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Old 11-10-2012, 07:57 PM   #1 (permalink)
jae
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Default About the 5-letter word "*lpha"

Lately I have been hearing a lot of people saying don't use the word ALPHA, or I apologize; &*@^#

Must say, until now, I don't understand the hubbub. As your dogs guide, teacher, and master, are you not the "alpha" of your pack, so to speak? The leader, the one who controls resources, the one who corrects, the one who allows or does not. In the wild, alphas will correct, control, lead. Those who refuse the word alpha, do you never correct your dog? Never control resources? Never lead? Those same people may use the word "pack leader", or simply "leader", and in essence, is this not the same thing?

I will allow that "alpha" could sound harsh, we use the word because of nature's alpha, who must be brash and reactive in many cases, so it's easy to see how one could associate a negative and heavy-handed leader with this term. But those same alpha are also providing for the pack, without the alpha, the pack is nothing, the pack is non-existent, the pack is without guide; what pack has no alpha? I will also allow that this is not the wild, we are domesticated and in houses, not in wolf dens, further, that dogs are not wolves. However, dog owners are still dealing with canines, animals, not logical thinkers like us, they do not truly understand human thinking and emotion, we must teach them to understand us through years of breeding, genetics, selection, training, and domestication. But, in the end, this all leads back to canine instinct - how does one teach another, other than teach to follow the leader, or alpha.

Last edited by jae; 11-10-2012 at 08:07 PM.
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Old 11-10-2012, 08:10 PM   #2 (permalink)
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With my background in wolf biology, the term 'Alpha' is one I use often and easily. I don't understand why it has become such a terrible thing. Perhaps people confuse the true meaning of Alpha with something that is abusive, unfair and misinformed.

The Alpha wolves I knew in the Haliburton wolf pack were always fair, dominant, just and unquestioned in their position (unless the time came when a strong, younger wolf took the title from an older alpha). Nothing negative can be associated with them.

I honestly believe people have taken the word Alpha, used it heavily in dog training and misused it so often that it has become something entirely different in the dog world.
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Old 11-10-2012, 08:58 PM   #3 (permalink)
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With my background in wolf biology, the term 'Alpha' is one I use often and easily. I don't understand why it has become such a terrible thing. Perhaps people confuse the true meaning of Alpha with something that is abusive, unfair and misinformed.

The Alpha wolves I knew in the Haliburton wolf pack were always fair, dominant, just and unquestioned in their position (unless the time came when a strong, younger wolf took the title from an older alpha). Nothing negative can be associated with them.

I honestly believe people have taken the word Alpha, used it heavily in dog training and misused it so often that it has become something entirely different in the dog world.
I agree with this statement 100%.

I see the word alpha as leader, guider, teacher, provider, care giver, etc. I don't see it as a dominance thing, and I don't believe in the alpha roll and some of the other dominance training methods.

I do believe in giving my dog a correction - the intensity of the correction depends on the behaviour. For example, Kyleigh charged the parrots cage when she was about 5 months old, I caught her mid-air by the scruff (somewhat lucky catch LOL) and had her on the ground in about 1/2 a second.

I glared at her and LEAVE IT in the deepest most ticked off voice I could come up with. She has yet to try it again. And that would likely be the harshest correction I would have to do with her for anything. Is that really harsh? No ... but some people will definitely see it as harsh.

I saw it as interrupting her prey drive, and letting her know right off the bat THAT is unacceptable. That is what an alpha does, IMO.
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Old 11-10-2012, 09:14 PM   #4 (permalink)
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there's old school compusion and then there is the ethology studies of wolves which do
shed light on canine social hierarchy and pack drive...this science led to more positive training methods with understanding ...
then there's the old 1st edition of the Monks of New Skete, in which the ALpha roll is heavily prescibed, and the 2nd edition in which you won't find it.

Truth is as provider and controller of the resources,we are in fact the Alphas of our pack, and that's all the compulsion that's needed, more often than not. Their pack drive makes them quite biddable.

Lots of clicker trainers bemoan the popularity of Cesar because they view his methods as taking us backwards. Just sayin, but I tend to think you can catch more flies with honey than whatever. Most pups will work hard for praise. Managing is our job. Sounds Alpha without sounding evil to me.
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Old 11-10-2012, 09:40 PM   #5 (permalink)
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The Alpha pair acts as the head of the family, often the father and mother of the pack members. The first to defend against a challenge, the first to establish order and structure, the first to eat and get the best parts of a kill, at the head of a hunt, scent marking and keeping dangerous loners or packs away from the pack, breeding rights and stressing out pack members via domination to ensure other members are too stressed to successfully mate (alpha male targets males, alpha female targets female for the most part), alpha female usually produces offspring and nurtures and raises with help of the pack (first few weeks alpha female keeps all other members away from her offspring -- a secondary female (beta) or subordinate may produce offspring, but alpha female usually takes over the care of those pups and harasses the producer.)

That is "Alpha" to me... that's a summary, the role is quite complex and there is a lot of room for uniqueness. Whoever came along saying "all dogs must obey me, I will alpha roll and dominate them everyday... i am the only master and all must obey me or else I will punish them" is very, very misinformed.

With dogs, I believe the human should take Alpha position. I agree with dOg... you catch more flies with honey than whatever. Everything is better when we can train successfully with nothing but praise - but that's not always reality. We are intelligent beings (for the most part)... we know praise and positivity creates an excellent result and an excellent relationship... smart trainers know all the methods, know what true success is based on the dog's true nature. Positivity is golden... that is proven.
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Old 11-10-2012, 09:45 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Ah. I am sensitive about this subject... perhaps all the years and hours I invested in wolf biology and behaviour... spending full days observing a pack with a good friend and wolf biologist. An Alpha is a beautiful, hard working animal... to hear the word tarnished breaks my heart.

People do not know the honour, the hard work and the absolute devotion and love that is an integral part of an Alpha animal.
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Old 11-10-2012, 10:00 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Ah. I am sensitive about this subject... perhaps all the years and hours I invested in wolf biology and behaviour... spending full days observing a pack with a good friend and wolf biologist. An Alpha is a beautiful, hard working animal... to hear the word tarnished breaks my heart.

People do not know the honour, the hard work and the absolute devotion and love that is an integral part of an Alpha animal.
Alpha is a wonderful term and word exactly how you described it to be. I think many people have the wrong view or idea about when it comes to training our dogs. Often the term gets distorted in a negative way. Excellent point and post Wild Wolf!
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Old 11-10-2012, 10:36 PM   #8 (permalink)
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As your dogs guide, teacher, and master, are you not the "alpha" of your pack, so to speak? The leader, the one who controls resources, the one who corrects, the one who allows or does not.

You bet I am.

And I am not a "dog parent," either.
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Old 11-11-2012, 02:12 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Here's the reason I don't like the word Alpha. Most people (MOST) think that they need to be the 'Alpha' in order to have a successful relationship with their dog.

Trainers use the term Alpha and PAck Leader and other such stuff.

We are not, nor will we ever be, DOGS!!!

We cannot ... CANNOT ... talk dog. Dogs talk with their eyes, nose, body, tail, glands, waste, etc.

We, as humans, cannot possibly portray ourselves as Alpha (or Pack Leader) because we do not have the ability to speak dog.

Go to a dog park and watch what happens when a new dog joins a group. Without making a sound the dogs can re-establish the group dynamics. The twitch of an ear, the slight lift of a tail, a head turn and a hard stare - these physical movements speak VOLUMES to dogs.

We humans cannot imitate that.

The best we can hope for is a mutally respectful relationship with our canine friends.
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Old 11-11-2012, 04:13 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I don't know when or why "alpha" became a dirty word, either. I find the other names (which are the same thing in different wrapping) to be confusing and unnecessary. I had a good beta male. He did what I asked of him. When I got sick, that started to change. As the months wore on, my male decided to challenge me. I'd tell him to get off the bed, and he'd refuse. I'd go to move him, and he'd growl at me! This wasn't a young dog... this dog was about five at the time. He began to challenge me over all sorts of things like this... the control of resources. We may not 'speak dog', but they DO expect things to happen according to their understanding of how things should work! They will not give us respect because we give them respect. That's putting human thoughts and emotions onto a dog...which they aren't capable of doing.

Grim is an 'alpha male'. He absolutely needs to know that *I* am in charge now, and what I say goes. No matter how he feels about himself or his status. Yes, I agree in fair, consistent leadership. However, this isn't because I feel that if I show him respect he will give it back. It's because that's how an alpha behaves. Due to the fact that he's EXTREMELY stubborn and resistant to how *I* want things to be, I cannot waver from my stance that what I say goes. If I do, then he will attempt to take over that 'alpha' position... and the result would not be good. Where you normally don't 'get the finger' until the dog's older, I've been getting it off and on from the beginning. Building a bond and relationship with him is important, because he has to know that I have control of things and I am competent to take that alpha spot. In our dog pack, though, he still asserts his dominance. With those he isn't bonded to or does not know... he asserts his dominance and expects it will not be questioned. The respect you give your dog is in your mind, IMO.. not the dog's. The respect that you get from your dog isn't respect for being kind to him, it's respect for being the alpha. If calling it something else makes people feel better, that's OK. Canine nature hasn't changed, though. They don't respect those that they don't feel are in a higher position than them, and to get there you have to prove that you're in that position. That means controlling resources, taking care of things that an alpha would take care of, and squashing any attempt by the dog to take over that position. For some dogs, this isn't too difficult, because they aren't the alpha to begin with. For others, it takes more... including correction of behaviors that are unacceptable to make it crystal clear who is in charge of the 'pack'. It's also not limited to actions you take. IMO, it's also about the air you put out. Lack confidence, lack authority... and the dog will 'smell' that and react accordingly to fill that 'void' that it senses. JMO
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