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Are dogs pack animals?

Author: Charlotte

It’s tempting to think dogs are pack animals – they certainly display some behavior that would suggest this. They (not always) do as they’re told, are protective of their family members, and, in the case of Siberian Huskies and Malamutes, quite often look like they would be better suited to roaming the ice in search of deer rather than curled up at your feet.

So, are dogs pack animals? Or is that just something we like to believe?

What is a pack?

A pack is a group of animals that depend on each other to survive. They live together, sleep together, hunt together, and are fiercely protective of their family members – especially the young. There’s nearly always a dominant pair, the alpha male and female, and they are the sole breeders. They’re surrounded by their offspring who respect them and who look to them for protection and leadership. If they’re not doing a good job, lesser alpha males will fight to become the top dog.

Dogs are pack animals

We know that dogs are descendants of wolves – yes, even the little Bichon Frise curled up on your lap. Over thousands of years, they’ve been domesticated and bred to live side by side with their human family. But their ancient DNA is still wolf, meaning there are some traits that indicate that dogs are pack animals.

Sometimes when you watch your pup running around the doggie park or chasing their friends, you’ll be able to see some pack-like behavior. There’s normally a more dominant dog who leads the group and decides what game they’re playing. The other dogs seem to follow this dog around and respect his or her more alpha position. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but with particularly alpha dogs you can see the structural hierarchy.

Dogs also often act like they are pack animals with us. Have you ever wondered why your dog lays at your feet? One possibility is that they’re huddling next to you to keep warm and protect you – something their pack instincts tell them to do. Scratching the floor or digging holes before they sleep could also be a trait handed down by their wolf ancestors as a way of getting more comfortable in the wild (even if they’re doing it in your backyard or on your brand new carpet).

Dogs are not pack animals

They may be descendants of wolves, but dogs are not wolves. In fact, they’re domesticated pets that are pretty reliant on their humans for survival. Unlike wild dogs and wolves. Whilst wolves (and other pack animals) are incredible hunters that work together to bring down prey much larger than themselves, our pups get given their favorite food in their favorite bowl with their name on it.

What’s more, domesticated dogs are naturally scavengers and foragers, not hunters. Just imagine a pack of Golden Retrievers trying to bring down a bison. They’re much more likely to be going through the garbage bags or patiently waiting in front of the cupboard with their food inside.

Pack animals always have a strict hierarchy that keeps the group functioning. Quite often this behavior ends in fights amongst the males to see who is the most alpha. Whilst some dogs may be more aggressive than others, well-trained dogs are not actually in control of their social relationships. We train them to obey orders, not to be aggressive towards strangers or other dogs, and we constantly provide them with entertainment. 

So, are dogs pack animals?

Their ancestors are, yes. And dogs can display behavior that would make us think that they are pack animals too. It’s almost as if certain things they do are just in their blood. However, thousands of years of domestication have made dogs very different from wolves. They learn from us and are dependent on us, but that doesn’t mean that they see us as their alpha parent (as wolves in the wild would). Rather than being pack animals in the sense of how we see wolves and wild dogs behaving, it’s better to see our pups as family members that still have some wolfish instincts in them.

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