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Dogs: The Word I Hate Most

May 12, 2011 27 comments

There is but one word that sets my teeth on edge when it comes to dogs and dog behavior.

It so gets my ire up that I often have to take a deep breath to calm myself before expressing my opinion on that word.

The word?

Alpha.

On second thought… there is one other word that drives me even crazier than Alpha and that is Dominance (or it’s variants: dominate, dominant, domination, etc.).

Just yesterday, while speaking with a friend about getting a dog, I heard her say “Well, I know I need to be the Alpha and show him that I am dominant.” Um no. You don’t. You only need to work with that dog in a positive way and build a bond and he/she will practically do anything for you. There is no need to be “Alpha” or “dominant” with your dog.

My fellow blogger, Kevin Myers, wrote a great piece on just this very topic “Why Did the Dog Run Out the Door?” I encourage you to check it out.

In the meantime, what words set your teeth on edge?

“Alpha” What?

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Today I read a great article on Pack Theory (“Pack Theory – Pack It In!”) and why we should stop using this theory when it comes to relating to our dogs.

I would like to supplement this article (which I highly recommend reading if you use the terms “alpha”, “pack leader” and “dominance”) with some additional information.

Did you ever wonder where the term “alpha wolf” came from? Or, how it came to be a part of our public discourse when discussing wolves and dogs?

It all started with a Senior Research Scientist named L. David Mech. Back in 1968, he wrote a book called “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.” It was published in 1970 and republished in 1981 and is still in print today. In that book, David Mech described something called the “alpha wolf”. “Alpha” wolves were described as “competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle.” At the time this book was written, there was a belief that wolves competed for “Alpha” status and therefore led the pack and held all of the power within the pack. It was based on research at the time and on studies done on an artificial wolf pack (not a wolf pack living in the wild).

In the 40 years since that book was published a whole lot of new information has been discovered about wolves and wolf packs. It turns out that the concept of there being an “Alpha” within a wolf pack is no longer accurate. Take a listen to L. David Mech as he describes how the term came about and why it is no longer accurate when it relates to wolves out in the wild.

So why does the concept remain a part of our vernacular? And, why is it used to apply to dogs?

I think the article I mentioned above does a good job with answering these questions. What I will say is that we need to stop using the term “Alpha” when talking about wolves. It is no longer applicable, even L. David Mech (the man who coined the term) says so. And, it certainly should not be used to describe dogs, who are not in any way like wolf packs. We do not need to be “alpha” in order to have well-behaved dogs. The reality is that the amount of dedicated time and training you do with your dog are what really works. “Alpha rolls” or pining a dog down do not. And, if you don’t believe me, then read this and learn what the newest research tells us about what works in working with dogs.

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