Pack Behavior In Dogs & Humans

What can you tell me about nanny behavior in a pack of dogs? As the pack leader in my house, I (a female) have 4 canine members: 1 female, three males spayed and neutered. The female seems to think I need help in the form of defense against one of the males. A behaviorist suggested that this may resemble the actions of a nanny in a pack of wolves. Does this have any basis in fact?

Wolf packs are complex hierarchical organizations, typically comprising of an Alpha male and female, their offspring (the Beta, or second-in-command) and their offspring’s offspring. Specific roles within each level of the hierarchy are less clear, but there is normally such a role as a "nanny" in wolf packs, whereby a younger female which is not part of the Alpha couple will take care of the puppies while the pack hunts. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that her role extends beyond a puppy-sitting role, and I would suggest that your dog’s behavior is more complex than this.

You have assumed that your dogs view you as the pack leader (or Alpha) and we have no reason to suspect that this is not the case. Therefore, even if a dog’s role as "nanny" extended beyond puppy-sitting, why would she consider the pack leader to be threatened by another pack member if that role is unquestioned? In my view, and without seeing the behavior first-hand, she is not trying to protect you, but is trying to prevent the other dog from interacting with you. If we were to personify this behavior, we’d call it jealousy, but it probably indicates that she has a non-settled role in your pack’s hierarchy and is trying to dominate your other dog(s). Some behaviorists blame this kind of behavior on an pack leader that does not exert complete control – that is, one or two of the pack may not categorically see you as the leader. 

See the additional resources below for further information about pack-orientated dog training.