Social order is key in promoting peace and efficiency within the canine universe. A group of dogs naturally has a leader, and this helps keep things running smoothly and eliminate unnecessary chaos. If two assertive pooches come together, one of them will eventually assume the role of the alpha dog.
Just One Alpha
Dog packs always consist of single leaders -- never more than that. If two canines that were alphas of their own previous packs come together, one has to step down and become subordinate to the top dog in this new situation. Alphas have no equal status members within their social groups; they stand high all alone. After alphas, socially, are beta dogs, which are higher up than omega dogs. Omega dogs are considered to be the meekest and most timid members of packs -- the polar opposites of alphas.
If you spot one of your two alpha doggies licking the other pooch's muzzle, then the one doing the licking is undoubtedly the submissive one -- a new role for him. Dogs lick the faces of only those dogs that are dominant. The placating action is a sign of obeisance and respect, and one that signals a desire to maintain harmony and stay far away from conflict and tension.
When observing dogs, pay attention to whichever pet always is in the front. If one of the dogs always seems to be the first not only to come inside after walks, but also the first to enjoy the yummy treats you offer, or the first to pick a cozy sleeping spot, he just might be the one with priority -- therefore, the alpha. Dogs lower on the totem pole usually wait their turn.
Although humping behaviors are often thought of as being sexual behaviors in dogs, they also can occasionally denote dominant behavior, among other things. If you notice one pooch mounting the other, he might be partaking in a display of dominance, regardless of the gender of the mountee.
Submissive body language can be telling in determining the alpha dog. Alpha dogs don't "do" submissive, so whomever isn't being passive is clearly the leader. Some body language signals that indicate deference are the licking of the air, elevated paws, partially closed eyes, the baring of the stomach and keeping the body close to the ground. Dominant body language, on the other hand, is a lot bolder -- think pushing into fellow canines, towering over other dogs' bodies and intense, extended bouts of staring. Subordinate doggies generally avoid locking eyes with higher-ups.
Making an educated guess regarding which dog might take on the alpha role between two alphas isn't easy. The smaller of the pair might have an even more domineering temperament and therefore could assume the new alpha position. On the other hand, the larger dog might be alpha simply due to physical size. Age doesn't always mean much, either. Although sage seniors are often dominant, it isn't unheard of for sprightly youngsters who were dominant in their litters to bully and take charge over elderly pets. Alphas can be males or females. Don't be surprised if you see a diminutive Yorkie taking control over a massive Great Dane. An alpha dog of a big breed is not necessarily dominant over a small alpha. An alpha female is not necessarily submissive to an alpha male.
- The Latchkey Dog; Jodi Andersen
- How to Train Your Dog; Kevin Connolly
- Partnership for Animal Welfare: Who's Alpha Around Here?
- ASPCA: Is Your Dog Dominant?
- American Kennel Club: Multiple Dogs in Your Home
- Partnership for Animal Welfare: Multiple Dog Households
- Caring Hands Humane Society: Body Language of Dogs
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief & Rescue: Establishing Yourself as Pack Leader
- ASPCA: Reading Canine Body Postures
- Animal Planet: Are Small Dogs Always Alpha?