A letter from your dog
Dear family and friends,
We are writing today to request that you please don't listen to any of that "pack leader" stuff - a misconception that some are still holding onto. The truth is we don't need a "pack leader". We don't need you to gain dominance over us. You see, we are not captive wolves.
Archaeological records suggest we have been a subspecies distinct from wolves for 10,000-14,000 years. There are many behavioural and genetic differences to us now and the assumption that we are "wolves in your living room" is only causing us harm. This goes for whatever breed is behind this piece of writing!
We are similar to wolves in many ways: we like to be social with our own species and we communicate through similar vocalisations but you see- we are much better with humans than wolves are. We are better at listening to you, understanding your body language, facial gaze/expressions, and cooperating with you. Our social cognition has changed through natural selection massively. And most importantly, we don't really care for the "alpha" positions, we are happy to just be here amongst you.
The dominance hierarchy was first noted in wolf packs that were held CAPTIVE which means it is not true behaviour of a real-life context. In the wild they do not have these dynamics. Wild wolf packs are made up of a mating pair and offspring. Adult wolves naturally take on leadership roles with their offspring and their packs are based on co-operation and trust. As dogs, our behaviour is loose, changing and unstructured. As our caregivers we simply ask for companionship and relationship based on management, emotional and physical support. That is how our social structure is really set up - family.
We love you unconditionally and we are not trying to gain power over you, we just want to be with you. You don't need to eat first, go through doors first and make us do those horrid rolls to show us who is boss. Dominance based training damages this bond we can have as human and dog. It is scientifically incorrect AND harmful. It tends to lead to punishment based training and apparent status reduction techniques. In actuality our behaviours are based on reinforcement, not rank. We behave in ways that our prior experience tells us works in the context we are in and the way we are feeling. We are dependent on you in many ways and in return we love to do things for you too that we both enjoy.
We can fulfil so many roles for you - companionship, working aid, guard dog, personal assistant. Domestication and the resultant biological changes means we have high social intelligence and have adapted our social skills, making communal life with us rewarding. We are trainable, affectionate, playful, and unconditionally in love with you. We can recognise and form qualitatively different attachments to multiple family members and we have the potential to fit into a myriad of family structures from single living to large families of all generations. We have life-long bonding mechanisms enabling us to form strong, long-lasting social bonds just as humans can.
We are generally highly sensitive to your social cues- your body language, where you point with your fingers or even eyes. We have these marvellous inter-species communication pathways to support our cohabitation with you. We can communicate very well with you too, but sometimes you need a behaviourist to help you understand us and that is okay because once you've learnt our methods of communication you won't un-learn them. You'll then have that ability for life.
If you want to read any more on this important topic then here are some links:
Pack Theory Debunked by Victoria Stilwell
Why Won't Dominance Die? by David Ryan
De-Bunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory by Pat Miller
Canine Dominance: Is the Concept of the Alpha Dog Valid? by Stanley Coren
Thank you for reading,