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  • Writer's pictureJessica Palmer

Social Animals vs. Pack Animals

if you would like to listen to this in podcast form you can find it here or by clicking the picture below

A lot of my posts are about how similar kids and dogs are. However, there is a fundamental difference between our species that really SHOULD play a major role in our “parenting” techniques between our dogs and our kids. We, as humans, are social animals. As a species, we thrive in social environments or can at least adapt well to changes and function in different social constructs. Dogs on the other hand are pack animals. They are not fundamentally built to thrive in ever changing social situations. That is why it takes training to get them to fit seamlessly into a human society. Today we are going to unpack why this slight distinction is so important to understanding your dogs behavior and how this can help you help your dog be a happier, healthier and more confident canine.

Let’s start with a couple quick google definitions…

Social Animal: an animal that lives in groups

Pack Animal: an animal that lives and hunts in a pack.

Let’s look at the last two words there. Groupssss (plural) vs pack (singular). As much as we do “socialization” and such with our puppies or try to train and mold our dogs to adapt to OUR social construct at the end of the day their biology, their DNA tells them that they are most comfortable with THEIR pack. Not at your friends birthday party with a bunch of people they don’t know, not at the dog park with random strangers and unfortunately for us, at my job, not at daycare with a different group of dogs every day! While humans can easily adapt to different groups, social settings and environments, it’s not AS easy for most dogs.

Over the thousands of years man has had canines around, we have tried to breed the most puppyish behaviors into our campanions. You see, when wolves are puppies they are more courteous and playful and more likely to accept different individuals as non-threats. Babies and kids are similar in this sense. We are much more accepting of new or different people when we are younger. No matter how many time you tell a child not to go with strangers, if that stranger has something they want, they have no problem going right along with them. But once dogs and kids become mature adults that playful puppy behavior goes away and the survival instinct kicks in more readily. They become more weary of new situations and avoid new or different individuals to “stay safe” and often become more aggressive to protect their own or to eat/survive. Every individual canine has differences in personality though. Some may stay more energetic, playful and friendly, others may prefer to stay on their own. Some may be more accepting of strangers, some may be more protective. So, as we began to domestic canines we would have kept the ones that stayed more playful, happy, and more… puppyish or more human like in their way of interacting with others. So after thousands of years we have mans goofy, waggy, happy-go-lucky best friend. But their root DNA is still that of those original wolves and some are more connected to that than others.

People often come to me and are upset because they “did everything they were supposed to” with their puppies as far as socializing them and such but now their dog is super protective of their house, or reactive to other dogs or new people. My first question is when did this start, then, how old are they? And usually it will be, it’s started when the dog was between 1.5-3 years old when they started to see this change in behavior. Well, your dog has hit maturity and while they may have been socialized, you may have done training with them, you may have taken them everywhere with you and been a great leader, they may just be becoming… a DOG. And not a puppy anymore and NOT a human child!

This is not the end of the world, you just have to start treating your dog more like a dog and less like a child or baby. You will have to retrain them not necessarily to love every other dogs or strangers again but at the very least tolerate them if YOU, the leader, says they are not a threat. So, maybe a free for all type of environment like the dog park or daycare or a 5 year olds birthday party isn’t the best place for your dog anymore. This is where you have to make a choice. Do you teach your dog to control these impulses and try to control the environment as much as possible and hope for the best. Or do you not put them in these stressful situations anymore? Is dog daycare something THEY enjoy or something YOU enjoy? It can be a tough decision but at the end of the day you have to respect your dogs personality to some extent.

Now, I have 3 dogs. 1 loves everyone and everything and I would trust him in all these situations with minimal direction from me. The other 2, my highly trained, ever obedient, border collie mixes, not so much. There breeds are bred for energy and taking direction yes, but also having to be on edge and make quick decisions and to be very mouthy and pushy. So, Tanner, my 15 lb registered therapy dog, comes to daycare with me some times, is allowed out at parties, can hang out on my sons bed at night and play freely with random dogs. The other 2, not so much. They would be miserable in most of those situations, trying to control their impulses and me having to be on top of them all the time. So, they go away if there is going to be multiple children (that aren’t part of our pack) in our house, they don’t come to daycare or go to the dog park. AND THEY ARE SUPER HAPPY< STABLE DOGS. Even though if you were to look at the three and their obedience levels and the amount of commands they know, Trinity and trigger would blow Tanner out of the water. They are just more… dog… and Tanner is more puppy.

Overall, what I’m trying to say to you is don’t try to make your dog fit into some cookie cutter version of what you think a “good dog” is. And don’t be disappointed if they get kicked out of daycare at some point, or they aren’t the dog that lets the kids pull at them and jump on them and run past them screaming without caring. Those dogs that do that stuff are the exception rather than “the norm”(and generally have a lot of training hours put into them). If your dog has matured into a full dog and is telling you they would prefer not to be put into out of control social environments anymore “I’m not a puppy anymore mom!” That is ok, you just need to figure out things you can do with them that they still see dogs and people and such but it’s not a free for all and teach them to control their canine instincts in certain situations.

I will leave you with a study I read a while back, I don’t remember the study or where it was published but these scientists tracks 5 packs of wolves in a large protected forest area. After a year they looked at the map of where the wolves moved. Each pack had its own territory and very rarely strayed from that territory. They preferred to be with their own pack in their own familiar territory. I am by no means saying that dogs today are the same as wolves today but we do have to realize they do come from common relatives and of the same “family” genetically. So socialize your dog, train your dog, make them fit into our social construct as much as you possibly can because it’s just nicer to not have to deal with these things if we can. But know, they ARE dogs NOT kids. They deal with stress like DOGS, not kids. And they NEED you to be a leader and a responsible DOG owner not just a pet parent/ best friend.

Hopefully this is helpful to some of you. Please like and share if you know someone that needs to hear this and let’s start changing just a little bit of this “my dog is just a furry kid” mindset we have.

Thanks for reading today guys. Remember, you can find me on social media everywhere at so like, subscribe, share and comment so you can see as much Mother of Dog content as possible and so can all your friends! and again if you would like to listen to this in podcast form you can find it here

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