Dr. Alexandra Horowitz is a professor at Barnard College in New York, and also operates the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Columbia University. Dr. Horowitz works to build better relationships between people and their dogs by studying their natural settings. She has also studied the olfactory receptors dogs use to ‘see’ the world, and not long ago, released the book, “Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell.“
Dr. Horowitz recently shared that the ‘Alpha Dog’ mentality-a theory that says dogs prefer to be members of a pack, with one ‘alpha’ or leader and that proper training requires a human to instill in their dog that the human is the ‘alpha’ of the pack–is really a myth.
Dr. Horowitz says that this theory stems from old research done on young male wolves in a contained group. This group appeared to establish a dominance hierarchy in which one ‘alpha’ dog seemed to lead the pack in eating and other activities like mating and so forth. She believes that though that may be true for wolves in enclosed groups, it is not actually the way wolves in the wild act, and certainly not the intrinsic, instilled behavior preference of the common companion dog. Her theory is if dogs (or wolves) do present as ‘alphas’ it is typically because they are parents, and like human parents, take the lead for the young members of their families (or packs).
The mentality that you have to be loud and dominant over your dog to ‘show who the alpha is’ is not a great way to build a relationship with your dog, and though you may have a scared, obedient dog who will listen to you, that’s not really fair to your dog (or to you!).
The researcher adds that not only should we view dogs as members of our ‘packs,’ but we should take into account their ‘points of view’ as family members to make the most of the relationship benefits dogs offer to us as their humans.
So the next time you are at the dinner table and your dog is begging for a little taste of that steak? Go ahead. (But just a little!) You’re not losing your place as the Alpha…your cementing your place in his heart!