Alpha or Mommy? Owner, Companion, or Guardian?

I am not a wolf.  Perhaps that’s the reason I’ve never been comfortable with the dominance theory and playing the role of the “alpha” – even back when that’s what all the trainers were teaching.  I’d rather be momma than momma wolf, and I think my dog and I have a stronger bond because of it.

It’s not that I don’t think the human should be in charge.  Much like a parent with a human child, the human must be in control in a human-dog relationship.  As a human, it’s my responsibility to keep my dog healthy and safe.  Like a toddler, a dog cannot fend for himself, and if left to his own devices may become injured or lost, or worse.  For this reason, I maintain firm but gentle control over my dog – not to “show him who is boss” but to keep him safe – like any good parent.

I’ve taught my dog manners so he can get along well in the world and so he can accompany me anywhere.  I make sure he gets healthy food, veterinary care, exercise and mental stimulation, and I provide opportunities for him to socialize with other dogs.  I reward him when he does what I want him to do in order to encourage that behavior.  But I don’t do everything for him.  I encourage him to figure things out for himself if it poses no danger.  And I give him lots of love and attention.  Aren’t these all things parents do for their human children?  How is it different if your child is a dog?

When my dog Jake died of cancer at age 8, I grieved deeply.  I could not have felt closer to Jake if I had borne him myself, and I could not have felt a deeper feeling of loss.  I have an even deeper bond with my dog Garth.  While our relationship is primarily parent/child, he is also a trusted companion and best friend.  He’s up for a hike when no one else is, he crawls into my lap when I’m on the couch, and he greets me enthusiastically whenever we’re apart for more than a few minutes.  Because of Garth, I’m a happier, healthier, more active, and more social person.

For all of these reasons, the terms “guardian” and “caretaker” don’t work for me.  These terms don’t reflect the emotional connection I have with Garth or what I get out of the relationship.  I am more than simply his guardian – I am his family, his mom, his friend.  And the term “owner” doesn’t even begin to describe our relationship.  Although from a legal perspective dogs are personal property, I know very few pet parents who consider themselves owners and their pets property.  A dog or cat or ferret is simply not the same as an iPad.

Some say that those of us who call ourselves dog moms or dads are anthropomorphizing or being silly, or that taking on the role of parent means we’re not appreciating dogs for what they are – for their inherent dogginess.  But I’m not deluding myself that my dog is a furry person, and I’m not trying to make Garth into a human child.  I completely understand that dogs are a different species and have different needs than humans, and I try to understand and provide for those needs.  I believe it’s possible to parent another species and do it well, and it’s far more rewarding to be a mom than an owner, guardian, or an alpha.

Photo by Brian Padow, Canine Adventure

Rebecca Randolph is a blogger, writer, artist, and attorney, but most importantly, a dog mom. She assists her lab Garth with his blog The World According to Garth Riley (

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