It surprised me, too… But it’s just one of a long list of discoveries I made while reading Animals in Translation.
Apparently in their natural environment, the wild, wolves live in families. Not packs. Perhaps another wolf will join or a family member will tag along, but it won’t get much bigger than that. It’s a pretty big twist when it comes to how we view our domesticated dogs.
People have believed that wolves live in packs for ages, because most of the observations done on wolves were held in captivity. Or in a situation where the wolves didn’t know each other and were put in a space together. In a domesticated setting like this, dogs are forced to form a pack. If they didn’t, all hell would break loose and fights would commence. To avoid this as much as possible, an alpha wolf steps up and takes on the “peace keeper” role – making sure that everyone knows who’s boss. It’s settled. No more fights needed.
But where the wild things are… life is more family-oriented. The mother and father are the head of the family, and hierarchy ranking behavior hasn’t been observed in the pups – not that I’ve heard of. It seems that the pups look to the parents when something happens that requires a leader’s attention.
How does this effect us and our dogs at home? Having a pack leader mentality is still fairly relevant when it comes to domestic dogs. Let me correct myself: it is vital, specifically when you’re working with more than one dog. Those dogs are often not related, but are simply put together. If you remember what I mentioned earlier about wolves in captivity, that means that someone has to be a pack leader to eliminate fights, and let’s just say that better be you.
As far as a dog-human household goes (one dog or two dogs tops), raise your dog like a wolf mother would. Don’t treat them like a human child, because dogs and people have different needs, but instead of being a strict, “aggressive” leader like all the dog training books tell you to act, simply lay out boundaries, limitations, and request respect. Just like a mother would.