Where did this idea that dogs are pack leaders, trying to dominate so as to become the alpha of the pack at home come from?

Feb 3, 2023 | Blog

In our latest blog London based professional dog trainer Chrissie Hines from Dog Smarts talks canine alpha male !

When it comes to dogs, these words are thrown about so frequently. By mainstream media, by dog parents, and by dog trainers that are stuck in the past.

“Oh, he’s so dominant” someone says to me as their dog is greeting mine in a lively manner. Whilst on a short lead, sitting on a busy pavement, outside a noisy coffee shop.

Over the years I have learnt to smile politely, and swiftly change the subject.

“He is likely overwhelmed with having to stay still, in a very busy, noisy and distracting environment. Have you worked on any settle training with him?” is what I really would like to say.

Where did this idea that dogs are pack leaders, trying to dominate so as to become the alpha of the pack at home, come from?

In the 1960s Dr Mech studied the behaviour of captive wolves. These were wolves from different families that had been placed together in a small space. As they had no connection with each other fighting over territory and resources took place. And they had to create a dominance hierarchy for survival.

In the wild the only packs that wolves exist in are as families. With a matriarch and a patriarch being the leaders of their family, with cubs that exhibit deference to them. Much as with humans.

Dr. Mech has put his hands up and stated that he was incorrect in his hypothesis.

“The term Alpha isn’t really accurate when describing a pack of wolves I am very much to blame for the term Alpha being used”

As wolves and dogs share 99.9% DNA, the alpha and dominance beliefs were shifted over to the domesticated dog. Providing well-meaning dog owners with an ill-founded framework within which to try and understand their dogs.

Your dog at home is not trying to become the alpha by sitting on the sofa. They are not being dominant when they growl at someone approaching their food bowl. And they most certainly do not need to be shown who is boss.

Recent research has shown time and time again that working in a co-operative and kind way with your dog is likely to produce a solid bond and accelerate their skills and learning.  As well as allowing you both to enjoy the time that you spend together.

If you would like to learn more, please check on the links below:-


Dr. Mech

Victoria Stilwell