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Back to Basics: Leadership (and Consequences) Within the Pack

In one of my earliest posts, I talked about the pack within the pack, discussing studies done in Hungary with a pack of off leash Vizslas and how the dog pack leader changes during playtime determining the direction the rest of the pack. I have also written about how, within the pack, there are leaders, followers, and the intermediaries and each has a specific job (followers are rear security, leaders choose the direction, intermediaries keep the pack together, happy and moving in the right direction).

Beyond that discussion, let’s talk about human pack structure within a dog pack. The human is the pack leader, but within a structure which is limited in its scope. For example, where there are a pack of dogs and humans walking there are sub-packs within the pack. Koa and I are a pack; Dan and MC are a pack; Margo and Elvis are a pack; Mike and Atticus are a pack; and so on. We are primarily responsible for our sub-pack but have a responsibility to assist another pack leader only when it’s warranted. If the play with all of the dogs becomes too rough, all pack leaders who are closest are empowered to make the corrections to whomever they choose to reclaim a balanced environment and to separate the parties while the other pack leaders are making their way in that direction to reclaim their pack. This has happened where because of distance one of us in the pack is the closest and best choice for correction without favoritism – even if it is our dog, we make the correction for pack balance and leadership cohesion. It is a simple chain of command.

However, if Koa has decided to stray for a moment it is my responsibility to make the correction verbally or otherwise without participation by the other pack leaders. Should Mike try to correct Koa in this instance it is viewed in the dog world as a direct challenge, or an attempt to launch a coup, to the leadership position of that pack leader. And it would force me to repel this challenge in the harshest manner possible. In the animal world this attempt to challenge throws potential confusion into the dog’s mind (especially if they are not balanced) and causes the dog to wonder, “Who’s in charge here?” The answer comes in the response of the pack leader.

In the dog world, a direct challenge, or an attempt to overthrow the leader by “bossing” THEIR subordinates around is a very big deal and results in only a few, but very harsh and often not survivable, conclusions. The first outcome is that the original leader either gives in to the challenge or is defeated because they are too tired or too old to fight, which always results in the death of that ostracized leader because they are removed from the pack and are no longer a part. The second outcome is that the challenger is defeated and this may result in the same outcome – IF the challenger can run fast enough. If not, they are killed for the sake of the pack’s survival and unit cohesion; there is no recidivism. Simple as that.

Therefore, it is not the action but the consequences of that action that determine the strength of the leadership position. If you think about it, it is really no different in your own employment world. Dissenters and challengers either defeat their opponents or are sent to Siberia (figuratively, unless you’re in Russia, in which case it is literally!). Furthermore, the defeat of the challenger serves as a message to the dog that 1) the pack leader is truly in charge, 2) it’s not a good idea to challenge the pack leader unless you KNOW you’re going to win, and 3) the “street credibility” of the pack leader has just increased exponentially because the pack is assured that they are safe and have the right pack leader for them.

Until next time, study your own pack and be the best pack leader for your sub-pack member!

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