Life in organized packs comes naturally to dogs, as a relic of their wolf roots. These hierarchical packs always consist of sole leaders, or "alpha dogs." Alpha dogs, to put it plainly, rule the roost. The other canines in the pack turn to the alphas for regulation and structure.
Members of the Pack
Alpha dogs are the highest ranking members of packs. They are followed by beta dogs, and then lastly, omega dogs. Alpha dogs possess tough, controlled "take charge" temperaments. They don't follow rules; they dish them out. Beta dogs often have strong temperaments, but are undeniably lower in status than alpha dogs, and therefore accept their positions. Omega dogs, on the other hand, are rather timid and submissive canines. They are not as self-assured as the others, and sometimes are susceptible to being walked all over by the rest.
Alpha dogs have precedence over the other individuals in their social units. They walk in front of the beta and omega dogs. They are granted first choice in desirable places to turn in for sleeping. They are allowed to have the first go at food discoveries -- all while the rest of the gang patiently waits. They have priority in breeding and grooming activities. If anyone dares to defy the alpha dog, he might just send off a warning growl as a "back off."
When it comes to the establishment of canine hierarchical structures, a lot of different components come into play. Dogs sometimes determine their social ranking through partaking in minor physical disputes -- a way of assessing optimal health. Other elements that often contribute to dogs' social rankings include gender, hierarchical positioning of their near kin, temperament, physical size and age. Despite these things, it's not always easy to predict status. Dogs with seniority tend to be higher up than youngsters, but exceptions aren't uncommon. For the most part, dog social structures remain consistent. They occasionally change, however, due to situations such as the passing of key individuals.
The point of alpha dogs is to have others in the crew look at them with the highest regard and esteem. Because alpha dogs are responsible for keeping things in order, they need to display important behavioral characteristics such as composure and firmness. Dogs rely on leaders to pave the way for them, whether those leaders are human or fellow canines. As household pets, it's crucial for dogs to always view their owners as alpha dogs in human form.
- The Merck Veterinary Manual: Social Behavior of Dogs
- ASPCA: Training Your Dog
- ASPCA: Is Your Dog Dominant?
- DogChannel.com: Become Your Puppy's Pack Leader
- DogChannel.com: Training Bossy or Stubborn Dogs
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief & Rescue: Establishing Yourself as the Pack Leader
- Partnership for Animal Welfare: Becoming Leader of the Pack
- American Kennel Club: Obedience