alpha dog

 The Hype About Being The Alpha Dog 

By now you are familiar with the term alpha dog. Hollywood even made a movie around that phrase. But what does being the alpha dog mean? Good Question! First, a short lesson in science about a hypothesis. A hypothesis is the question scientists ask which leads them to do research.

For example: Do Wolves Avoid Human Habitat?

The research either supports (yes, the data supports that wolves avoid human habitat), or does not support (there is no evidence to support that wolves avoid human habitat) the question. Science does NOT have to come up with reasons why wolves avoid or do not avoid human habitat. Here's what really messes everything up. Dogs are not wolves. They look similar and have similar body language, but their social structure is not similar. That means we can't substitute wolf research for dog training. But we see wolf pack structure substituted for domestic dog structure over and over.

Due to the idea that wolves and dogs appear similar, dog training techniques have not been based on dog behavior. Instead dog training philosophies have been patterned after wolves limiting, and sometimes destroying the bond, that we create with our pets dogs.

Not only that but wolf research (all science for that matter) is constantly changing and wolf researchers do not use the term alpha wolf anymore - they use the terms breeding or parent and define male or female depending on the wolf they are talking about. You can read more about that here.

Now for the alpha dog question. Back in the 1960's research determined that a wolf pack has a leader (or two). Scientists like to use greek symbols in research papers. Alpha is the greek symbol for the letter "A". So when you use the letter A in greek (alpha) to describe WOLF NUMBER ONE in your research paper...

Presto! The alpha wolf was born.

Science does NOT have to determine WHY there is an alpha wolf. But everyone wants to know why! All of a sudden you start to hear philosophies about WHY.

Presto... Dog training now has an alpha dog philosophy!

If your dog is growling at you, does he have an alpha problem? If your dog does not get along with other dogs does he have an alpha problem?

If the phrase alpha wolf describes the leader of the wolf pack, and the leader of the wolf pack is in charge of keeping his group safe. Why would he march around picking fights with everyone?

In wolf studies, the parenting wolf rarely fights. He can't afford to waste his energy.


In biology, the core idea is reproduction (from cells to entire species). If you do not reproduce you become extinct (your genes and your species). Therefor, if you waste your energy on silly things like fighting for the sake of fighting, you may lose out by a younger stronger version of yourself. A version that had been home lifting weights and eating right, while you were whooping it up at the bar.

The point is, either way, the alpha dog idea doesn't work for our domestic dogs. A wolf pack has much more going on than everyone fighting for the top position. They work as a pack to survive and reproduce.

It is not every wolf for himself.

Is your dog constantly jockeying for the leader position at your house?

It's unlikely.

It is more probable that your companion dog is defending himself.


Confusing social structure.

He doesn't know where he stands socially so he protects himself. He notices what type of mood you are in and acts appropriately. Our house dogs are complex social beings and behavior they might display under one circumstance is not necessarily the same behavior they will display in a different circumstance.

Training Tip: Address each behavior issue that you and your dog have individually. Dogs act according to their environment and experiences. Labels such as alpha dog, aggression, and dominance do not accurately describe the behavior your dog was displaying. In order to determine what kind of behavior problem might be going on with your dog you must be able to accurately describe your dogs actions in each scenario.

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