Natural pack dog behaviour

Domesticated dogs cannot form packs of sufficient size to allow them to establish a hierarchical structure as complex as that of the wolf, where the pack is a social unit in which hierarchy, play and solidarity are factors which maintain group cohesion, improve survival chances and facilitate reproduction.
Packs of wild dogs defend their territory while also being able to co-opt new members from other groups of strays or wild dogs.

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Strays and wild dogs

There are large populations of stray dogs in Africa, Asia, the Americas and certain parts of Europe which seldom come into contact with humans or have become completely feral. They keep to the outskirts of cities and urban areas they can access easily where they are not likely to meet humans. They are also found in rural areas.

Some of these so-called free ranging dogs have owners who let them roam free most of the time; others have been abandoned or lost.

Feeding hierarchy

A pack of dogs is governed by a complex hierarchy. After catching their prey, wild canids ingest a large quantity of food in a short space of time. They will not necessarily feed every day because they are not always able to catch anything. When they do catch something they have to eat it before it goes bad and before other animals arrive to contest the pickings.

The dominant dogs feed first, while the subordinate dogs have to wait their turn at a distance.


The dominant dogs feed first, while the subordinate dogs have to wait their turn at a distance.


Relations between dominant and subordinate dogs

The dominant dog in a pack controls the position of the various dogs when the pack is resting and when it is on the move. Dominant dogs sleep together in the middle of a circle formed by the pack. The space is organised in concentric circles accommodating the various hierarchical levels. The closer you are to the dominant dog, the higher your position in the hierarchy.

The dominant dog controls sexual activity in the pack. It is the only dog allowed to express its sexuality in front of the other members of the pack. Subordinate dogs cannot copulate in full view of the dominant dog. While urban dogs never live in a genuine pack situation, rural dogs can.

Learn more

What kind of treats should you use for training?

Many owners over-feed their dogs during training. Food rewards should only be the size of a grain of corn, no matter how large the dog is. Most dogs don’t care how large a treat is, only how it tastes (to test this out, offer your dog a piece of his regular food and a small, pea-sized tidbit of a great tasting treat and see which one s/he prefers). Small-sized treats also help prevent little dogs from filling up quickly and losing interest during training.

What are the signs that a dog is stressed?

Signs of stress and anxiety in dogs can be difficult to spot unless you know what to look for. Stressed dogs will often yawn, lick their lips, refuse to take treats they would normally gulp down and/or leave behind sweaty paw print tracks. Dogs, like many people, have a difficult time learning when overly anxious. Smart owners recognize early on that their dog is becoming stressed and take steps help the dog relax.

Linda M Campbell, RVT, CPDT
Humane Society of Missouri
Director of Behavior and Training
AKC CGC Evaluator

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Natural pack dog behaviour
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