Post updated: August 2018.
I like the term “pack leader.”
It implies dogs and humans work well together in groups, learning from and supporting and protecting one another.
And yes, looking at one or a few individuals as decision makers.
I like thinking of myself as a leader to my dog. A fun and positive leader, hopefully, but still a leader. Someone my dog can look to for guidance and safety and consistency.
The term “fur mom” doesn’t work well for me personally, but is “pack leader” all that different than “fur mom?” or even “pet guardian?” Probably not for most of us.
Yet, if I mention I’m a leader to my dog, it’s almost certain someone will say, “No, actually ‘pack theory’ is wrong. You don’t have to show your dog who’s boss to get what you want.”
Yikes! OK …
I have to say, I don’t care about the details of “dominance theory” or “pack theory” and how it applies to dogs and wolves and other animals or not. I just want a nice dog.
Of course “dominance” comes into play in subtle ways when humans or dogs or cats are competing for “resources.” A good example is when I set my purse down at the bar to “claim” my area. Or when my cat Beamer casually takes the best dog bed from the other pets.
Seems like “dominance” to me, but who cares?
Living peacefully with dogs
What I care about is living peacefully with my powerful klutz of a dog. Doing so requires some rules and structure. I know having multiple dogs can easily turn into chaos if there is no leadership.
(Ever notice how a household gets more and more out of control as people add more dogs? I notice.)
For this reason, I have rules in place for my dog. I do not allow him to barge ahead of me through doors, for example. He chooses to yield to me most of the time. Does that make me dominant in those situations? I don’t know, but I can walk through the door while holding a leash in one hand and the trash in the other without getting pulled down.
Another example: I ask my dog to sit or wait before he approaches his bowl at meals. He knows not to grab food until I give permission. This isn’t about me being dominant. It’s about teaching my dog to be polite and patient.
Ace also waits for permission before jumping into or out of the car. He is not allowed on the couch or the bed. He knows there are limits to how many times I will throw his ball. (2018 update: Ace has passed away.)
These are the rituals we work on every day.
Yeah, I think I am a ‘pack leader’
Since pretty much all training is a game to my dog, it makes sense that I feel like the fun “pack leader.” I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Heck, look at it this way:
Replace “pack leader” with “Girl Scout leader.”
I’m a former Girl Scout, and you can bet our “troop leaders” had rules in place for us girls. We would’ve been out of control otherwise. 🙂
I don’t know when we became so sensitive to this type of language just because we’re talking about dogs, but at some point we did.
What matters to me and to my relationship with my dog is that he trusts me and feels safe and happy around me. I believe leadership is important, as well as having a dog who is calm and under control.
Yeah, I think I’ll keep using the term “pack leader.” It works for me.