PACK RULE THEORY - DOES IT MAKE SENSE This article explores in brief, both scientific evidence and the authors own observations, in regard to pack rule theory.


DOMINANCE IN DEPTH For students of Canine Psychology, Dog Trainers and owners who wish to learn more, this article is a more in depth scientific review of Dominance Theory.
Up until more recent times, pack rule theory was widely recognised by dog trainers, behaviourists and veterinary surgeons as an explanation of the hierarchical nature of dogs' as pack animals, and also by applying the theory, the method by which owners were advised to train and modify dog behaviour. Indeed the practice is still wide spread, compounded by popular TV shows and lack of, or outdated, education by individuals working in the industry.

Due to the fact that it is still so frequently cited, it is still widely accepted by many people, but does it make sense?
Excerpt from The Perfect Companion © Karen Davison


This theory states that dogs as pack animals have a strict hierarchy. Alpha's dominate all, Betas submit to alphas but dominate Omegas, and omegas are at the bottom of the hierachical pile . According to pack rule theory, alphas are entitled to certain privileges:-
Alphas always eat first and get the best food.
Alphas get the best and most elevated resting places, and must not be disturbed by subordinates when at rest.
Alphas instigate all play and social interactions.
Alphas always lead the pack.


It is recognised that dogs and wolves share a common ancestry, but evolution and domestication over many thousands of years have removed dogs to such a large extent that it is not reasonable to compare dog behaviour to the behaviour of the modern day wolf. (I will examine the fundamental flaws in applying pack rule theory in relation to wolf behaviour in more detail - see Dominance in Depth)
Coppinger and Coppinger in The Study of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution states:-
"Dogs have diverged, changed, transmutated from their wolflike ancestors. Dogs differ from the other canid species in measurable ways, just as coyotes differ from wolves in measurable ways. But dogs win the prize for being the most measurably different and diverse member of the genus."

"If indeed the science world does insist on renaming the dog Canis lupus familiaris, there is one thing we must all remember: Just because dogs are renamed as a subspecies of wolves does not make them wolves. To say that dogs are descended from wolves does not make them wolves."
Is it not more reasonable therefore to examine social behaviour of dogs by studying free ranging dogs, rather than wolves. In such a study of free ranging dogs in rural and urban sites Daniels and Bekoff reported that dogs tended to remain solitary, avoiding pack behaviour.

"dogs probably were not as social as expected because little advantage was conferred on group-living animals. Scarce resources beyond those provided by human residents at both the urban and rural sites would be exploited more efficiently by individuals than by larger groups."
It has been found that wild dogs were more likely to group. A pack may be defined as a social unit that hunts, rears young and protects a communal territory as a stable group. In a study observing feral dogs in Italy, Boitani et al describes these feral dogs only met this criteria in a very limited sense and the groups that do form seem to consist of members that are transient and of short duration when advantageous.

This seems to indicate that dogs, unlike wolves are not strictly pack animals, but rather group by loose association according to environmental needs. There is no doubt that dogs are sociable animals, but these and other studies show that dogs in 'nature' are not pack animals living in organised hierarchical societies, but rather more solitary foragers, coming together to breed and occasionally for other purposes for brief periods when advantageous. This could then more accurately be described as a social group, rather than a pack.
PUPPY DEVELOPEMENT AND SOCIALISATION For all puppy owners, how to help your puppy grow into a well adjusted, confident and sociable adult dog.
Dog Training
"Saving one dog will not change the world,
but surely for that one dog,
the world will change forever."

Dog Training and Behaviour


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