Are Your Dogs In A Pack?

Or perhaps that word sets your teeth on edge?
By Karen B. London PhD, August 2018, Updated June 2021
dog pack

The use of the word “pack” has gone in and out of style. Decades ago, it was quite common, but its use has faded in recent years. Many people like the term, but it makes others cringe. For many, it depends on what the term means to the people using it.

In the 1970s, many dog guardians began referring to their dogs as a pack because of research comparing dogs and wolves. If wolves live in packs and dogs are their close relatives, the reasoning went, a group of dogs living in a home should be considered a pack. Now, comparisons of wolves to dogs are frowned upon, in large part because they often lead to assumptions about dominance and “alpha” individuals within a group of dogs. The term “pack” came to imply assigning wolf social structure to dogs, and objections to doing so reflect an understanding of the differences between dogs and wolves.

Decades later, the use of the term “pack” often referred to both the people and the dogs living together. It became a common way to express a connection to ones’ dogs by referring to both species as part of the same group. It was not unusual to say things like, “Our whole pack is headed to visit my in-laws next week.” This use of the term is affectionate and inclusive. It expressed the growing movement to recognize the importance of dogs in our lives and to elevate their position as full-fledged members of our social circle.

In this way, the term “pack” was a precursor to a term we already had for those we live with and love and cannot imagine being without. That term is “family”. Perhaps part of the reason that the term “pack” has become less common is that “family” seems to describe more accurately the relationship with our dogs and their importance to us. “Pack” may have simply been a placeholder while our community came to accept that the term “family” is a better one for expressing that our dogs are included in our closest social ties.

How do you feel about using the term “pack” to refer to a group of dogs or to describe a family of both people and dogs?

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life