History Of The Alpha Dog

Dec 4, 2023 | Pet Health, Pets

Happy Wednesday everyone!  Last year I posted every day in the month of December celebrating the 24 days before Christmas but I’ve decided not to bombard you with emails and chose an interesting topic on the History of Alpha Dogs.  How is the “Alpha” or “Pack Leader” established and the history behind it.  I researched several sources and found conflicting information as you will read in this blog.
 
How to fill your dog's emotional cup
HISTORY OF ALPHA DOGS
 
In the 1940s, Swiss animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel conducted a research study on captive wolves at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland.
 
In this study, approximately 10 wolves were kept in an area 10 by 20 meters large. Schenkel observed that the “alpha” male and female were constantly fighting for hierarchy to become the “dominant” pair. The problem with this research is that these wolves were unrelated and being held in a captive habitat.
 
A great deal of research surrounding captive wolves followed this and the terminology became ingrained in the topic.  In 1970, David Mech, a wildlife biologist and researcher published the book The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. The book continued to popularize the concept of the alpha theory and people continued to create a connection between wolves and domesticated dogs.
 
However, in 1986 David Mech conducted another 13-year study that followed a wild wolf pack and observed that the previous studies on captive wolves and the alpha theory were false.
 
What he found was that the familial structure of wild wolves is actually very similar to that of our own families. A wolf pack consists of a mated pair and their offspring of the past one to three years.
 
Eventually, the offspring mature and disperse to start their own packs. Whereas, in captivity mature adult wolves were forced to live in small spaces for many years, causing tension and likely the aggression and fight for “dominance” seen by Schenkel.
 
By the 2000s David Mech stated that “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion.” and that we should, “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.”
 
As we have learned more about wolves and domesticated dogs, it has come to light that dogs are much less like their wolf cousins than we previously thought, and applying wolf behavior models to domesticated dog behavior would be like using chimpanzee behavior to explain human behavior.
 
Jake and Maggie at Renaissance Hotel in Nashville
How do wolves behave in the packs? Aren’t dogs just like wolves?
 
 
Decades of observation by wildlife biologists of free-ranging wolf packs have revealed startling insight into the lives of these canids. 
 
*Seasoned leaders of wolf packs actually survey from near the back of the pack when traveling, rather than taking the lead position.
*In times of scarcity, the leaders allow the young to eat first, rather than feeding themselves first.
*There is an absence of reports of wolves seeking high positions over the pack, there are no signs of a leader rousting a subordinate from a desired resting place, and an alpha wolf rarely initiates pinning (a dominance behavior).
*These experts who study wolf behavior describe the role of the wolf leaders as parents— guiding, teaching, and caring for their pack members.
*When the wolf offspring mature, they do not compete to overthrow the pack leader; instead, they leave the pack, find a mate, and start a family of their own.
*A parent-family model better describes wolf-wolf relationships than a competitive hierarchy model.
 
History of the Alpha Dog | www.twoadorablelabs.com
Aren’t dogs just trying to be in charge?
 
 
*Dominance hierarchy based training methods assume dogs are committed to a battle of supremacy and constant challenge with family members. This premise is incorrect and not supported by scientific study.
*Trainers advising families to take charge of the pack by eating first, walking through doors first, occupying a higher position and worst of all, pinning the dogs into submission are ignoring the current scientific research and subjecting the dog to unnecessary and sometimes cruel training methods.
*In reality, dogs have an intra-species relationship and a pattern of behaviors with their human family members that are driven by a variety of motivations, including: genetics, socialization, available resources, fear, conflicts, learning, behavioral pathology and disease.
*Application of scientifically based principles of positive reinforcement, operant conditioning, classical conditioning, desensitization and counter-conditioning programs have been shown to successfully teach dogs desirable behaviors and prevent behavior problems while enhancing the human-pet bond.
 
Harlinsdale Park, Franklin TN
Pack Behaviors of Wolves vs. Dogs
 
 
Social Structure in Wolves
 
 
*In the wild, it’s crucial to the survival of the pack that there’s a strong, recognized leader. This wolf is referred to as the alpha, and a pack is usually made up of an unrelated alpha breeding pair and their offspring and extended family. By operating in cohesive packs, wolves are more successful in hunting and protecting the pack from danger. A clear social and linear dominance hierarchy helps maintain order and conserve energy. Dominant animals eat first, get first choice of mates and are responsible for deciding when to hunt and which direction to travel.
 
 
 
Social Structure in Dogs
 
 
*Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years to be social, playful, less fearful and less aggressive (specifically toward humans) than wild canines. The domestic dog’s best chance of survival is to stay near humans. If the dog sees his humans as his pack, linear dominance is not necessary because there is no need to hunt. Still, in multi-dog households, most people can see that dogs maintain a type of social order amongst other dogs. Domestic dogs are similar to wolves in this respect — and the group dynamic is maintained until members join or leave. Should conflicts arise, dogs appear to sort out any differences on a case-by-case basis and exist peacefully. An article published by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers states: “the status of one dog over another is fluid; in other words, one dog may be the first to take his pick of toys, but will defer to the other dog with it comes to choice of resting places.” Therefore, unlike wolf packs, domestic dogs have no “alpha” who is clearly dominant in all situations.
 
How to fill your dog's emotional cup
Communication within a Wolf Pack
 
 
Wolves communicate in three ways — olfactory, body language and vocally. Wolves use scent from urine and from glands on their paws to mark pack territory and ownership of food resources. Dominance in the pack is indicated by certain body language, such as bared teeth and ears pointed forward, and slit eyes and ears back indicate subordinate behavior. Tail positions also indicate dominance or submission — high and perpendicular signal dominance, while a tucked tail indicates submission.
 
Vocally, wolves howl, whine, growl and bark. Howling is generally thought to be a means of assembling the pack or to claim territory. Growling is considered an aggressive vocalization used by dominant wolves in the pack toward submissive individuals. Barking can indicate alarm, a call to hunt or excitement in general.
 
 
 
Communication within the Dog Pack
 
 
Most of the behaviors that dogs share with wolves have to do with communication. Like wolves, dogs use olfactory, body language and vocalizations to communicate. Unlike wolves, dogs have also evolved ways to communicate with humans, ways they don’t display to communicate with each other. This indicates that, like the wolf, the dog is hard-wired to live in social groups — packs. Dogs use scent to mark territory and to announce “I’ve been here,” and most people can tell the difference in body language between a friendly dog and a threatening dog — bared teeth and tail-wagging are examples of how dogs communicate with their packs.
 
Dogs use vocalizations primarily to communicate with humans and not other dogs. For instance, they will bark excitedly to get you to open the door. They howl to attract attention or announce their presence, and some will howl in response to sirens or other high-pitched sounds. Humans can translate some of these vocalizations. On the other hand, even an average dog will likely learn dozens of human words over his lifetime.
Maggie at Town Hall Columbus OH
Part of the Pack
 
 
For years, there has been controversy amongst dog trainers over the practices of dominance theory (aka pack theory) and its use in dog training. Anyone who was a dog trainer 15-20 years ago thought that dominance was a crucial part of the training process, but with new light on the subject, pack theory has been debunked and these forceful methods being used are becoming less popular.
 
 
 
What is Pack Theory/Dominance Theory?
 
 
Pack Theory, also known as Dominance Theory, has been around for a long time but was made popular by Cesar Millan in his National Geographic show, Dog Whisperer. Pack Theory was developed by a group scientists studying wolves in captivity. The theory is based on the idea that each pack has an “Alpha Dog” and, through the use of dominance, the Alpha dog controls the pack. To better explain dominance, animal behaviorist, Dr. Sophia Yin, defines it as the, “relationship between individuals that is established through force, aggression, and submission in order to establish priority access to all desired resources (food, the opposite sex, preferred resting spots, etc.).”
Acorns Toxic | www.twoadorablelabs.com
For two reasons, this concept has been radically disproved and a more positive approach to dog training has emerged.
 
 
Reason One – Nuclear Families
 
 
Through years of studying captive wolves, no one stopped to consider that the environment had an influence on the results of the study. Dr. David Mech, a wolf expert and senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, was largely responsible for the original study that promoted Pack Theory. He has since then discovered a vast difference between wolves in the wild from those in captivity and has renounced the results of his earlier studies. Captive wolves with no choice but to live in unrelated groups behave very differently from members of what we now know to be true natural wolf packs.
 
The theory of Nuclear Families has become the more popular explanation for pack hierarchy. It has been discovered that a wolf pack consists of a single family of wolves made up of a father, mother, and any number of children. Very rarely would a pack of wolves allow an outsider into their pack, because they do not share a similar bloodline. The Alpha male is no longer seen as the dominator, but rather the father figure, doing what it needs to do to protect its family and survive.
Harlinsdale Park, Franklin TN
Reason Two – Evolution
 
 
Dogs and wolves are separated by thousands of years of evolution. Before any other animal on this planet, humans have been domesticating dogs for the purpose of companionship and work. Domestication has affected everything from the way a dog looks, to how they act and communicate, because of the need to adapt to the human environment.
 
 
Through thousands of years of breeding, we have taken the wolf and turned it into the perfect companion. We have changed their physical characteristics to give them a more desirable appearance, and we have bred them to work and fulfill certain tasks to make our lives easier. Some of the more noticeable physical characteristics that differ between dogs and wolves are:
 
 
*Dogs have floppier ears
*Dog’s tails curve can upward
*Dogs have shorter muzzles
*Dogs no longer have the pre-caudal gland that is used by wolves to mark the members of their pack.
*Dogs sexually mature between 6-12 months versus wolves who are at 2 years.
*Even though dogs are considered carnivores, their bodies have changed to allow other things into their diets such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Wolves only eat meat.
*Even more so, dogs have taken on differing behavioral characteristics because of the need to fit into the human environment. Major differences include:
 
*Wolves tend to be smarter and more aware of their surroundings, because the dangers of their environment.
*Dogs tend to be more socialized because of the need to be around many other types of dogs and breeds.
*Dogs exhibit more infantile behaviors into adulthood, like whimpering and whining because of the attention it elicits in humans.
*Dogs have a lower bite inhibition making it harder for them to control the pressure of their bites. Wolves use bites as a form of communication and can better differentiate between a bite to correct and a bite to do harm.
 
*Many of these behaviors have developed from the need to communicate with their human counterparts, including some undesirable behaviors. Wolves, in the wild, do not jump or bark excessively. These are behaviors that have developed in dogs, again, to elicit attention.
 
 
With these two reasons in mind, we can’t support the idea of training dogs using dominance theory simply because it is how dogs are inherently programmed to understand. This doesn’t mean that traditional correction training can’t work, but there are other methods that have been proven to better strengthen the human-dog bond. Once we begin to see the dog as its own “species” and stop relating them to their wolf counterparts, we can better appreciate their driving motivations and find a more enriching way of training them.
Black Friday Sales
Dogs aren’t driven by the need to survive, which is greatly what affects a wolf’s behavior. This is because necessities are most often provided for them. The majority of unwanted behaviors we see in dogs today are driven by fear, anxiety, or stress. These fears are usually caused by a lack of socialization at an early age to the human environment, or the improper application of aversive training methods. Understanding the motivators or triggers behind any unwanted behavior is the first step to addressing the problem.
 
I’m Bobbi Jo, a lab-lover who took my passion for animals and dogs and turned it into something bigger.  When I adopted Jake and Maggie, my love for them became the driving force behind Two Adorable Labs, and my blog was born.  My hope is to not only share them with the world, but to help educate others on the importance of animal health and well-being. Two Adorable Labs has become a collection of all that I love.  I’ll send one post each week on things that bring me joy on animal health, home decor, and food recipes for humans and our furry friends.  I hope you enjoy these posts and much as I do creating them!
Ultimate Gift Guide For Pet Parents | www.twoadorablelabs.com
Black Friday Sales
Dog Trancing | www.twoadorablelabs.com
www.twoadorablelabs.com

I love hearing from all of you and do my best to respond to each and every one of you.  I always enjoy your comments, feedback, and suggestions so keep them coming!  If I’ve posted a recipe (for our human and our furry friends) and you try it, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram @twoadorablelabs and use #twoadorablelabs​.

If you do try and love my recipes, I would greatly appreciate a comment and rating.  I read every single one and respond to them.  It also lets Google know that the website contains quality content.  The more comments and 5-star ratings, the more Google will show my blog in search results!  Thank you so much!

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Jake and Maggie are now proud Ambassadors for Ava’s Pet Palace. Log on to avaspetpalace.com/twoadorablelabs for “free shipping” off your order!

Love, Jake and Maggie

You Might Also Like

Your Dog’s Zodiac Sign

Your Dog’s Zodiac Sign

Happy Wednesday everyone!  Ever wonder what your pet's reaction means to something?  Your Dog's Zodiac Sign is a fun post that sheds light on their behavior based on the month they were born.  Jake and Maggie are Gemini's born June 8, 2017!  The horoscope (see chart)...

Snuffle Mat For Your Pet’s Entertainment

Snuffle Mat For Your Pet’s Entertainment

Happy Wednesday everyone!  Looking for treats and pet enrichment toys that can entertain and keep your pet busy?  This Snuffle Mat (#ad) is one of the best toys I have ever bought Jake and Maggie!  They love it.  Made with polar fleece material, it is soft, durable,...

The Ultimate Gift Guide For Pet Parents

The Ultimate Gift Guide For Pet Parents

Happy Saturday everyone!  I’m so excited to share The Ultimate Gift Guide For Pet Parents.  Today’s post contains affiliate links, photos, post links, and ideas on what to get that pet lover in your life.  Not only can this guide help you with ideas for that special...

Barking Bananna Pancakes With Buddy Budder

Barking Bananna Pancakes With Buddy Budder

Happy Monday everyone!  I made these amazing and delicious Barking Bananna pancakes from barkBISTRO last week and the dogs LOVED them!  I was so excited to get my post out on Friday and while smack in the middle of uploading all of my pictures, our power went out!  An...

The Honest Kitchen’s Goat’s Milk

The Honest Kitchen’s Goat’s Milk

Happy Monday everyone!  I’ve been researching dog and cat treat recipes and came across The Honest Kitchen's Goat’s Milk.  Goat’s Milk is a powdered milk product that can be rehydrated and fed supplementally, with meals, or for digestive support. Cat’s love the taste,...

What Do You Think? Let Us Know!

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.