The Dog Delusion, Part 2. The Alfa Dog Myth

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Continuing in this series of debunking common myths about dogs, we arrive at a misconception so common, it is ubiquitous:

The Alpha Dog

The dog pack is all about hierarchy. There is the number one dog, number two dog and so on. If you are not on top, you are on the bottom, just ask any dog trainer. Everyone knows that, right? Well not really.

Most of the evidence about groups of doges comes from studying groups of wolves. Wolves do have strong group hierarchy, but now, with the help of the folks at the Duke Canine Cognition Center we are learning just how different wolves and dogs are.

If you observe a group of wild dogs interacting with each other – Australian dingoes for example, you will be surprised to discover that the dog the rest of the group follows is not the biggest or the strongest. In fact, it is the friendliest dog of the group – the one with most social connections. This makes perfect evolutionary sense with humans selecting the most compliant and ‘socially adjusted’ animals.

What’s interesting, is the implication this has for dog obedience training. The ‘social engagement’ approach – giving the dog social stimulation as a reward, may be more beneficial then the ‘I am the boss’ approach. Just don’t tell Cesar Millan I told you that.

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About Dr Vadim Chelom

Dr Vadim Chelom is a Registered Veterinarian, a writer and an educator

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