What to think about the concept of alpha dogs? I used to believe in it but no more.
For a lot of years, I subscribed to the common wisdom and believed that you had to be dominant over every dog you had. I remember standing over my obstreperous adolescent Rhodesian Ridgeback, hands on my hips, saying firmly in a dog training session, “I’M the alpha bitch here. Not you.”
To digress seemingly for a moment, I’ve always remembered an article I read in a college class in anthropology. “Is the straight line present in reality?” It asked. The title intrigued me. I had never given a moment’s thought to this question, and of course straight lines were a part of my reality, but the author went on to explain that in some cultures people didn’t appear to notice the difference between straight lines and crooked ones. This was before “you create your own reality” became a popular phase from Jane Roberts’ Seth books.
So as I read dog training books in the past, I accepted the widely-held explanation that dogs are pack animals, someone has be “alpha,” and you’ll have canine behavior problems on your hands if it isn’t you. It didn’t come to hard to me to be bossy at times, I admit.
Now I’m seeing an an increasing number of dog training books and website articles that don’t buy into the concept of “alpha.” Or they sidestep the whole concept, focusing on what motivates dogs.
I was very curious what Suzanne Clothier would say about alpha dogs in her excellent book, Bones Would Rain from the Sky.
What does she think of alpha dogs? She says (page 144):
If there’s a single word I could remove from the language of dog lovers and particularly dog trainers, it’s this: alpha. A Greek word meaning first, alpha has seen a lot of duty, mostly serving as the righteous rationale in the ongoing war between man and dog. Like the cross waved by the Crusaders as justification for a staggering list of atrocities committed on non-Christian peoples, the idea that we are acting as alpha has served as justification for a fair amount of unfairness and downright cruelty to dogs.
I’ve seen some of the cruelty she refers to. True to the depth of thinking and experience that I’ve found elsewhere in the book, Suzanne Clothier goes on to give some concepts about leadership that can move us beyond alpha.
What a relief!
Chapters 11 and 12 are “Take Me to Your Leader” and “Leadership is Action.” In my opinion it’s worth buying Bones Would Rain from the Sky for just these two chapters. Click on the book cover above to see more at Amazon.