What do you think of when you think of ‘impackt’? Does it look like I do not know how to spell impact? Or does it draw you into the word ‘pack’?
I chose to name my business Impackt Dog Training, because I want to make a positive impact in you and your dog’s lives through positive reinforcement training. Yes, there is the word pack in the name, but to me pack is a synonym for family. My pack consists of my wife, our four dogs, a cat, and me. We are a family unit that has learned to communicate and live with each other in harmony. We are like a normal family in that yes, there are arguments and sometimes communication is not perfect, but we work through things using positive reinforcement. And yes, it works on people too!
What a lot of people think of when they see the word pack is pack theory. Pack theory is a common, but dangerous, misconception that we need to be ‘dominant’ and the ‘pack leader’ and the dogs need to be ‘submissive’ to us.
What is Pack Theory?
Pack theory in the dog world is largely based on research collected from studies that were performed in the 1970s on a pack of unrelated, captive wolves. These studies suggested that there was a hierarchy in which the leaders (‘alphas’) has access to resources first, and maintained the ‘pack’ hierarchy using displays of aggression.
This led to people believing, since dogs were believed to be descended from wolves, that dogs spent their lives looking for their place in the pack and testing boundaries and an ‘alpha’ or human, needed to keep them in their place as a ‘submissive’.
Pack theory believes that most behavior problems with dogs come from them thinking they are ‘alpha’ or trying to become ‘alpha’, and that we can fix these problems by establishing ‘dominance’ and becoming ‘alpha’ over their dog by making sure it knows its ‘place’ in the pack.
Pack theorists often advocate physical punishment to ‘correct’ the relationship between the dog and the owner. Examples are this are ‘alpha rolls’ (forcing the dog onto it’s back or side often with the owner growling or yelling in the dog’s face) , holding the dog’s muzzle closed, shaking the dog by the scruff, hanging the dog by it’s collar, and using prong or shock collars. These are all punishments that are falsely believed to imitate canine behaviors that the ‘alpha’ would do to the ‘subordinates’ if it deemed something disrespectful or inappropriate.
Captive vs. Wild Wolves
Captive wolves who are given no choice but to live in groups of unrelated wolves behave very differently from what we now know to be a true natural wolf pack. A study of wild wolves by Dr. David Mech, the wolf expert and senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey who was largely responsible for the original scientific study promoting pack theory (much of which he has since renounced), revealed that wolves actually live in family groups the consist of parents and offspring. Once the pups reach 1 to 2 years old, they would leave their parents, find their own mates, and start their own families.
With pack theory, this would mean that when the wolves left their parents and siblings and found a mate to start a family, they would be the ‘alphas’. Studies found that conflict within the wolf family groups does not happen often. Parents naturally care and provide for their pups since the pups rely and depend on them for food and care. Pups do not try to overthrow their parents since cooperation, not competition, is vital for success of the family group. Since wolves are cooperative hunters, they need to live in harmony with each other since their survival depends on it. This explains the behavioral differences between the unrelated, captive wolves in the initial study and the wild wolves that were part of the second study that caused Dr. Mech to question the results of his original research.
Where do we go from here?
The concept of ‘pack theory’ that is known by many today is flawed for multiple reasons:
- Dogs and wolves are not the same. They are different through thousands of evolution, and we cannot assume they act similarly to each other.
- The original study that lead to pack theory has since been disproven by the scientists that conducted them.
- ‘Packs’ in the true sense of the word do not exist among groups of unrelated domestic dogs. True familial pack is mother, father and offspring and functions non-violently with submission being freely given rather than forced.
- Dogs know we are not dogs, so it is silly for us to pretend like we are one of them by being their ‘pack leader.’
We need to be leaders and help guide our dogs to make smart choices and communicate with us in a positive manner. We are not dogs, which means that we cannot be part of a dog pack. We need to lead with patience, understanding, and positive reinforcement no matter the age, breed, or behavior the dog is.
Pack theory has done a lot of damage to the dog training industry over the years, and recently things have been changing with positive reinforcement becoming more main stream and accessible. When I found positive reinforcement training, everything changed for the best. I was able to communicate with my dogs in a more positive manner, identify and address the reasons behind the behavioral issues we were experiencing, and overall have a better relationship with my dogs.
I became a dog trainer so that I could help people who are struggling or just need a little guidance. I want to make an impact to their and their dog’s lives using positive reinforcement, just like positive reinforcement has made just a big impact in my life.