I recently received an email on LinkedIn from a dog trainer who wanted to correct my use of the term pack…
Dear Kimberly, You referred to your dogs as members of a pack. Please note: Dogs are scavengers and have no need for a pack or alpha leader, but live and survive among other dogs and humans through assimilation. Don’t believe me…check out any National Geographic presentation regarding village life in Africa or Asia and you will note dogs milling about but not with each other. If they formed a pack they would be a threat to people and livestock. We all need to consciously work toward undoing the many myths regarding dog behavior or training. :) Thank you
Thank you for the email,
When I refer to my family as a pack, it’s a term of endearment. This pack includes me and my boyfriend, our dogs, our cats, and our friends. We also use the terms “crew” “brood” and “gang.” When I use the word, I’m not making a comment towards the origin of the canine species, which training or behavior methods are right or wrong, nor am I trying to educate anyone.
It’s simply a term of endearment.
I’m not sure what you were reading; but I apologize that you took offense and will remove myself from your contacts, because I’m certain that I will offend you more in the future. I’m just a happy go lucky dog parent who loves to write about her dogs and share with other dog lovers.
Best of luck with your business in 2013!
I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I thought of my goals with Keep the Tail Wagging…
To inspire conversation between dog lovers that brings about education and community, that will help all of us raise happier, healthier dogs.
I don’t want to alienate people so I went to my awesome followers on Facebook to ask them about the term “pack” when we refer to our dog family. An overwhelming majority, over 100 responses, were fine with it, but did understand that there are some people who are hypertensive to the term, because they’re concerned that it encourages a negative perception of our dogs.
I wasn’t willing to let my blog post end with “my fans like it, so I’m rubber, you’re glue,” because this is a fantastic opportunity for us all to learn something new and I hope it inspires a great discussion.
I always describe a “pack” as a family with order and structure. Dogs like structure. They are happier and calmer when they know the roles of their family member. Specifically, they like to know where they stand in the lineup. Am I a leader or a follower? Who do I look to when I need to know what to do? Every pack needs a leader, just like a family. Who is in charge? Who makes the rules and sets the boundaries? None of this has to be harsh. When a Dad sets rules for his kids, he is loving them. A pack leader is calm, secure and well respected. He doesn’t have to raise his voice or be aggressive.
~ Dean Miller, The Dog Counselor
Alpha theories say that handlers should establish themselves as pack leaders, by doing things such as walking in front of their dogs at all times and eating first at meal times. While it’s a good idea to be the leader of one’s household, as opposed to letting one’s dog run the show, there are better ways to achieve this than forcing a dog to follow rigid and arbitrary rules.
~ Sujatha Ramakrishna, M.D., Raising Kids Who Love Animals ($0.99 on your Amazon Kindle)
For me, it boils down to semantics. I view “alpha” as simply meaning the one in charge and “pack” as meaning a family. I view the leader (or owner) as the one that makes sure all of the followers (or family) never have to worry about anything. I love my dogs more then anything and as their leader it is my responsibility to teach them what I expect from them with basic training. Basic training is about building a common language between dog and human to help facilitate communication and understanding.
However, if “alpha” or “pack leader” is defined as the boss and being the boss is defined as bullying with fear or intimidation, then yes these terms are offensive. Fear and intimidation have no place in the relationship between owner and dog.
~ David Cugno, David Cugno’s Canine Center
That being said, I’m taking back the terms Pack and Alpha and redefining them from the point of view of a dog mom.
A family structure that includes humans, canines, felines and/or other creatures that is structured in a manner to define a leader, the fur parent(s), and provides all family members with a sense of purpose, security, and love.
A group of families come together to walk their dogs, providing a great fitness and socialization opportunity for the dogs and humans.
A tongue in cheek term used to refer to the fur parent(s) of a dog, cat or other pet. The Alpha is the caretaker and provider and takes the lead in teaching his or her pack (see definition above) how to properly behave through positive reinforcement training, which includes confidence, patience, consistency, love and respect. Oh and the occasional low calorie (that one’s for you SlimDoggy) treat.
Here are a couple of great books that also use the term “pack”…
Review from Amazon “It helped us realize that we had been unknowingly giving our dog the message that she was the leader of our pack. When we assumed leadership positions she not only behaved better, she seemed relieved that she no longer had to fill a role that she did not want. She is now a relaxed, obedient dog that we have grown to love and cherish more and more. Most wonderful of all she no longer displays aggression towards other dogs.”
Review from Amazon “Patricia’s dog training classes teaches us that 99.9% of dog training consists of training the human, not the dog. Patricia teachs us how although we may be animals, the messages we send to our best friends are much different. Patricia teaches us the value of the 1-word command, and the usage of positive, rewards-based training. This book is more than just a training book it provides valuable insight into the way dogs think. You will be amazed at how much your pet can learn when you start speaking their language!”
I would love to hear your thoughts on the terms I defined, my definitions, and any experience you’ve had with these terms.