"Alpha" bits


I don't know if I am just noticing it more, or if it is becoming more popular to refer to dogs as "alpha". I am seeing more and more clients use this term to describe their dogs in various ways. "My dog likes to be alpha". Most times it is simple pushy behavior or lack of training that they are refering to. Perhaps it is just more widely used due to the popularity of a certain show.

Whatever the reason, I feel the need to explain to as many people as I can reach that it is now considered an outdated term. This is due to our having learned more about dog behavior that when it first appeared on the scene some 20 years ago. (ala Monks of New Skete who have since recanted the alpha roll as a training tool.)

Many people think dogs are simply pack animals and that explains everything they do. Others of us know that while they are social animals, the pack concept as previously understood is somewhat flawed. This is due to the fact it was based on wolf behavior, not dogs. Some if it was misinturpreted wolf behavior at that. A true (in the wild) wolf pack is a family unit, not made up of unfamiliar or unrelated wolves. The alphas in a wolf pack are simply the parents, which makes them alpha by default.

I like the analogy that someone previously used, watching wolves to learn all about dogs is like watching chimp behavior to pick up tips on parenting. An oversimplification perhaps but you get the point.

If dogs are indeed "pack animals" for lack of a better term, consider an important fact, the packs they live with are ones WE have created. Left to their own devices many of these dogs might not choose the pack they now have. It is like thinking that because humans are social creatures we all get along. We all know that it just doesn't work that way.

So if dogs are social creatures, I think we need to look at our role as the leader of that social group more as a good parent. We need to set rules and limitations, delve out consequences fairly, and communicate clearly. Only then are we a good "leader". I am not the alpha, I am the mom.