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Dog Words I Can Do Without

When I wrote a bit about feeding dogs a raw diet, over on my Dog Food Dish blog, I included a mini-rant about how when raw proponents start talking about wolves, I stop listening. It teeters too close for my tastes into the outdated, debunked idea of dogs as wolves. In my mind, if it isn’t true when it comes to behavior, then it also likely isn’t true when it comes to food.

I’m probably oversimplifying, but there you go.

Perhaps I’m prickly after 15+ months of seemingly endless worry and sadness. (There was another death in the family last week.) BUT, there are a few words used in dog circles or quasi dog circles that I’d be perfectly content never to hear/read again. All of them take root in dominance theory baloney:

  • Whisperer (In any context, not just with dogs, because it has come — for me — to mean a style of dog management/training that I disagree with vehemently.)
  • Pack (Yes, I know the origin and all that, but for me, the word has be ruined by association.)
  • Pack Leader (This one really makes my skin crawl. See whisperer and pack.)

I know that others don’t have the connotation issues that I do, being so heavily focused day and night on words.

Yet, when I hear people throw these words around in presentations, posts, tweets, and email, my blood sort of boils, and I think one of three things (rightly … or not!):

  1. The person wants to sound like a dog world insider (but really isn’t).
  2. The person has not a clue that some consider these words controversial or offensive.
  3. The person subscribes to the word’s actual usage and meaning. In which case, I assume we likely have less in common than I had hoped.

Now, I have friends — people I like, people I respect, people I admire — who do use these words. I flinch, but it isn’t going to greatly alter things between us.

Alas, if it’s the first thing I know about someone, I’ll be honest … I’ll approach with caution.

Is it just me? Or do these or other dog words or phrases set you off too?

For example, I know a lot of people bristle at being called a “pet parent.”

What’s your pet peeve? Do tell.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Deborah Flick - November 12, 2010

Yep, let’s send ‘pack’ packing and while we’re at it, let’s hustle ‘alpha’ back to where it belongs—the beginning of the Greek alphabet and let’s make sure it stays there!

Jana Rade - November 12, 2010

Well, as far as anatomy is concerned, i do believe that dogs are much closer to wolves than regarding the behavioral part.

I myself, while I like the idea of raw feeding, I feel that with Jasmine cooked is safer. Could I be wrong? Possibly. Still pondering.

Amy@GoPetFriendly - November 10, 2010

For me, its far more about the intention behind the words – it comes down to communication, an exchange of ideas. Call me a dog mom, guardian, dog owner – if what you mean is that I love and care for my dogs, we’re good. I refer to myself at the “Pack Leader” at If you know me at all, you know that’s meant tongue-in-cheek – it was more fun than President or CEO. Unfortunately we’re limited in communicating what’s in our minds and hearts to words, which are loaded with hidden meaning and tainted by our judgments.

    Roxanne Hawn - November 10, 2010

    That’s so true, Amy. I admit it. I bring a LOT of judgment to these particular words and what they mean to me. Too often in our cyber-lives, we are limited to what’s on the page or whatever. I’m all for clever. Lilly’s biz cards say she is puppy in chief. BUT, knowing what I know about this niche in the dog community and how these concepts “play,” personally I avoid them so that there is no confusion about where I stand.

Sheryl - November 10, 2010

I agree, Murphydog – “furkid” really annoys me. It diminishes our relationships with dogs by suggesting they are just another child and so does not acknowledge the wonderful inter-species relationship we have with them.

    Roxanne Hawn - November 10, 2010

    Oh, I’m right there with you … MurphyDog and Sheryl. “Furkid” has always bugged me too. Not for the reasons alpha/pack do, but i just think it’s an ugly looking and ugly sounding word.

    My dog are very much like children to me, but Sheryl is right … I like that it truly is an interspecies bond.

Dog-geek - November 10, 2010

I’m totally with you here. Whenever I have someone ask me about training or classes, and they say “I just want to have a balanced dog” I grind my teeth, knowing that they have watched way to much crappy TV and I’m going to have a lot of untraining to do.

    Roxanne Hawn - November 10, 2010

    We don’t hear balanced much around here, Dog-Geek. What is that supposed to mean?

KenzoHW - November 9, 2010

Most dog owners seeking help must have the impression that thinking in “pack” and “dominant” lines is the rule, as it is all around us. Being a newbie dog owner myself it is not long ago I also thought in those lines. Happily Kenzo himself showed me it is a load of …..

We need more blogs liks this spreading the word.

When people mention the “pack” to me they can get away with it. But any mentioning of “pack leader”, “alpha” or “dominance” is a guarantee for a discussion.

In the past I maybe have walked away, but it has annoyed me that much that I at least try to discuss it. Usually starting of with “There is no such thing as dominance”, you should see their faces 🙂

    Roxanne Hawn - November 10, 2010

    I suppose you are right, Kenzo. Pack Leader is much worse than just plain pack. Personally, I’m not prone to the whole slippery slope argument … but for me pack is not far from pack leader.

Maery Rose - November 9, 2010

Words themselves don’t bother me so much as the intention behind the word’s use.

    Roxanne Hawn - November 10, 2010

    I can see that, Maery. So often, in my head (at least), that’s one in the same.

Murphydog - November 9, 2010

I don’t mind being considered Murphydog’s Mom, and if fact usually refer to myself as that when I’m signing a blog post or comment that was written from my perspective (instead of from Murphy’s which is typically how his blog is written)…but for some reason the term ‘furkid’ bugs me. He’s not my furkid…he’s my dog, and while I have given him a bit of a voice on his blog, I still consider him a dog. One of the best dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning, but in the end…a dog.


Leslie Fisher PMCT CPDT-KA - November 9, 2010

Dominant, dominate, be dominant over…… yup hear them all the time, as a dog trainer. When clients call and use the words, having heard on T.V, i need to be careful and not begin on a rant, or I`ll lose them, lol. Still, it is difficult.

alpha, be alpha over, alpha dog…. again hear clients saying all the time.

and yes pack leader…. don`t know which of all these I hate more. people have unknowingly made me grind my teeth by saying “you really are a dog whisperer” trying to be complimentary. Last thing I want to be called.

All we can do is to keep educating talking and writing. Opening night of all my classes I talk the talk about benevolent leadership, establishing trust and helping dogs to feel safe and secure.

I think pack is not quite so bad, as a term used by people when talking about a group of dogs, not necessarily a conscious wolf connotation. definitely the word is over used because of the endless T.V. glorification of a certain pack living in seeming peace and harmony.

Very thought provoking, thanks for writing this, great subject.

Sam - November 9, 2010

I know this post is about words, not phrases, but how about “he’s being spiteful!” or “look, he knows he’s wrong, he looks guilty!”

I could go on forever with this kind of stuff!

Kristine - November 9, 2010

I didn’t used to like being called my dog’s “mama” by many of the people I take classes with. I found it weird. After all, I’m a human, not a dog. But I’m slowly getting over it, though I’ll probably never use the terminology myself.

Yes to all of the above words. I am also getting tired of the word “dominance”. It seems to be used much too often in situations that have nothing to do with control over resources. If my dog is walking ahead of me on the leash, she is not trying to dominate me.

Sam - November 9, 2010

I guess in this legislation-happy world, the idea of guardianship makes me nervous.. as if there is some other higher person out there who is responsible for my dog, and I’m just the one who lives with her, feeds her, trains her, deals with her many quirks, manages her fears and behavioral issues, etc. So I definitely object to that. I am a pet owner.. a pet owner who uses reward-based and humane caring and training techniques, but an owner nonetheless.

“S/he was probably abused” gets to me, too, but it’s really too hard to explain the idea of socialization windows and things like that to a person who isn’t interested in learning. I usually just say “yeah, who knows what happened to her” or something like that.

BTW, I’m sorry about the death in the family (missed that sentence when I read the post). You know I’m here, 2,000 miles away, if you need to shoot an e-mail over to vent or anything.

Edie Jarolim - November 9, 2010

Pack really annoys me too and I’m not fond of pet parent with its anthropomorphic implications but these days I’m probably most irritated by the notion that because my dog is shy and is a rescue, he “was probably abused.” I doubt it — and besides, it’s a big cop out, suggesting that there’s no need for me to work with him because he’s a lost cause.

    Roxanne Hawn - November 9, 2010

    Agreed, Edie. And, honestly … in most cases, fearful dogs or rescued dogs were NOT abused. They just are the way they are.

Sam - November 9, 2010

RE: The “pet parent” comment: I don’t mind being called a “doggy mom” or anything like that. I don’t like the idea of dog guardianship, though – I’d rather be called a dog owner (I do own my dog, and I think that’s an important legal distinction) or dog mom (just because it’s cute and friendly) than a dog guardian. That’s a pretty hot button issue, though.

    Roxanne Hawn - November 9, 2010

    I get where the pet guardian idea comes from. It doesn’t make me cringe, but it does seem a little convoluted to me at times. I don’t really mind being called a pet owner, and I refer to myself as Lilly’s mom.

Sam - November 9, 2010

Great post, but you forgot one:

“Alpha” !

The idea that I am “alpha” over my dog is disgusting. Seriously, just like the ones you mentioned, it implies the idea of using coercion to get dogs to do what you want. (And Marge and I surely couldn’t put in our decent agility times through heavy use of negative reinforcement and positive punishment!)

    Roxanne Hawn - November 9, 2010

    Yes, yes, yes … I completely forgot to put ALPHA on the list. That one makes me want to scream, “Oh, for the love of God!”

    One of the keynote speakers at blogpaws actually used the term alpha. You should have seen the looks that shot around our table.

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