Repeat After Me:

"I Am Not the Alpha Dog.

I Am Not the Alpha Dog."

By Sandra Roosna / February 25, 2022

As much as many of us hate to hear and admit it, dominance theory IS dead.

This rather far-fetched approach to dog social behavior started with observing a group of wolves at the zoo in the 1930s. Rudolph Schenkel, the Swiss researcher who carried out the study, suggested that wolves are in constant competition for a higher social status, and the only way to achieve that is by being aggressive with their "subordinates".

Since then, the term "dominance" has been used synonymously with "aggression", which contradicts its dictionary definition: priority and access to limited and/or preferred resources. Two individuals of the same rank can and often will fight over a single bone on the ground.

What that study, and many others like it, failed to account for is the fact that the wolves observed were unrelated to each other, and lived in an entirely human-controlled environment.

Imagine how you would feel being coerced into living under one roof with a group of complete strangers, with no chance of stepping away?

In the wild, a wolf pack consists of a breeding pair and their offspring of 1-3 generations, resembling a human family dynamic.

That is only one part of the problem, though: the second one is assuming that dogs are the same as wolves. While they do share 99% of genetic material, there are some very obvious differences - the most glaring one being the fact that domesticated canids do not have to compete for resources.

We also assume that our fido views us humans as a fellow canid, while it is painfully obvious to them that we are very much not the same species.

The only thing you're teaching your pup when grabbing their scruff, sticking their nose in their poop, pinching their ears, or doing the infamous "alpha-roll", is that you are an unpredictable scary giant with a frail ego.

Think of it this way: who gets to dictate how many bathroom breaks the dog gets? Who decides how many meals they eat? What about where they sleep? Who do they get to interact and play with? Who provides access to water?

It is obvious that you provide the resources and control every minute of your dog's life.

Your dog is not trying to dominate you.