April 28, 2023


filed under

Your Dog is a Pack Animal (+ What That Means for You)

I hear the terms “dog” and “pack animal” in the same sentence all the time. Understanding just exactly how your dog is a pack animal relates a lot to the history behind our relationships with canines. Building a meaningful relationship with our animals requires a unique understanding of their history and interactions with humans, and their pack animal tendencies are part of this.

There are a lot of misconceptions about how dogs descended from wolves and the implications surrounding this that I’m here to demystify. Take stock in your relationship with your dog through exploring their role as a pack animal and how you fit into this.

I’ve seen countless clients that struggle to support their animals often as a result of not recognizing this pack mentality our canines inherently have. The goal here is to delve into how to take on that embodied alpha role and really learn about our animals and how we can support them and they in turn can support us.

So, what exactly is a pack animal?

Being a pack animal is all about success, and success for animals means survival. Being part of a pack uniquely gives animals a chance for maximum protection and food resources. Each member of the pack has a designated role – and all of them are crucial to overall success.

Dogs live in a black and white experience: if they succeed, their lineage can carry on. This is the mentality of a pack animal, it requires daily navigation of a complex and chaotic environment with a lot of potential disruptors.

When it comes to being part of a pack, there is a unique bond and trust between animals. As each member of the pack works toward a common goal, it heightens success for the pack and promotes longevity. At their core, canines need the alpha role in their pack, in fact it’s the most important part of their existence. Rising through the ranks means more resources and power over the distribution of them, something that impacts the entire pack.

This very organized hierarchy of members in a pack is central to the organization itself. There must be two alphas, and consequently, there must be beta and omega members too. The alpha leaders are often responsible for signaling hunts and executing them with support from the pack, providing the essential nourishment and sustenance the  animals need.

Let’s talk about the wolf pack

It’s a well-accepted fact that the domesticated animals we love so much today were originally descended from wolves, who are frequently referred to as pack animals. Unlike common beliefs however, it was likely not the gray wolf that dogs came from, but rather another extinct and unidentified type of wolf we no longer have access to today. It’s notoriously difficult to track and trace the origins of dogs as descendants of wolves given the wolves were distributed widely across the globe and found themselves suited to live in a variety of climates.

Scientific American suggests that the first domestication of these animals and development of early canines occurred when humans were largely still hunter/gatherers, notably before the agricultural revolution. The early signs of domestication came from subtle changes in the wolf body: a slightly shortened snout and more crowded teeth.

It is a logical assumption that wolves were initially domesticated as an attempt to harness their immense hunting power for human purposes and benefits. Other research suggests that wolf pups may have been intercepted by humans to keep around for potential sacrificial purposes. However, modern research from Scientific American done by evolutionary biologist Greger Larson has demonstrated that the domestication may have in fact been partially initiated by wolves.

It is a logical assumption that wolves were initially domesticated as an attempt to harness their immense hunting power for human purposes and benefits. Other research suggests that wolf pups may have been intercepted by humans to keep around for potential sacrificial purposes. However, modern research from Scientific American done by evolutionary biologist Greger Larson has demonstrated that the domestication may have in fact been partially initiated by wolves.

The initial reason wolves became so closely tied to humans was practicality. Access to resources like food and even trash were quickly picked up as potential benefits for helping human companions, something playing into domestication. This domestication importantly disrupted the pack mentality of these animals and redefined their potential relationships.

As domestication increased and humans began to rely on the hunting skills of wolves and their descendants for food, the relationship between humans and development of dogs strengthened. With the development of agriculture, hunting became less prominent, but using dogs for things like herding and other physical tasks was becoming more common.

Generally, overtime, a branch of the wolf lineage shifted into the dogs we know today and was solidified with increasing domestication and isolation from their pure roots.

The myth of the “lone wolf”

One thing I encounter a lot is people talking about this concept of the “lone wolf.” Let’s break this myth down a bit.

Wolves, dogs, and even humans all rely on the power of the collective to thrive and survive. We are inherently pack animals. A healthy animal doesn’t have the desire to be alone aside from times of distress and mental disruption. Your dog is a pack animal – in their natural environment these packs hunt, eat, sleep, and form familial bonds with each other.

Essentially, our domestication of dogs has taken them from their natural positioning as members of a pack to isolating them from other dogs and pack members completely. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that our dogs adore us and appear happy, but the reality is on a fundamental level they are stuck with us. It’s true they often do experience these strong feelings of attachment to us in meaningful ways, but it’s unfair to base our treatment of them on the assumption they are blissfully happy in an inherently unnatural setting for them.

Wolves, dogs, and humans

Dogs are deeply integrated into global culture. Some cultures revere these animals with immense cultural significance, the psychology behind our relationships with dogs runs deep. There is so much to explore in understanding how dogs interweave in the lives of human cultures and countless global examples support this.

One thing I think is key to consider here is all the information we as humans have learned from dogs. If we look at the history of our human evolution, wolves domesticated humans. We learned how to succeed, and most importantly survive in an unforgiving world, thanks to our canine counterparts. There’s an important mutual exchange here between humans and wolf descendants; there were benefits to having each other as allies.

These deeply-ingrained social hierarchies that pack animals like wolves and dogs align with guide a lot of their logic and thinking, and our role as a domesticator plays into this. As humans increasingly domesticated dogs, being able to embody a meaningful part of their social hierarchy in terms they understand relating to the pack mentality becomes a key concept.

Why does understanding pack mentality matter for your dog?

The domestication of dogs is not natural and our role in this has taken them from their preferred state to an unknown place. It’s our responsibility as embodied alphas to define a clear social hierarchy with our dogs and in some ways model this pack mentality to promote comfort and collective wellbeing.

Every member of the pack (and especially you) needs to show up with authenticity and consistency in canine relationships. If the dog sees that they have to take charge or manage any human members of the pack, that’s exactly where problems arise.

Dogs thrive in packs. This is evidenced by a client I’ve worked with for many years – a family with an older yellow lab that generally lacked energy and vitality. There was clearly something missing from that animal’s life, and reconnecting him with a pack of his  own species  mentality brought remarkable changes. I placed two puppies in their home, and the shift we all observed was profound. It was like watching a completely different dog.

It’s key to detach ourselves from the commentary that ties certain dog behaviors to specific species or breeds. Ultimately, the character of a dog is not unilaterally determined by their genetic makeup. We must understand our dogs on individual levels and explore relationships in their lives to enact meaningful change in the relationship.

Bringing the pack mentality to your canine’s life

Changing the mentality around pack animals and our dogs is one way to strengthen the relationships you have with your canines, and also their relationships with other animals and people. Initial resistance is ok – but taking the first steps to understanding and critically analyzing the behaviors and psychological drivers behind your dog is ultimately the goal.

By placing dogs in our environment and stirpping them of their natural environment, we redefine and potentially confuse their notions of social hierarchies and their place in the pack. When we take on the role of an embodied alpha, we can provide clarity to our animals in a way that reinforces social systems they are familiar with.

Being able to really take charge of the relationship and showcase your position and support of your dog allows for growth and mutual understanding. At the end of the day, dogs are adaptable. But their position in a mysterious world has somewhat obstructed their ability to find this resilience in their daily lives. Again, it is our role as humans to help them find this adaptability and bring elements of the pack mentality to their modern, domesticated lives.

My parting thoughts when it comes to pack mentality and supporting our animals is that it’s never a bad idea to bring elements of the pack back into their lives. No dog should ever live as a sole dog in a home. Read that again – no dog should ever live as a sole dog in a home.

Take charge and embrace the pack mentality that drove our dogs in their ancestral days.

I’ve been working with canines my entire life, and my mission is to use what I know to to restore the sacred bond between humans and animals. I’d love to help you next. Book a consultation with me today.

separation anxiety in dogs

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



Understanding Energetic Cues and Expressions in Dogs

Transforming your relationship with your dog requires understanding how they view our world and communicate in it. Learning to read your dog’s energetics and cues goes beyond interpreting their behavior–it’s about cultivating a profound connection to our canine companions. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn to:
  • Decode canine energetic cues
  • Become a confident and peaceful leader capable of meeting your dog’s needs
  • Foster trust, respect, and empathy with your dog
  • Ensure your dog feels safe + valued
  • Cultivate a deep sense of of purpose in your own life

My gift to you