Pack Structure, who is the leader of your pack?


OK, so over the years I have heard many people say, “Let the dogs work it out.  They need to figure out the pack order.”  I have also heard some trainers tell people to feed their dogs in pack order, the “alpha” first.

This is so wrong!!!  First thing I need to say, the alpha in your house needs to be you.  You need to be the leader.

If you let the dogs “work it out” or allow one dog to be above the others, you are responsible for the dog fights in your house!  As harsh as that sounds, I would like to explain my theory.

As you all know, I have had the worst of the worst dogs come into my home and within a very short time, they are living peacefully among the other dogs and the cat.  How is it possible?  No drugs, no abuse, no “dog” alpha; Brandie and I are the alpha leaders in our home.

If you allow a certain pack member to be “alpha”, you are creating a ladder in your pack.  Think about this for a moment.  The “alpha” is in charge.  You are #1, putting tremendous stress on one dog to lead your pack and #2, telling your dog you are not in control.  That “alpha” dog you created now has to fight to keep it’s rank when a subordinate dog challenges it, keep order and peace within the pack, and decide who is next in line.  As that dog gets weaker; the younger, stronger dog naturally will want to take control of the pack.  I can not tell you how many calls I have been on that a beloved pack member has killed one of their own.  Why?  It is nature!  This is their instinct.  Dogs need a strong, fair pack leader to survive.  When weakness is discovered in a pack, the pack structure is weakened. Their natural tendency is to eliminate the weakness so the strong pack can survive.  If you have a ladder, you have the constant challenge for the top rung.  There should be no ladder.  The human is the one who should be the alpha leader.

No matter what aggressive issue we bring into our pack, the dogs can live peacefully together because there is no question to our dogs, who controls the pack.  The humans do. 

Now, this old myth of allowing a dog to be alpha may have worked with dogs in the past, but with how many vet visits?  How long can you keep your dogs separated?  If they came into contact, who could stop the incredible fight they will have?  Not the human, the dogs unfortunately will attack each other until there is a clear winner (we just hope they both survive).  How much anxiety can your “alpha” dog handle before becoming overly stressed?  

I find it alarming that so many people have the notion of letting the dogs work things out.  This is completely unfair to the dogs.  The end result is that one of these dogs is either put to sleep for aggression or surrendered to a shelter, where they are either re-homed into another pack or automatically euthanized as the end result.  There can be calm, peaceful dogs living together if the human is the clear leader.  You need to have solid boundaries and pack structure if you have more than one dog.  Everyone will be happier and calmer.

Tara, Brandie, and the “pack”.


2 thoughts on “Pack Structure, who is the leader of your pack?

  1. Nice post and it really hits home. Assuming if a family has multiple dogs, if the humans have established themselves as alpha/leaders over their dogs, is it OK for their dogs sort out the rest of the pack order amongst themselves?

    1. Arie,
      We have 8 dogs and there is NO pack order among them. My partner and I are the leaders, period. If we allowed the dogs to “work out” an order under us, there clearly would be challenges and fights for the next rung of the pack ladder. The way I run my pack is simple, every dog is on the same level and there is no ladder to climb. I stop any canine “corrections or challenges” before they get started. If you have more then one dog you must be in control of their actions. One step up the ladder in your dogs mind, is one step closer to alpha. That is not an option. We bring in rescues weekly, that we rehabilitate, and adopt out. Some of these dogs are highly dog-dog aggressive, some have extreme resource guarding. By having no ladder in our pack and not letting the dogs “work it out”, we can successfully bring in any dog without an issue. The new dog knows and witnesses that we have control of our pack, and our pack trusts that the leader has control of the new dog.
      It is important to remember that dogs who are allowed to fight for rank below the alpha will always challenge each other for the next position. Which in turn makes them “bicker” or worse, we have seen clients pack members kill the weak & old when they can move up the ladder. Remember this also means they will eventually challenge your leadership as well.

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