If you’ve been looking into dog training, you’ve probably run across the dog pack leader training theory. Or if you’ve been to the dog park lately, you’ve seen the dude in the cool shades that rolls his dog on its back by the throat. (He’s either the alpha dog or chief dog bully).
If you talked to him (which I would advise against), he would tell you he is establishing himself as the alpha in the pack. Pack leader training theory states that you have to establish yourself as the pack leader. That means you should assert your dominance over your dogs to let them know who’s the boss.
It supposedly draws from wolf pack dynamics, which are a genetic relative to our domesticated dogs. Alphas are the boss, the leaders of the pack to whom the rest of the pack have to submit and follow.
The dog pack leader theory says that you are supposed to take the role of the alpha in order to let your dogs know their place in the pack, as well as to effectively train them.
This theory has been doing rounds in dog training for a while now, with a lot of subscribers. In fact, some of the most well-known dog trainers are proponents of this thinking.
The existence of this theory and the sheer number of trainers who promote it begs the question, is pack leader training legit?
Common Dog Pack Leader Claims
In case you’re not very familiar with the common claims of the dog pack leader theory, here are several which could help put the theory in perspective:
- Dogs, as genetic descendants of wolves, are by nature hierarchical creatures and need to adhere to the pack dynamics
- Dogs should not be allowed to be at a higher level than their owners, because it gives them the illusion of dominance over their owner
- You should always eat before your dog so that he knows his position in the pecking order
- Never let your dog lead, like when entering doors, always take the lead and ensure your dog is the one doing the following
- Dogs that pull on their leashes are trying to establish dominance over their owners and should not be allowed to do so
- In instances when your dog is attempting to establish dominance, they must be submitted to an ‘alpha roll’ (pinning the dog on his back and holding him by his throat) or other physical measures to teach them their place
If you think about it, a lot of these claims seem very logical, if not scientific. So it’s not hard to see why people would believe that the dog pack theory has its merits.
But Is The Dog Pack Theory True?
A lot of studies throughout the years have contributed to the debunking of this theory. If anything, the theory is more of a myth rather than a reliable and educated resource.
One of the major rebuttals against this theory is the fact that we humans are obviously not dogs and our dogs are smart enough to see that. Even if there is such a thing as pack dynamics in dogs, we can’t simply insert ourselves into this dynamic as if we are one of them.
As you may recall from our post about how dogs learn, there is such a thing as social learning in dogs. But it’s not something that humans can apply in their own attempts at dog training, because it only works within creatures of the same species.
The same thing applies for the pack leader theory. You can’t be a pack leader simply because you’re not the same species as the other pack members.
Also, it has been proven that the leadership roles in wolf packs aren’t actually due to established dominance from physical means. Rather, similar to how it occurs with humans, leadership often falls on the shoulders of the elders who are more experienced and knowledgeable about certain things.
Physically or psychologically asserting dominance over your dog through hitting, alpha rolls, leash yanking, or even screaming aren’t the way to become an effective leader and trainer to your dogs. Remember, it’s usually the gentle dog training techniques that work.
That being said, applying an alpha roll on your dog simply isn’t the way to go.
Not A Pack Leader, But Simply A Leader
Is pack leader training legit? Not really.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t be a leader to your dog? No.
Dogs can be submissive to you without you having to intimidate them into submission.
And while you can’t be a pack leader, you can still be a leader who guides and teaches your dog how to behave properly.
And how can you do that? By being a gentle and loving owner.
Sure, dogs misbehave and can get out of line, but there is no misbehavior that cannot be solved with a little positive reinforcement training.
By nature, you as the dog owner are tasked with taking care of your dog and supplying him with his needs. And your dog knows that. From the get go, you’re someone they have to rely on.
And that’s the basic ingredient to being a leader.
Leaders don’t have to assert their place at the top of the pecking order, because their members simply know to follow them. They don’t have to resort to intimidation and aggressive means to prove that they should be respected.
As a matter of fact, aggressively treating your dog may appear like he calms down and submits, but it’s actually more of a response where they shut down and feel even more insecure in your presence.
How is your dog supposed to trust you if you’re constantly instilling fear into him, instead of making him feel loved and secure in your position as a leader?
While at first glance, the dog pack leader training theory seems logical and well-grounded, it’s actually an outdated theory that has been proven to have less merit than it seems to have.
While ungrounded, this theory did get something right. And that’s the fact that dogs need to have a leader. Maybe not a pack leader acknowledged because of intimidation, but someone they could trust and rely on who will teach them how to behave and provide for their needs.
And that’s the role that we as dog owners have to live up to.
Much like how parents and elders often take the role of leaders in a family dynamics, we should be dog moms and dads who use gentle training methods to help shape up our dogs. And there’s no need for you to alpha roll your dog to let them know that you’re the leader.
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