One dog might fight for food, another might fight for a mate, but there is no fixed ‘position’ to be won or gained through fighting, no working up through the ranks, until the dog reaches the position of ultimate power.
That creature of legend, the ‘Pack Leader’ or ‘Alpha’ dog is a myth.
Each member of the group defers to those with a higher rank and has power over those with a lower rank.
The individual at the top – the one with the highest rank – is the alpha – or leader.
A number of primate species, which of course are closely related to humans, maintain this kind of social order, and for a very long time, we believed that dogs do too.
In accordance with the widespread belief in the principles of pack leadership and the alpha dog role, for many years people used training methods specifically designed to combat the desire of their dog to become world leader.
Let’s just clarify what we mean by ‘alpha’ In some groups of social animals, a hierarchy commonly develops in which individuals acquire a ‘rank’ or position within the group.So if wolves do not fight for ‘rank’ within the pack, what about dogs? A hierarchy implies that the higher ranking individuals have special privileges based on their rank.Surely in a group of dogs there will be a hierarchy? They get ‘first pick’ of food, mates and a whole range of other resources.We now know that treating resource guarding by bullying and intimidating the dog is counter productive.In fact, it simply makes the dog feel threatened and is likely to end up in a bite.And people want to talk to me about whether ‘pinning a puppy down’ is a good idea.They want to be kind but they are genuinely afraid that their Labrador may grow up to be a threat to them You may have seen TV programmes where desperate dog owners are taught to ‘take charge’ and become the leader of the pack, or alpha over their dog.Judging from the questions I am regularly asked, there is still widespread concern about dog dominance today. Some wolf studies had demonstrated this aggressive ‘struggle for dominance’ between wolves.And make no mistake, it is right and proper for you to be concerned about controlling your dog. These studies were to shape the world of dog training for several generations.Our previous understanding of how wolves behave was seriously flawed. But wolf leaders in the wild do not ‘Alpha Roll’ other members of their family or ‘pack’.The rolling on the back of one wolf to another is offered voluntarily as a sign of submission or peaceful intent. Many dogs have inherited this appeasement behavior and will roll on their back if they feel at all threatened.