That Pack Thing

By Paleo
I’d like to talk about pack-desire among canine therians. For the purposes of this essay, I will be using the term “canine” to mean the dogs only. I am not considering foxes in this writing as foxes are quite different from their larger cousins, and it is debatable as to whether the social structures they form could fairly be called a pack.
As an individual, I feel I have at least some authority when talking about packs as the vast majority of my life has been spent reading and researching animal behavior with a heavy focus on Order Carnivora and focusing even further on Family Canidea. I have worked with and cared for grey wolves, and among that work I did a three month study on inter- and intra-sex dominance/submission displays among a socialized, captive wolf pack consisting of seven individuals. I am more knowledgeable than most about these things, but I am far from claiming the title of expert.
As a therian, I feel I must admit I am only a good candidate for discussing this by virtue of being canine. However, according to scientific guesses and my own internal feelings, dire wolves were not as tightly pack-bound as the more familiar (not to mention extant) grey wolf. In truth, it is African wild dogs who have mastered the pack structure, followed closely by grey wolves. Even domestic dogs are better “teachers” of what pack-mind is.
Speaking of domestic dogs, my advice to non-canine therians who are curious about pack-mind is to befriend a dog or visit a dog park. Try to lift any biases you might have about dogs and attempt to see yourself and others through their eyes. A dog is an individual and still has personal boundaries, but the identity of a dog is intimately tied to those it considers its pack. A dog is able to operate alone as a Self, but place it in a group and it shines. Dogs prefer to operate as We, as Us. This is the basic lesson of pack-desire. Different species have differing pack behaviors, but it all comes down to forming a fluid, working We/Us mindset while still retaining a sense of Self.
While emotionally, the difference between wolf pack-desire and human troop/tribe-desire is crystal clear, it is hard to sort it out in logical language. I can certainly admit that when you look at the Animal Kingdom as a whole, wolves and humans are strikingly similar by virtue of being intelligent, social mammals with innate hierarchal structures and a bonding instinct. When one focuses solely on humans and wolves, though, the differences are striking.
Walking as a dire wolf among humans has been confusing and frustrating to say the least. Emotionally, I don’t understand why modern humans make things so goddamn complicated. On one hand, they spew their sociality all over the place, and on the other, they insist on being so damned closed and self-centered that they cut themselves off from forming any meaningful bonds.
I find myself constantly having to remind myself to mimic the “social” behaviors that humans try to foist on me. A pack is a closed structure, and beyond those few that I feel packish towards, I would prefer not to interact with any others. I often feel my ears pin back and my hackles rise when a stranger gets in my face and starts talking like we are friends. After puppyhood, wild canines are very slow to develop bonds with new individuals. I do my best to remain friendly with new folks, but it is rare for me to start considering someone a friend until after months of watching them and “getting a feel” for them. And even then, it is a small chance that I would consider them true friends. Pack-desire may lead me to greatly desire the company of others, but it certainly doesn’t lead me to rush out and search for companions. Such an attempt would only cause me great anxiety. I also think that many humans I face pick up on the fact that I am at least slightly suspicious of them and they take it as a huge insult. I don’t understand this. Why should I trust a stranger? Why should they trust me? Those that aren’t pack are more likely to be my competitors, rivals, and enemies. I will *not* drop my guards until I get a better feel for someone and those feelings tell me that the person isn’t a threat. I find all the pressures to be an open, friendly, cheerful human woman to be insulting and even insane. Stupid humans, take care of you and your own, and let me take care of me and my own in peace.
Also, those who seek to put me in a one-sided relationship and attempt to call that a “friendship” are going to find themselves dealing with one pissed off dire wolf who will seek to drive them away. As a pack animal, cooperation is *very* natural to me, but if that cooperation doesn’t go both ways, you are just weighing me down and aren’t my friend, much less my packmate.
As a pack animal, I do tend to view others in a sort of hierarchal way. I am deeply aware of who is stronger and who is weaker than me. Now it is a myth that all wolves are driven to be top dog. Some wolves do have a very strong alpha-drive that keeps them striving for the leader position. I’d imagine that a wolf-therian with such an alpha-drive would have an entirely different view of hierarchy. I myself have only a slight alpha-drive. I tend to think of myself as good beta material, and it shows in how I view my relationships towards others. I have no problems differing to stronger individuals and can be very much at peace with my role as follower or supporter. However, I can’t stand being made to follow a weaker individual. In that case, my tail shoots up, and I greatly desire to knock them from their position. Thus, most of the time, I am quite happy to lend support to my “alphas” and am known for being a great “right hand man”, using my strengths to help those in charge. Of course, I’m also known to be the first to start growling and yipping and demanding the overthrow of bad or weak leaders. My first instinct is to get the “pack” to do the overthrowing and to prop up the person I feel is the best leader. However, sometimes I *am* the best leader, and while I get little pleasure from leadership roles (it makes me feel like such a target), my instinct drives me to take the role at times.
It should be pointed out that in this time and place, “strength” and “weakness” is not limited to physical traits and raw cunning. My human-mind is quite capable of determining which strength a leader needs for different groups. Because of this, I take into consideration experience, knowledge, people-skills, and the like. If the group is best lead by a driven people person, then I can accept a leader highly skilled in that area even if s/he may be my “weaker” intellectually or otherwise. I often find myself viewing others as being stronger than me in some ways and weaker in other ways, and I am very fluid in how I deal with specific individuals, groups, and situations. It must be said that for me, “stronger” and “weaker” aren’t judgment calls. It is simply fact. It is only logical that the stronger lead as that leads to the greatest chances of group-success. I don’t think this makes me slavish. I am not an insect or a Borg. A tyrant wolf is often overthrown by the pack despite being the strongest, and the same thing is found among primates. Submitting to my betters is natural, but so is the drive to keep testing and watching for signs that *I* am the better. Some wolves can be quite antagonistic about it, but I prefer to save my snarls and snaps for the things I find most detrimental to myself and my pack. I am an easy-going yet very cunning and political beta-type.
Pack is close-knit and closed-off to outsiders. Pack is hierarchal and fluid. Yet I have yet to get to the meat of what Pack actually is. For me Pack is simply family, folks who band together and help each other survive. Pack isn’t always loving or gentle. Pack isn’t a feel-good club with artificial ranks and duties. Pack isn’t even a group of friends who gather for entertainment and then go back into their lives only thinking about their friends when they feel like some fun.
Because humans are also social animals, it is possible for me to ease some of that pack-desire by interacting with my dearest friends who I know are truly “there” for me and who know I am truly “there” for them. Alas, modern humanity has severely limited any chances of forming a true pack. Modern humanity has even limited any chances of forming a *tribe* which is as important to the human psyche as packs are to wolves. Would being in a human tribe totally eliminate my longing for a pack? I don’t think so, but it would certainly ease that longing. I feel that tribes are far more natural and sane than the stupid, highly ineffective, and artificial constructs we use today. I have no idea if it is the primitive human instincts or the dire wolf instincts that cause me to see things this way. Probably both.
Speaking of artificial human bullshit, I feel that it is a sad thing that modern humans are mostly only comfortable with physical contact when it is sexual. In fact, they seem to feel that *all* intimate touch has a sexual context. I often desire to rest my head on my friends’ shoulders or back, to rub my cheek against theirs, to rest my hand (paw) on their leg. I wish we could all curl up near each other (or even with each other) and sleep peacefully. Canines are sensual, comfort-seeking beasts. Why can’t I give and receive physical comfort without being seen as weird or sexual? Why can’t I cuddle, rub against, or “pet” my friends without worrying that they think I want to fuck them? I’m afraid that even my most open-minded and tolerant of friends would be uncomfortable with this. Intellectually, I understand. Emotionally… it makes me whimper in confusion and sorrow. At least I have a mate who is very allowing and understanding of my wolfish affections. That helps somewhat.
As a last note, I think Kipling hit the Spirit of the Pack dead-on when he wrote, “The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack, and the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf”. Without a pack, I feel weak and incomplete. Sure, there are individuals I feel packish towards, but it really isn’t the same. Sure, I can form human bonds which add much to my life, but still my soul aches to run, to romp, to hunt, to howl as a member of this beautiful, natural, sometimes-peaceful, sometimes-savage entity called Pack.