Why I don’t Need to be a Pack Leader

As a result of being both a baby boomer and a veteran, I am quite familiar with the teaching philosophy centered on the concept of “Do as I say or else!” with the “or else” usually consisting of an expletive laced tirade linked with some sort of physical punishment. The rationale for this philosophy was usually summed up by the phrase “It’s for your own good.”

In retrospect, I can see that this method may have been effective and even necessary, especially in the case of my military training. But then I have the luxury of a complex brain that can not only evaluate the cost/benefit equation of a given situation, I can reflect upon its effectiveness at a later date. In short, I can rationalize, and here lies my problem with physical corrections promoted under the guise of “pack leadership.”

Our dogs are not conscripts that understand they may soon be in a life or death situation with their lives dependent on following orders without hesitation. Nor are they able to rationalize that punishment is for their own personal growth.

Pack leader theory begs me to believe that by employing physical corrections, my dog will come to see me as the leader of our little troupe and thus fall in line like a good little soldier. However, unless I am gifted with the supreme timing and the omniscience of a drill sergeant, it’s just as likely that my dog will come to see me as something to be avoided.

My personal opinion is that pack leader theory is based more on appealing to my vanity as a leader, instead of the science of how dogs learn; using human psychology to get me to overlook the psychology of the animal I want to train. And that is the reason I don’t need or want, to be a pack leader.

6 thoughts on “Why I don’t Need to be a Pack Leader

  1. I think some people see the term “pack leader” in the wrong light. But in many situations there is always a leader. At school. At work and in other areas of life. I believe most dogs are looking for a leader. If you have more than one dog that is normally called a pack. I for one don’t want my dog deciding what is best for him or I.

    • Thanks for adding your comments Brenda. I believe that leadership has different meaning for different people. I don’t see my dogs as needing leadership in the form of physical correction, but leadership in the form of clear instruction that is based on learning without punishment. The term pack leader has become politicized by becoming a pop culture reference based on extrapolations never meant to extend to dogs, the original meaning has become obsolete in light of its own PR. IMO

  2. Amen Kevin! You hit the nail on the head when referring to the human ego. We absolutely can NOT allow our egos to rule in dog training. It simply does not apply. Our wants and reinforcers are VERY different than dogs. In fact, I’d argue that the most reinforcing thing for people when it comes to dog training occurs when dogs do what we want! What people have to understand is that if we want to achieve success in dog compliance (though I don’t necessarily agree with that term), it has to be pleasing and reinforcing for them before it can be that way for us. Dogs are certainly not driven by ego the way we are!!!

  3. I completely agree with you on this. I think too, that in addition to the term/role/idea of being a “pack leader” or “alpha” appealing to human vanity, is that it’s a somewhat simple, easy-to-understand concept. “Man lead. Dog follow.” It’s a quick and dirty way of explaining dogs, their motives, and how we can live with them, albeit totally off-base. I think a good question to ask people who believe in the myth of pack leader and alpha dogs, is why would you even want a dog if you believe their sole mission in life is to be in control of you, your family, your house and resources?

    I know that some people use these terms innocently and not in the context of outdated training ideals, but I still can’t help but cringe when I hear or read them.

  4. Applause! couldn’t have said it better myself….the term always has peeved me!

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