Alpha-Dog, Alpha-Wolf, Alpha-Male: Alpha-What?

Posted: March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

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The concept of “Alpha” is a point of contention in many circles. I will do my best to try and explain why.

What are words?

As we communicate with one another, we often forget that words are logical constructs. They create pictures, notions, beliefs, feelings, etc. in our brains. The very same word can have a different meaning depending on the age of the speaker/listener, context, gender, cultural background, etc. Here are two examples.

Imagine two people speaking with one another. One is very young, the other very old. Say a teen and his grandma in her 90s. The word “gay” will most likely have a different meaning and create a different logical construct in their respective minds. To the teen, the word “gay” means homosexual, to his grandma, the word ‘gay” means happy.  Same word, different age, different logical construct.

How bout we send two people at a cheese tasting event.

The phrase “I got to get me some cheddar” would be taken to mean “I got to get a particular kind of cheese”. In almost any other context, the same phrase would be taken to mean “I got to get me some money”.  Same word/phrase, different context, different logical construct.

What word or phrase has different meaning based on the gender? Can you think of other examples?

In dog training circles, the term “Alpha-dog” is interpreted differently by different people. Because it’s interpreted differently there is a lot of contention as to the validity of the Alpha-dog/wolf/male concept.

To some, the term “Alpha” creates a logical construct of a high-school football quarterback, bull-headed CEO, drill sergeant, etc. Some words that might describe these constructs would be single-minded, aggressive, strong-handed, loud, full-tilt, angry, mean and nasty, inconsiderate, etc.

These constructs are exactly the wrong kind of mind-set to bring into a dog training session.

If you are the kind of person who creates this particular construct in your mind when you hear the term “alpha”, then by all means, you shouldn’t get on board with the concept of pack leader, alpha-dog/wolf/male, pack hierarchy and other related notions.

However, there is another way to interpret the term “alpha”.

Imagine a teacher walking into a classroom for the first time. New teacher, new students, new classroom.  We can all imagine a teacher who has exhibited “alpha” characteristics mentioned above. This teacher operates from the position of fear and overcompensates by appearing aggressive, loud, angry, etc. We can imagine this teacher because we’ve had such a teacher.

So instead, let’s endow our teacher (we will call him Ben) with different kind of characteristics and see if he can be “alpha”.

The mind-set Ben takes is not self-centered. It is instead projected outward. Ben knows that his posture and tone of voice will affect the mood of the students (or dogs for that matter). Ben considers it his responsibility to create an environment maximally conducive to learning. His goal is to put the students at ease, elevate their mood, and create a positive flow of information exchange.

Ben will accomplish this with an open and confident posture, a smile, an inviting demeanor, and even eye contact. Most importantly, he will approach this situation with the right kind of intention.

Sidenote: Direct eye contact is considered a sign of aggression in dog world; however, there is a difference in the aggressive stare and a kind, warm gaze. The dog knows the difference.

From the outside looking in, Ben’s classroom is his, he is undoubtedly the leader of that particular pack, and he is not aggressive, and not angry. In fact, his objective is to accomplish tranquility and balance in his environment. This in many people’s minds is what makes him alpha. The breeding wolf (alpha-wolf) displays the same type of behavior towards his pack as Ben displays towards his students as we can display towards our dog.

This by the way doesn’t make Ben soft. Just like his wolfy counterpart, Ben can protect the pack (the way a good manager shields his employees from corporate politics for example), act decisively if and when necessary and enforce order through cooperation. Not intimidation and fear.

That is what alpha-dog/wolf/male means to the rest. Both logical constructs are difficult to define but we know them when we see them, right? Hitler was the first kind of alpha-male; Buddha and Jesus were the second kind of alpha-male.

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Posted via web from Dogan Dogs Video Blogs

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