Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | July 15, 2009

Dog Parents Vs Alpha II

Amy prefers Parent to Alpha

Amy prefers Parent to Alpha

Two weeks ago the Second Chance Humane Society Pet Column explored a new way of thinking about dog training based upon Temple Grandin’s new book, Animals Make Us Human.  Grandin introduced research identifying that in the wild wolves do not naturally function through wolf packs structured by dominance hierarchies but from peaceful family units.  We were left wondering whether dogs might be better suited to live with parental figures rather than alpha pack leaders?  (See the Second Chance website,, to review previous Pet Columns.)

The answer to this inquiry is complicated further by the fact that dogs are essentially juvenile wolves.  What is meant by this is that genetically, dogs went through a form of arrested development (called pedomorphosis) in the process of evolving from wolves to the domesticated dog.  The mere physical appearance of most dogs, which maintains a youthful puppyish appearance, is testimony to this pedomorphosis.

In fact studies have shown that, with a few exceptions, the less “wolfy” in appearance dogs are the less wolf behaviors they display.  For instance the facial features of the Cavalier King Charles, which maintains a puppy-like appearance through adulthood, display the least wolf-like behaviors (note that these behaviors are not considered bad attributes as they cover both aggressive and submissive behaviors) of the breeds studied.  (The Siberian Husky, a very “wolfy”-looking dog, displays the most wolf-like behaviors.)

So does the reality that dogs are juvenile wolves which, in their natural state, are raised in a family rather than a pack mean that you should throw out your training books on establishing an alpha role with your dogs?  Does it mean you should no longer watch The Dog Whisperer?

The conclusion to this inquiry was quite agreeable to the philosophy of the Pet Column.  Yes, dogs are like adolescents and need to be treated as such, not necessarily because they will step into the alpha role if you don’t, but like any adolescent – they will become out of control and unruly if they are not provided with clear boundaries and rules of acceptable behaviors. 

Juvenile humans and dogs need good parents that set limits and teach their children how to behave properly.  So whether you consider yourself a dog alpha or a dog parent, your dog will never become a true adult thinker and you need to maintain clear limits for their lifetime.  You have to be in charge or you will find you have an out of control juvenile ruling the household.  And parents who meet with the best success, with both children and pets, know that being firm does not mean you have to use physical punishment.

My name is Amy, a young yet very well mannered girl here at the Second Chance Shelter.  I do have some very “petite wolfish” looks and consider myself to be more of a “responsible and mature” juvenile wolf who would transition well into any household.  My easy going demeanor lends a calming effect upon the more rambunctious dogs here at the shelter and my “travel-sized” and athletic physique make me the perfect family/outdoor-lover’s dog.

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other Programs.  Visit our shelter pets online:  Direct Pet Column questions to:  kelly@secondchancehumanesociety.orgPhoto by Real Life Photographs.


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