A fresh look at the wolf-pack theory of companion-animal dog social behavior

J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2004;7(4):279-85; discussion 299-300. doi: 10.1207/s15327604jaws0704_7.


A popular perspective on the social behavior of dogs in multiple-dog households sees the dogs' behavior as reflecting the sociobiological laws of the rigidly structured dominance hierarchy that has been described for wolf packs. This view suggests that aggression problems among dogs are natural expressions of conflict that arise whenever dominance status is in contention. One recommended solution has been for the owner to endorse and enforce a particular dominance hierarchy because, on the wolf pack model, aggression is minimized when the structure of the hierarchy is clear, strong, and stable. This article questions the validity of this perspective on 2 principal grounds. First, because it does not seem to occur in the wild, this article suggests the strong dominance hierarchy that has been described for wolves may be a by-product of captivity. If true, it implies that social behavior--even in wolves--may be a product more of environmental circumstances and contingencies than an instinctive directive. Second, because feral dogs do not exhibit the classic wolf-pack structure, the validity of the canid, social dominance hierarchy again comes into question. This article suggests that behavioral learning theory offers another perspective regarding the behavior of dogs and wolves in the wild or in captivity and offers an effective intervention for aggression problems.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pedigree
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Dominance*
  • Wolves / psychology