The “pack rules” are based on what the wolf would do to keep a lower-ranking conspecific, in its place.
D. Mech (Senior Research Scientist with the Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey & an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology and Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behaviour at the University of Minnesota) is the founder of the “International Wolf Center” and through his work we have debunked controversial myths and put an end to long debates about the behaviour of this amazing creature, during the years of his activity and research, since 1958.
We know today that the wolf social structure is more sophisticated than a linear hierarchy, they form friendships and allegiances and they live together harmoniously.
Taking into account the knowledge that derives from the research established by specialists and ethologists, it is obvious that there is no admissible reason to inflict these useless rules, on our dogs.

In this video, Dr. David Mech speaks about the term “alpha” and he explains the reason why is no longer scientifically accurate.

He also mentions that he is the one to blame for the use of this term!

Observations of the behaviour of wolves in captivity, have been erroneously extrapolated to the wild wolf’s behaviour and then attributed to domestic dogs.

Read more about “Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha-Wolf“, an article by D.Mech.


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Packs are formed primarily to enhance the chances of survivor and secondary for their reproduction.
Thanks to the cooperation of all the members, they can hunt and kill a large prey, in order to supply an adequate amount of food.
According to Schmidt and Mech, wolves form packs, because adult pairs can effectively share with their offspring this “surplus food” that results from predation on large prey.
Not to mention that a pack is consisted by family members, a cooperative unit, with the breeding couple who takes care and guides their young cubs.

Unlike wolves, even wild dogs do not need this pack structure to survive, if all the vital elements of survival are available, such as food, water and shelter.
When it comes to our domestic dog, it is clear that he does not need to form a pack with his human owner, because any need for survival is provided – by us. This logically explains why the dog has no reason to compete with us for a “higher rank”, or even to “dominate” us.

The 10 most common rules of the dog training "market"

1. always eat before the dog

This rule is based on the deceptive concept that the "alpha" wolf always eats first.
The wolf specialists' research shows us that in the case of sufficient food, all the members will eat at the same time. The two breeding wolves will eat first only when the prey is small, but in case of scarce food, the female will make sure that the cubs are fed before others, hence their survival is ensured. Therefore, neither dominance nor "alpha" rank is involved in this parental, survival instinct.

2. do not allow the dog on the furnitures

According to this rule, allowing the dog to get on the couch, bed, chair etc. it is supposedly given a status equal or higher to ours.
An absolutely illogical conclusion, because the only problem we are likely to create (without proper education) is that of "resource guarding" and nothing more.

3. do not let the dog lay in a hallway, in front of doorways or at the top of the stairs

Another rule based always on the behavior of the "alpha" wolf and his hypothetical control over the other members of his pack, by positioning himself physically on "strategical" spots or higher than the others. Packs do not stay together all the time, therefore "alpha's" positioning does not necessarily allow him to control his entire pack. On the other hand if we accept that he deliberately chooses a strategic spot for him, that would be for one and only reason, to detect intruders. Consequently, dog chooses these places to monitor his human family, when in reality a hallway is just another resting place, same as to lie down in front of the doors, at the top of the stairs etc. If this turns out to be a problem that would be only an over-attachment, between the dog and its owner and nothing more.

4. do not step over the dog

This one suggests never to allow the dog to stay, for example in the middle of a room, or a narrow passage, that would compels us to deviate or step over it. According to this illogical rule, whilst doing this we give him signs of subordination, when in reality he is there just because he appreciates that spot at that specific moment, it is perhaps cooler or sunnier than another and certainly not due to a decision based on a "superiority" instinct.

5. do not let the dog go first through a doorway

This false rule suggests (i cite here that the observations of this behavior were made on subjects in captivity) that the "alpha" wolf will take the initiative to advance and lead the others. Even if that is the case, the other wolves are deferential, they will accept this initiative and - if we continue to compare the two species - the dog will not show a submissive posture when his owner goes first through the door, so this rule is completely useless in the context of teaching him who is the "boss". The only occasion i advice the owner to go through a door before his dog, is for security reasons, in order to prevent an accident in case of a dog who launches oneself in the street, or in case you take for a walk more than one dogs, which can complicate the management of their excitement when off-leash.

6. do not let the dog pull on a leash

Based on "alpha" wolf's behavior, who may decide on which route to take, but he is not always the one to lead the pack.
According to Mech, leading the pack "can be influenced by juvenile exuberance and estrus". The wolves follow the river banks, the playgrounds (of wolf cubs), the old roads etc. and all wolves can go temporarily ahead of a pack, even the youngest ones. The pack is never obligated to follow the "alpha", on the contrary, it makes a cooperative decision when it is necessary, on which way to go. Dogs pull on the leash because they are not educated to do otherwise, or because of their excitement to get out of the house and absolutely not due to an attempt to exert dominance.

7. do not play tug-games and never let the dog "win"

The rule refers to wolves tugging on a piece of meat where, in theory, the higher status wolf would always win.
However, in nature, wolves cooperate pulling a carcass, one against the other, to tear the skin apart and pull the muscle meat from bones.
It is actually a beneficial act for the pack and definitely not dominance related. The University of Southampton research (Rooney, Bradshaw & Robinson 2000) reveals that dog-dog play is more of a contest game, they behave differently when is a dog-human play and no evidence could be found that is anything more than that. They do not competing with us by pulling their toys and we can allow them to "win", the only risk, once again is to provoke a "resource guarding" problem, therefore we have to teach the dog when the game starts and when to release their toy (without necessarily ending the game).

8. do not let the dog initiate play or seek for attention

Another interesting but totally false rule is that of the "alpha" wolf who supposedly determines when, whatever activity, begins or finishes, and when it claims attention. According to D. Mech (2003) "the psychological tendency to form strong bonds, derives from the simple desire of the physical contact".
Moreover, Zimen (1981) says,"none of the members decides by itself when an activity begins or ends". The question arising in that case is this, why not allow the dog the right to claim play or affection? For an animal so social it is utterly a natural behavior, but we have to show him the limits, therefore he does not become an obsessive attention-seeker or a Velcro dog.

9. stand in the dog's bed to show him you are the "alpha"

The concept of the "alpha" which will force another wolf to leave its place, when he covets it.
Peake (2008) discovered, after years of observation that never an "alpha" will physically force another wolf, just to gain its resting place.
What is the purpose of standing in a dog's bed, what will the dog learn from this type of rule?
According to this scenario, if the dog wants to join us, we must show him our authority by depriving him of his bed. Refusing the comfort and warmth to a dog, equals to cruelty and just to amuse myself with this hilarious rule, i ask you this: how do we do if the dog sleeps in a doghouse, or in the case of a small size dog, that prefers the reduced or even funny-uncomfortable spots?

10. the "alpha roll"

An action that supposedly mimics the behavior of the wolf, when the "subordinate" voluntarily adopts a "submissive" posture, by putting himself on his back.
Today Wolf Biologists call this the "belly-up display", often seen in wolves living in zoos and not in the wild, it is an artifact of captivity and not a normal behavior of an adult wolf. For a dog, in order to be subjected to this, it usually involves grabbing the dog and rolling him on to his back, then pressing him down while shouting at him, until he submits. The result is nothing more than to create stress and fear for his proper owner, which will eventually lead to aggression by "dominance".

It’s time to put an end to these obsolete “pack rules” and give dogs what they deserve.
The human family is not a substitute pack for them, it is simply a social unit of which they are a part.

* All previous information is based on scientific studies and edited by Barry Eaton – Behaviorist & Trainer, Specialised in deaf dogs, Member and Affiliate of COAPE-CAPBT, former President of the Wessex Sheepdog Society.


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