What is the controversy surrounding the “alpha dog” term?
Wolves live by rules and have a social structure. The entire pack cooperates under a single leader. Lines are clearly defined. The leader of the pack eats first, and then the rest of the pack can eat. He is the “top dog,” the natural leader and, while he’s always assertive, he’s usually not aggressive. He is the leader, which makes him the “alpha” dog.
The dominant “alpha” dog in a pack doesn’t need to assert her/his position through physical means like barking, growling or biting. More often, it is a glance or glare, when another dog has the treat. All it takes is a look and the lesser dog will give it up, without issue. It’s the leader who stays calm and controls the pack without using force. They don’t need to use force because they’re respected.
However, many today feel that the term is overused and abused and this is a complex issue. Often today, many refer to a dog as alpha when she’s really just pushy and arrogant, growing and biting. That just means the dog has bad manners and isn’t well-trained. That doesn’t automatically make her the “natural leader” or an alpha dog. And she’s certainly not calm and confident, something dogs tend to revere the most and respect in their leader. Very often when a dog growls when he is fearful, weak or startled.
The dog’s ancestors respected the “alpha dog” often because of his calmness and confidence. When your dog growls or bites you, he is not being an “alpha”—he is merely showing you that he doesn’t respect you. So how do you instill that confidence? One good way is to conduct several basic obedience sessions. That will both bond you and establish you as the “leader” at the same time.
The other way is to always stay calm, collected and firm. When your dog is misbehaving, he’s really taking matters into his own hands. When you yell or behave in an excitable manner, he’ll just mimic that behavior. If, however, you are very firm and consistent as the house rules, he’ll know exactly what’s expected of him—and will rely on you to tend to matters.