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Using The Alpha Method To Train Your Dog

Updated on May 13, 2012

I am told by a certain writer on HubPages that using the Alpha Method to train dogs is not only obsolete, but inhumane and dangerous. According to this person, dogs are not pack animals. Perhaps the structure of a dog pack is not quite the same as that of a wolf pack, but dogs are social animals, and they instinctively know that there is safety in numbers as well as larger prey, meaning more food. That is why dogs that go feral form a pack, for companionship, for protection and for food. Any time you have a group, be it human or animal, there is some type of leader in that group. In dogs as in wolves, that leader is what we humans term "Alpha". This canine or pair of canines exhibits more dominance than the others, is stronger. The rest of the pack looks to the leader or leaders to tell them where and when to hunt as well as what to hunt. In a home environment, a dog looks to its owner for the security and guidance it would get in a pack. When that security and guidance are lacking, the dog is anxious and may show aggression.

I recently lost a dog I had had for ten years. I helped her into this world and I comforted her as she left it. I was her pack leader. She would often ask my permission to eat or drink, or wait for my permission, and that is not something I taught her to do. She was part coyote and part German Shepherd Dog. From her earliest days, I encouraged her to think for herself. I think perhaps some people do not understand what it means to be "Alpha" or pack leader. They believe it means using force to train your dog. Anyone who understands dogs (and wolves) understands that such thinking is wrong. Delta knew that I would never harm her or put her in a position to be harmed. She trusted me. She obeyed me because it made her happy to please me. One night, she chose not to obey me. There was an intruder, and he was drunk. She kept barking and I told her to go to the house. Somehow she understood what I really needed. She quit barking and went about 20 feet away and lay down and watched us. On another occasion I wanted to chase the horses away from the yard. I called her to come help. It was very hot outside, and what I wanted was not necessary, she chose to stay in the shade of the trailer. I realized that if I wanted her to think for herself, I must accept her choice now as I did on that night. She knew when something was necessary or not and when it was she ALWAYS obeyed me. There is a great deal that Delta learned that I never taught her. I never used force on her, and yet, because I was her leader she showed me respect. There is a myth that dogs do not like to be hugged. Dogs who do not or cannot trust their owners, will be anxious about being hugged, especially by children. Dogs who have learned that they can trust their owners, especially when they have been properly socialized as pups, not only like to be hugged, they seek them out. The dog I have now will put his head between my arm and body asking for a hug. Delta would lay her chin on my shoulder and press her head against mine in a hug. Parents don't teach their children to respect an animals right to eat and sleep undisturbed or his right to private space and time. They allow their children to hit the dog or cat and I have even seen children riding around on a dog like it was a horse. Dogs are not horses. They do not have backs built to take the strain of someone, even as light as a child, sitting on it's back.

So, what does it mean to be "Alpha" or pack leader to your dog? It means protecting them, guiding (training) them, loving them and providing for their needs. Dogs thrive when they have structure, when there is someone to lead them that they can trust. Just as human children thrive with structure and authority, and knowing they can trust their parents. Being "Alpha" does not mean striking your dog for wrong doing. It is possible to correct wrong behaviour with just the tone of your voice or even a growl, when you know what you are doing, you are leader, and the dog trusts you. Dogs ARE pack animals. Simply put, they prefer to be in a group rather than trying to survive on their own.

There are different ways to train a dog, some better than others. But to discount the "Alpha Method" as obsolete is not only wrong but it is a mistake. Yes, there are people who do not understand how to train using this method and so they end up abusing their dog, but then, these same people will end up abusing their dogs anyway regardless of the method they use because they can't understand dogs. It is like a whip in horse training. Those who can't understand horses believe the whip is used to correct unwanted behaviour in the horse, while those who can understand them know the whip is an extension of your arm, used to guide the horse not punish it.

I have spent many years observing cats and dogs, the way they interact with humans and each other. Just because someone wrote a book does not make them an expert on the subject they write about. I will never believe that dogs don't like to be hugged, nor will I believe they are not pack animals. And as far as I am concerned, the best way to train a dog is using the "Alpha Method", but only if you understand what that really means.

EDIT;"" I am a professional dog trainer. tlmcgaa is a pet owner who thinks she knows something about dogs, but is very misinformed.""

The above is from the Hubber who told me dogs are not pack animals...So I would like to share some reasons why I believe they are. When Delta was 2 yrs old, she was attacked by a pack of 4 dogs, 3 males and one female. The males were subordinate to the female. Normally, a male dog will not attack a female dog, but when the female attacked Delta, the three males followed her and joined the fight. That means the female was "Pack leader". The first dog to break away was the female chow, then the male lab, then finally the 2 German Shepherd Dogs. When Delta returned to me she had blood on her but no injuries. In our family unit, I was Pack Leader and Delta was my second in command. She was an "Alpha" dog. During her life with us, e had several dogs come and go. She kept order amongst them. If any of them squabbled she immediately broke it up, she did not allow fighting. If there was one thing Delta was afraid of, it was little puppies. They terrified her. One day I rescued a little puppy from a parking lot. Luckily she was old enough not to scare Delta, but Delta wasn't happy with me or the puppy. But as with the cats and every other animal I had, because she loved me, she tolerated them. She growled at the puppy to make her settle down, and when we got home, she immediately distanced herself from it. At the time, we had a rescued wolf mix that had been shot in the leg. For his own safety we kept him tied up. The puppy had wandered over to him and felt she was safe as the wolf dog appeared to be laying at the end of his leash. He wasn't. He was laying a few inches shy of it. When the pup got close enough, he came roaring off the ground, sending the puppy scrambling backwards yelping. I am sure he did not intend to harm the puppy, it was a joke to scare it. But before I could even move, Delta came flying across the yard and slammed into the wolf dog, completely throwing him off his feet. So even in a home environment, our dogs showed a pack structure.

The dogs in the village near me form packs, even though they are owned by humans. It is a common sight to see six or eight dogs chasing a lone dog and attacking it. There is a pack of feral dogs that takes down calves every spring here. One day my neighbors granddaughter was waiting for the bus when she looked and saw standing across the road a large GSD, just standing there staring at her. Since most of the dogs are friendly here, she did not feel fear and even talked to it. Then something made her look to the side and she saw a second GSD standing a few feet away, also staring at her. She turned to look around her and saw a third dog staring at her. She believes that had a car not come along just then, they would have attacked her. When the car passed, the dogs were gone. These dogs were hunting in a pack and working as a team to take down their prey. When I was young, living in Arizona, there was a large pack of feral dogs, around twenty dogs, and they would attack humans as well as livestock. My mom was chased when she was young and living on the Mojave Desert, by a large pack of feral dogs, numbering around 15.

I may be "just a pet owner", but I understand animals. When I was living in Az, I could walk anywhere in the small town I lived in and not fear the dogs, stray or owned. Only 2 dogs kept me at a distance, and they were chows trained as guard dogs. I respected that and left them alone. I made friends with every other dog in town, including a pair of Rottweilers guarding a junk yard. I would always stop and sit beside their fence and talk with them, and they would press their noses through the chain link trying to lick me. I have always had a gift with animals, they trust me instinctively. Because of my deep love for them, I have spent the bigger part of my life observing them and their ways. No, I am not a "professional" dog trainer. But I also don't think much of so called professionals who deny the obvious. A doctor is a professional healer, but when they deny such things as Fibromyalgia existing, then it shows they are close minded, which in my book lowers their intelligence. In this case, the obvious is that dogs ARE pack animals, and when they form groups they are lead by a pack leader. Alpha means first. An Alpha, be it dog or human, simply means leader. In the world of humans, the President might be considered Alpha, as he is the leader. He (and his cabinet, senators and such) makes the laws and sees that they are enforced. In a dog pack, the leader lays down the pack rules and keeps order, not by thrashing the subordinates, but in using body language and growls. They discipline the rule breaker without harming them. Dogs fight when their role is challenged, and they can kill each other doing so, but they don't fight just to fight. Sometimes a dominant dog will enforce his role, seemingly more than he needs to, and we call him a bully. There are 2 reasons for this...One is that as humans we miss out on a lot of subtle body language, we don't see what the dominant dog sees. His behaviour towards the other dog may have been warranted. The other reason is that animals, like humans, can have emotional issues. A dog who does not have stability and security in his life is prone to taking that anxiety out on other dogs where he would never do so in a wild environment. Such a dog is being told by the owner that the owner is Alpha, leader, yet the owner doesn't act like the leader. This forces the dog to play Alpha role while being told he isn't Alpha. This can be very confusing to him.

Anyway, the above shows why I believe dogs are indeed pack animals, needing the security and structure of a pack in their lives. Deprive them of it and you will get dogs with problems.


Submit a Comment

  • tlmcgaa70 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from south dakota, usa

    Mary615, i am glad you enjoyed reading it, and thank you for the votes and comment. i will have to go check out your hubs. thank you and have a wonderful day

  • mary615 profile image

    Mary Hyatt 

    6 years ago from Florida

    I enjoyed this read very much. You have a common sense approach to dogs and their behavior. I am a devoted dog owner, and have written several Hubs about my Miniature Schnauzer and Shih-Tzu. I met you on another Hub about Alpha training of dogs, and liked what you said there. I vote this Hub UP, etc.etc.

  • tlmcgaa70 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from south dakota, usa

    thank you Dawn, i still miss my Delta, she left a huge hole where she used to be in my life. my new dog is coming along very well, he is very smart and willing to learn. thank you for stopping in to read this and for leaving a comment. have a great night.

  • Dawnrichard profile image


    6 years ago

    tlmcgaa70 Sorry to listen that you dog is no more now and i wish you will be able to train your new dog very quickly with your words. Nice hub and good to see you again.


  • tlmcgaa70 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from south dakota, usa

    thank you Arrowgreen. Actually, i don't have her anymore, she passed away in January, one day before my birthday. she was the best dog ever. thank you for stopping by and for leaving a comment, have a great day.

  • arrowgreen profile image


    6 years ago from Philippines

    you have a cute dog..

  • tlmcgaa70 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from south dakota, usa

    Thank you Kashmir56 for the comment and votes. it is good to see you again. I am glad to hear that you feel the same as I do about this topic. You must have very happy well adjusted dogs. have a great day.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    6 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi tlmcgaa i also agree with everything you have written here in your hub,well done !

    Vote up and more !!!

  • tlmcgaa70 profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from south dakota, usa

    exactly, AllBreeds...i always find it ironic when someone says something, such as a certain method of training, does not work when the dog or horse you trained using that method proves otherwise. thank you for stopping by to read and comment on this topic. have a great night.

  • allbreeds profile image


    6 years ago from Adelaide,Australia

    great hub timcgaa70. thoroughly agree with you. The so called" new age trainers" who keep claiming that just because a method or a theory is old it doesn't work any more.I didn't realize dog training technique had a use by date ??

    Using the word obsolete almost implies that its outdated and there are better ways ?? I'm still looking and waiting for a better way that isn't obsolete BUT works the same or better than what i do now and give me better results . I am yet have to find one. Call me old call me obsolete i dont care ...All i want is to see the dogs.They dont lie


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