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No your dog is not trying to be “dominant” read on to find out why.

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

Lets delve into where the term came from:

During the 1930's and 1940's a German animal behaviourist named Rudolph Schenkel studied captive wolves in a Switzerland Zoo to try to identify social relationships in wolf packs.

In his research he identified 2 primary wolves within a the pack, a male "lead" wolf and female "bitch" describing them as "the first in the pack".

He also observed rivalries between individuals in his study.

By control and being assertive, this pair of 'alpha animals' defend their social position. Here the term ‘alpha' was born.

However there was a big problem with this study. The research was purely on captive wolves and without studying those in the wild it could not be generalised to wolves and dogs in general.

Schenkel also draws parallels between wolves and domestic dogs in his research paper, implying that the domestic dog being the wolves brethren "must be similar".

Unfortunately, many carried this term over to dog behaviour and training!

American biologist David Mech who specialised in the study of wolves, followed on from Schenkel's research.

He spent several years in the 1960's studying wild wolves in the Isle Royale National Park. He also studied wolves within the summers of 1986 - 2010 in Ellesmere Island, Canada.

Mech strengthened the term 'Alpha' by using it in a book he published 1970, doing so because in his own words "that's all that science knew".

Consequently the term is deeply ingrained into popular wolf culture.

This term implies competition with others and becoming 'top dog' by fighting to get there and winning battles.

In actual fact, within packs of wolves there is a breeding male and female who achieve their positions naturally (just like humans), they produce pups who become their pack.

They are the parents and therefore the natural leaders of their pack!

Within the pack may also be wolves ages 1-3 years, who have not yet headed out on their own, though they often leave when they are 2 - 3 years old.

Mech has since said the term 'alpha' is incorrect and admits responsibility that he is partly to blame.

He says in the time since his study we have learned a lot. The leading wolves should be called the mother and father wolf and that the alpha theory is not accurate as it was once thought.

Mech supposedly tried to stop the publishing of his book from the 1970's but it was too late, 'the alpha' and the belief was already too deeply ingrained.

So how does this translate to dogs? The assumption was that dogs have evolved from wolves so dominance theory must apply to them too right? WRONG! It applies to neither species.

92 Year's on from that original study and 'alpha/dominance theory' within training is so outdated its not even relevant, it should not even exist anymore!

Though it pains me to say it does, and worse still there are some who advise old school aversive methods of training, labelling pet dogs as 'dominant' giving dog guardians erroneous information and advice that is harmful to dogs.

The thing to take from this, is that dominance theory is debunked, please, please do not use any methods with your dog that aim to show them 'who is boss' and run a mile from anyone who suggests your dog is being dominant toward you.

Force free, reward based and kind training methods are the only ones you should be using with your very loved dog!

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