Guest Post: I Am Not an Alpha Dog

There is resurgence in dog training circles emphasizing dominance. The central belief of this type of training is that a wolf pack, which is essentially what a dog has descended from, has an alpha male leader and the remainder of the pack act as followers.

Cathy's dog Cora shows signs of having been trained using dominance in her previous life. She wouldn't walk ahead of people, and she cowered a lot more than she does now.

This alpha dog theory uses a technique that I personally find revolting. It involves pinning the dog down when he or she is misbehaving or is behaving in such a manner that you, the “alpha,” do not approve of. If you were to ask a wolf about pinning, no doubt he would tell you it is a very serious display of dominance. Other acts, such as looking directly into the eyes of a dog (intimidating) or grabbing a dog by the scruff of the neck (as their mothers did), exhibit similar intent.

Allie Dawn (currently up for adoption through TAGS) has an abusive past. She has lots of fear built in her and is relatively slow to trust. Using dominance techniques on her would likely cause her to regress further into those traits.








The issue I have with this school of thought is that it does not actually achieve the desired effect. Yes, it may stop the dog from barking at the door or doing something else you deem “unacceptable.” However, in my view, it is not an actual training method. Essentially, you are scaring your dog into stopping the action.

Real dog training, on the other hand, involves teaching the dog to sit and stay back of the door when people knock. It is better than essentially threatening your dog’s well-being. While a threat may not be your intention, that is the way dogs view dominant acts. If you don’t believe me, feel free to go out and try staring down a wolf.

Most important, you are the one person in this world that the dog can trust. And here you are, in its eyes, threatening its life by holding it against the floor by its neck.

An adorable girl from a puppy mill in southern Ontario, Sophia is a happy-go-lucky dog who is discovering many things for the first time. Dominating a dog like her could cause some idiosyncrasies to develop, primarily fear of just about everything.

So do dogs “trained” by this dominance school of thought walk around understanding what they can or cannot do? Do they understand what rooms they can walk into? which couches they can sit on? where they can eliminate?

While I cannot have an actual conversation with these dogs, I believe they simply walk around in fear of doing the “wrong” thing.

Dogs were created by humans for specific uses—be it retrieving, ratting, hunting, or entertaining, they have an innate drive to please you. So why not put them to work? That, I believe, will be for them a happy life.

4 Responses to Guest Post: I Am Not an Alpha Dog

  • Ashley says:

    Great post Nick!

    I truly agree – positive reinforcement and stimulation will lead to a much happier dog than fear and negative reactions to the dog’s action!

  • Julie says:


  • M-E Girard says:

    Great post. It’s kind of what some parents to to their kids also, isn’t it? Acting like the boss, instilling fear, making the child/dog walk on egg shells. My Toopy behaved that way when I got him, and still reverts to that on and off. It’s awful because these puppies aren’t going to grow into English-speaking humans who will work to understand why they were treated that way and learn to process it–they’re just afraid, forever.

    • Nick Iordanis says:

      Totally agree. Dictator parents are the exact same thing. You really see their personality come out when they begin to trust you. I absolutely agree, they will not grow into English-speaking humans who will look back when they are older and understand what happened. Glad to hear someone is on the same page as me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *