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Kirsten Dillon on being a 'Pack Leader'!

By Kirsten Dillon 3 months ago 1031 Views


“Love and cherish your dog and spoil them rotten if you want, because that’s what they deserve”

For many years now, mostly via television, we are being told we should aim to be our dog’s ‘pack leader.’ It’s important to explore this terminology and all that goes with it.

Here are my thoughts on why we shouldn’t aim to be our dog’s ‘pack leader.’

The background

Firstly, the concept of a pack leader and an alpha male/female was originally coined in 1970 by David Mech, who conducted some studies on captive wolves. He concluded that within a captive wolf pack an ‘alpha male’ will arise, and that this alpha male will maintain his status as top wolf through aggressive encounters with other pack members.

Since this study, David Mech moved his focus to wild wolves and began observing the naturally occurring family unit, what we are referring to when we say “pack”. Once he began observing wild wolf behaviour, he quickly realised that his research was, at best, extremely flawed. In 1999, David Mech published a paper stating how outdated his initial research was and has since continued researching and educating on the topic. Read about David’s recent work here.

What we now know

Wolves form family units and the closest thing to an ‘alpha’ would be the breeding male and the breeding female; the pair that are producing offspring, perpetuating the health of the pack and the species itself. This breeding pair are supported throughout by the rest of the pack and any conflict is dealt with swiftly and without injury. Long before this is even an issue, sexually mature members of the pack will move on to find their own way.

The breeding pair do not need to eat first, nor do they necessarily lead from the front or any of those nonsensical ideas. The pups eat first, go figure!

Where does this leave us as pet dog owners?

Well if you have read my ‘Debunking the Myth’ blog post, you will now know that our pet dogs are far removed from wolves and drawing comparisons is often inaccurate and sometimes downright damaging.

Our pets also do not have a wild counterpart that we can compare them to either. They are effectively a man-made species, so the closest we can get to gathering information is by the study of feral ‘village dogs’ that free range around towns and villages.

What do we know about ‘village dogs:’

  • These dogs do not form anything remotely resembling a pack. They form very fluid social groups based upon the amount of resources available in one place.
  • Their usual dynamic is to roam in a pair or possibly a three and co-exist parallel to other loose social units.
  • Aggression is rare and disputes are settled with ceremony and displays, not fights.
  • There is no breeding pair, nor is there a family group helping to bring up any litters, at least nothing that resembles the structured approach of wolves.


So I question, how can we be a pack-leader to a species that doesn’t form packs? What does being a pack leader actually look like anyway? How important is it to eat before your dog?

I would encourage dog owners to ditch the inaccurate and outdated idea of being your dog’s pack leader. Love and cherish your dog, and spoil them rotten if you want because that’s what they deserve.

Please remember this, you decide when your dog eats, what they eat, where they sleep, if they get exercise, what kind of exercise, if they reproduce and so on. Really, how much more of a ‘pack leader’ do you need to be?

Written by Animal Behaviourist, Kirsten Dillon

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