The Other Side of 'alpha'

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The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by pawnee » Wed Oct 21, 2009 7:53 pm



The other side of 'alpha'


Sunday, October 18, 2009
Last week's column dealt with the concept of the "alpha" wolf, and that people living with a dog must maintain their status as the "alpha" in their home, else the resident pooch will rebel and the whole social order be overturned.

More recent research into wolf and dog behavior shows us this is not true, and never really was.

This theory was based on observation of a pack of adult wolves living in captivity, who were unknown to each other before being captured. Thrown together, these wolves did indeed establish their pack order through aggression.

Unfortunately for those who like to keep things simple, it is not wise or possible to extrapolate from this one pack to other wolf packs or to domestic dogs.

Late last year, L. David Mech's article "Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf?" appeared in the magazine "International Wolf." In it, he elaborated on the imminent demise of the term "alpha" when applied to wolves or dogs and explained a truer picture of how wild and domestic canids arrange pack relationships.

He was particularly concerned about the current fad of teaching pet owners how to perform "scruff shakes" and "alpha rolls" on their pets as a way to establish their role as the boss of the house. Neither of these behaviors can be found in the behavioral repertoire of any wild wolf or pack of dogs.

Mech hopes that the media and public will be able to "once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack."

Both through the work of Mech and his associates, and through recent discoveries about the initial relationships between humans and canids, we now know our relationships with each other are based on cooperation and the avoidance of conflict, not on fights for status. Once the idea of having to institute and maintain dominance over your dog is removed from the relationship, it is far easier both to train your dog and to enjoy his company.

Rather than using brute force to teach your dog, there are a multitude of newer training techniques that are not only more effective and quicker, but are also a whole lot more fun for both the trainer and the student.

This is not to say that the human part of the equation should roll over and allow the dog to do whatever he wants at all times, regardless. What it does mean is that dogs, and humans, learn faster and retain the new knowledge much longer if they are shown what you want them to do, and are praised for learning and performing the new task.

Because we know new skills are learned more quickly when broken into segments, and because many people have difficulty in devising these partial lessons, we know most people will find it far easier to train their dogs in a group setting, with an experienced trainer to guide them.

The real purpose of a dog training class is to teach people how and encourage them to teach and encourage their dogs so that the education can continue at home. The structure of a well-organized class is helpful to both learners, human and canine.

That you have an experienced person available to answer all your questions is a great advantage for all dog owners, even those who have trained their own dogs for many years.

If you are seeking an alternative to the "show them who is boss" school of dog training, you can find suggestions on line at www.karenpryoracademy.com (clicker training), www.ccpdt.org (Certified Professional Dog trainers), www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists), or at www.veterinarybehaviorists.org), Veterinary Behaviorists.

Here in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire, we are blessed with having some excellent trainers. The Piscataqua Obedience Club offers regular training classes in Dover and in Kittery, Maine. Look for their ads in the classified section of your newspaper, in the "pets for sale" section. Ellis Dog Training, on Third Street in Dover, is another excellent resource.


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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Songdog » Fri Oct 23, 2009 3:56 pm

Love this article. I get annoyed when my friends say "I show my dog I'm the alpha"; the concept has been pushed by breeders, dog behaviorists, books, and television for too long.

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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Kaheaniehal » Sat Oct 24, 2009 9:45 am

Aaah that was a wonderful article. :)

I've noticed on Animal Planet, the dog trainers love to consistently tell people that things have changed, and positive reinforcement/encouragement is much more effective than punishment.
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Blightwolf » Sat Oct 24, 2009 10:00 am

This article is great.

Thanks for sharing it, pawnee.

And I agree with you SD on the whole "you must show the dog that you're the Alpha" thing.
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Songdog » Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:04 am

This was a comment some one gave me when I told them alpha doesn't apply to wolves or coyotes
And actaully, my mother has studied wolves for 10 years, and I happen to know that according to native american terms wolves are the "wisest" of animals, and that they do indeed have alphas. And sense wolves and coyotes are the cloests cousin, they too live in packs with leaders.
I hate stubborn people -.-;

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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Blightwolf » Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:16 am

I just wonder why people seem unable to accept facts?

Does anyone know how long the term "Alpha" was even around?
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Songdog » Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:21 am

Embry wrote:I just wonder why people seem unable to accept facts?

Does anyone know how long the term "Alpha" was even around?
Well, it is of either Greek or Latin base (I don't remember which) As said,
The reason I am introducing him to you is because he is the one that started the use of the term a l p h awolf in the 1970’s.
Here's where I got the comment from; scroll to the bottom:
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(it's supposed to be a coyote by the way)

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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Blightwolf » Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:28 am

I looked it up. It's Greek.

The general definition is "the individual in the community whom the others follow. Where one male and one female fulfill this role, they are referred to as the alpha pair (the term varies when several individuals of the same sex fulfill this role). Other animals in the same social group may exhibit deference or other symbolic signs of respect particular to their species towards the alpha.

In most species, the alpha is given preference to be the first to eat and the first to mate. Other animals in the community are usually killed or ousted if they violate this rule. This leads to the alpha males and females being overrepresented in some groups in the genetics of a population, because they may become the only ones who breed successfully."


But if it does not apply to wolves anymore, does it still apply to other pack animals?
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by pawnee » Sat Oct 24, 2009 5:11 pm

The term Alpha implies that animals must fight or use aggrression to establish themselves in a social herirarchy...like chickens. The male rooster fights other roosters to breed with the chickens in the flock.

Wolves do not fight to establish themselves in a pack.

Wolves use displays of body language and communication to sort out heirarchy. Generally the dominant animal takes the lead but its not always true. Some wolves are 'passive aggressive' leaders...who only breed with the other animal during the season but don't lead the pack...Ebony at Haliburton wolf centre was described as a passive male leader.


The term alpha is only used in captive situations where animals who would avoid each other in the wild are forced to co-exist in closed quaters...thus higher stress levels leads to more aggressive displays of behaviour. Please see "what happened to the term alpha" by D.Mech.
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Blightwolf » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:41 am

Now I fully understood the meaning. Thank you, pawnee, for clearing it up.
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Songdog » Wed Oct 28, 2009 9:41 am

I believe 'alpha' is applied to zebras, to answer that question.

Ack. Today in speech class, some one gave an entire speech about how to be the alpha dog in your family, and the importance of being the alpha dog. I bit my tongue. Didn't want to be disrespectful.

Apparently, she hired an expensive dog trainer who told her how to train her dog, and said that the owner has to be the alpha. One of the things she was told to do was spit in the dog's food because that signals that you ate first. Or something.

She had her son bring in her two dogs. The dogs listen to her, but the problem was they weren't obeying her son's commands. She said it was because "I'm the alpha in the family, so they listen to me"; therein lies the fall. I've seen this at my friend's houses too; they have a big unruly dog who only listens to one person. And if that person isn't around, the dog misbehaves. That's poor training and can even be dangerous, the dog needs to respond to all members of the family. By establishing only one 'alpha' in the family, the dog only listens to that one person.

In my opinion, the whole idea of "being the alpha dog" is multiply flawed. It doesn't apply to the behavioral nature of the dog, and it's not a reliable way to train a dog.

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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Koa » Wed Oct 28, 2009 3:19 pm

Songdog wrote:Love this article. I get annoyed when my friends say "I show my dog I'm the alpha"; the concept has been pushed by breeders, dog behaviorists, books, and television for too long.

Agreed. I've read something like that before. I try to bite my tongue as well (because I hear it so much. Too overwhelming)
In my opinion, the whole idea of "being the alpha dog" is multiply flawed. It doesn't apply to the behavioral nature of the dog, and it's not a reliable way to train a dog.
Again, I agree. It has to be the entire group of people invovled with that dog. Never just one, exact, person. Or else the dog will think he/she can get away with things around the other folks except that one particular person. We are actually dealing with a situation like that right now. Actually, our dog is disobeying everyone now. It used to be like that. (but we're handling the situation now, appropirately)
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by pawnee » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:27 pm

I have heard the term 'alpha' apply to animals such as chickens and roosters, lions, gorillas, dogs,wolves,cats....basically anything that fights to establish itself. More so I've heard this applied to male animals like roosters, lions, stallions, bulls, silverbacks, etc etc...

People see tv shows like The Dog whispered and go 'he's the alpha bla bla bla " but he never says alpha. He says Pack Leader....calm assertive behaviour...which does not include aggression or dominance. People punishing their dog are not asserting themself their just saying the dog's done something wrong.

I used to be subtle about my displeasure when people tripped over themself with such terms...but now I just correct them nicely about it...then agian I go to a school preparing students for dealing with wildlife....they should be reading such information....
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Snowmuzzle » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:29 pm

Yeah, this does annoy me a bit: keep up with the facts, people, you're meant to be the experts XD

I do find what Cesar Milan does useful, though. He uses silly words, but underneath it's all common sense: slobbering over your dog, treating it like a baby and being all tense when trying to make it do things don't help. Keeping a steady mind, not panicking and being firm do work.
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Re: The Other Side of 'alpha'

Post by Songdog » Sat Nov 07, 2009 9:38 am

Snowmuzzle wrote:I do find what Cesar Milan does useful, though. He uses silly words, but underneath it's all common sense: slobbering over your dog, treating it like a baby and being all tense when trying to make it do things don't help. Keeping a steady mind, not panicking and being firm do work.
Easier said then done really. Everyone thinks they know how best to raise their dogs, and everyone says they know what to do. But just because you know what to do, doesn't always mean you do it.

Also, every dog is different. A technique that works on one dog may not work on some one else's dog. Some breeds are easier to train than others, and some can be bad tempered by nature (contrary to popular belief, there are some dogs that are more aggressive than others; while you can still train them to be as good as any other dog, it just takes more work)

I think most of the problem comes from when people get big dogs. They look at it the wrong way; they want their dog to be mean looking and aggressive, yet they try to maintain and alpha-omega sort of order. Think about how people imagine it to be: The owner must be the alpha of the dog. But couldn't the dog challenge them, by their logic? A big dog is the last thing you want to be challenged by. And don't forget, the dog will only listen to the 'alpha' if you try to train it that way, meaning it may attack other members of the family to try to grain dominance.

It's just a really bad idea overall.

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