Alpha schmalpha

2 dogs lying on couch butt to buttI board dogs in my home. When people call for information about my services I will ask them to tell me about their dog. It is not uncommon for me to hear, “He’s not an alpha dog,” or, “She’s not a dominant dog.”

For years I have lived with 3-4 dogs of my own. Used to be I tried to figure out which of my dogs was the ‘alpha’. Mitzi, Sabu’s mom was a confident, fearless cocker spaniel, Sabu a bit less comfortable with other dogs. Mitzi, being the mom, and Sabu being less confident must mean that Mitzi was the alpha dog, right? But when I put them in the car Sabu got all excited and mounted Mitzi whose response was the equivalent of a sigh and eye roll in a person, must mean that Sabu was the alpha dog, right?

I couldn’t tell you which was the ‘alpha’ dog in my house, but I could tell you this:

Sunny cares enough about the yellow squeaky toy to give a muzzle punch to ANY dog that goes near it.

Finn loves his frisbees and will resist Sunny’s attempts to take one from him, but if it happens he’ll readily snatch it back as soon as it’s dropped.

Annie gets yappy and excited when new dogs show up and can tolerate having one look at her or sniff her for about 3 seconds, beyond that she will snap and tell them to knock it off.

When Nina the chocolate lab is here Sunny will let her lie in his spot under my desk, but he will not allow Buttercup the black lab to do so.

Maddie the Australian Shepherd will ignore all the dogs unless her housemate Lionel is running around playing and then she’ll chase and nip at him putting a stop to his fun.

Sasha the black lab can drink from the water bowl under my desk, but Sunny will not allow Bugsy the old cocker the same privilege.

Nina will happily run and explore with any dog but should one approach her while she’s lying down she will let out a ‘BOOF’ that never fails to make me jump out of my chair (her owners tell me it’s a habit developed after being harassed by the household cat).

When it comes to Daphne the bulldog I will confess to being uncertain sometimes as to whether she’s trying to play with another dog or telling them to move away.

None of my own dogs will try to take a fresh marrow bone away from another dog, but once they’ve been ‘used’ a bit will readily sneak over to snatch one left momentarily unattended. There have never been any fights over bones or chews but I never leave them with the ‘good stuff’ unattended.

All the dogs staying with me can surround me while I dole out treats to them individually. In the beginning some are rude and don’t understand that a hand reaching out with food in it is not necessarily for them and try to snatch it, but so far none of the other dogs have taken great offense to it.

Some would say that I am the alpha and that’s why the dogs don’t have to assume that role. But if that were true, how come I am the one that always ends up without blankets at night because some dog is snoozing on top of them?

p.s. I couldn’t resist and created the ‘Alpha Schmalpha-I’m the one with the thumbs‘ T shirt. Check it out.

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29 comments so far

  1. pennyronning on

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!! I laughed and nodded my head in understanding through the entire read. Can’t wait to share this with others! Thank you!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and sharing Penny, appreciate it!

  2. honeysjourney on

    I think once we realize we really can’t tell Alpha from Upsilon and enjoy their reactions towards one another, we may then be able to work with problems that crop up in homes where more than one dog lives.

    We had 2 ACDs one was very food aggressive to the extent of about an hour of his dinner time he’d start pushing the other one around. We called in a trainer/behaviorist who, at great cost, decided Mr. Food aggressive was a big time Alpha male. Never feed the two together, never let the 2 in the kitchen at the same time and best of all make sure Alpha dog gets what he wants first, were the instructions. That wasn’t going to work, at least in our house. Therefore I started to work with the problem, right or wrong I really didn’t have a clue as to what the training books said on how to correct the problem, I ended up by making both dogs sit in the kitchen and offer treats food to the non-food aggressive dog first then the “Alpha” dog making him sit.

    It only took a couple weeks and problem solved, I must have removed the “Alpha” responsibility from him, and he didn’t seem to care either.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think we do dogs a big disservice by assuming that many suffer from some sort of megalomania that causes them to need to be top dog at all costs instead of acknowledging them the preferences, inclinations and priorities that I believe they have. Some I am willing to accommodate, others I am not. Most of the dogs are able to figure out what’s going to fly with me (and each other for that matter), and what isn’t, I don’t begrudge them putting up a ‘fight’ in the form of persistence. I just make sure if it really matters to me, I win the battle by being even moreso.

    • Katherine Gabriel on

      @honeysjourney Thanks for your post; very interesting to read your experience with your ACD’s. Have one also and rarely see or hear much about them. Mine, while very sweet natured, can be quite aggressive regarding anything he considers his. He may well have extra Dingo in his DNA. In any case, I don’t mess with him and food. He is also a serious watch dog. No little frou-frou dog, this.

  3. Kathy @YourHolisticDog on

    Yes! I wish people would let go of the preoccupation with the term “alpha” when referring to any dog. Just let your dog “be.”

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s going to happen Kathy! Tides turn ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Pat on

    Thanks so much for sharing. I found bits and pieces of my own crew in your ever changing pack. I think my five change roles depending on the circumstances. Maybe that’s as it should be, we can’t all be brave with everything!

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s so true Pat, and some days a dog may care more about something than they did the day before. Or have less patience, or feel bad, or be hungrier or more excited, or or or or….

  5. Ettel E on

    Woot woot! Love seeing more people debunking alpha myths and misconceptions! There’s so much more to dog dynamics and social relationships than dominance.

    If I remember correctly, the only time “dominance” is used properly is when referring to access to a resource, ie, if two dogs want a bone, the one who gets the bone most of the time is the dominant one. It would have nothing to do with mounting, mouthy behavior, jumping, barking, whining, telling another dog off for rude behavior, pulling on the leash, dashing out the door, counter surfing, or a myriad of other unrelated behaviors people like to peg onto dominance.

  6. thelittlebeardogblog on

    ‘Alpha Schmalpha’ t-shirts! Now there’s a great counter to the ‘pack leader’ ones I keep seeing ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the great post as always.

  7. Mel on

    LOVE this post! I can completely relate to everything you wrote! Sadly, it is not a dog that hogs my bed, but a furry thing with lots of attitude. I get a very loud MEOW when I disturb him while he is sleeping or rollover in my sleep and disturb him. If anyone is Alpha in this house it is him. Go figure.

    Now I gotta go over and check out those t-shirts! Can you imagine the comments you would get wearing it to a dog park or some dog-related event?

    • KellyK on

      Yep, whatever hierarchy dogs or humans establish, cats place themselves at the top by default. My cats are both very demanding of food, attention, and bed space. (I don’t understand how two cats make a queen bed crowded, especially when they don’t *both* sleep with us all the time, but they pull it off.)

      Apparently that whole “worshipped in Ancient Egypt” thing went to their heads. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. KellyK on

    It’s my understanding that the alpha concept is based on wolves in a very artificial environment, forming a pack out of unrelated adults, where a normal pack is parents and pups. So it really doesn’t translate well to dogs.

    I might describe my dog as submissive, but “shy” and “hesitant” work just as well and I think are more descriptive.

    She loves to be around other dogs, but is confused when they either don’t want to play with her or when they growl while playing. (She doesn’t play-growl, and she really only barks when someone is at the door, a new, strange person is in the house, or someone comes into a room in a way that surprises or confuses her, like coming through the back-door or carrying something that obscures their face.)

    Around people, she’s often cautiously friendly. Lots of tail-wagging, happy looks, but a very cautious approach. And sometimes hiding behind me if she decides (for reasons known only to her) that the other person is scary.

  9. Success Just Clicks on

    This was such a great post!! I really did enjoy it! I also wanted to let you know to check out my blog… I’ve been following yours for a while and nominated you for a “stylish blogger” award .. the info is on my latest post.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Great to meet you and thanks for the blogger award. That was a very nice thing to do. I love your blog name BTW. Your dogs are gorgeous and my dogs would like to come visit. Finn is a frisbee fiend, getting on in years but the spirit remains willing.

  10. Kristine on

    Every time I hear the word alpha from someone at the park, I can’t help but flinch. They rarely seem to know what they are talking about, just quote something they heard someone else say. I guess it’s good people are thinking about dog behaviour, but when it is coming from a place of complete misunderstanding, it just makes me shake my head. Alpha Schmalpha indeed!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Kristine. If you do decide to get a t shirt, do let me know how the whole process works for you. I created it on a whim and have not been able to figure out how to order one myself! For some reason I cannot get the system to work for me. It’s not something I’ll likely put a lot of time into, but it would be good to know if it’s working for other folks.

  11. Marie Finnegan on

    Hmmmm the t-shirts are blank on the page that comes up for me. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  12. Deborah Flick on

    I don’t know how I missed this. Great post.

  13. coinslott on

    The fact that an “Alpha” is some sort of absolute. The fact is you are the Alpha. The fact that you choose to let them sleep on your bed is a sign of affection. Being the pack leader does not mean being cold and distant. It means the pack “tends” to look to you for guidance.
    If you are the type that can control a pack of dogs wether its while boarding, walking, or living with dogs, you are the Alpha.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Ok. But I prefer to use other terms which define this relationship which are not imbued with ‘pack leader’, ‘wolf hierarchy’ terminology. I am a human living with dogs, not wolves.


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