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Hi everyone I was wondering if anyone could answer this question that has been on the back of my mind for sometime. Have you ever met a true alpha dog? If so how could you tell it was really an alpha and not some posturing beta?


I know this question is predicated on existence of alpha behavior in dogs which experts have debunked. I'm not saying that the experts are wrong but I do believe that some form of leadership exists among animal groups and I would not preclude the possibility of it extending to even feral dogs. The purpose of this question isn't to spark a debate on the existence of hierarchy amongst dogs or animals.


So if I have to rephrase the question without the alpha word, it would be have you ever met a dog that was clearly a leader amongst its own kind? If so how could you tell?
 

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I don't believe in all of the 'be alpha over your dog' stuff, I do however believe that some dogs are very clearly the leaders in a group of dogs.

I have 3 dogs and my roommates have 2, so when they're outside, they form a small pack, and Chess is 100% the leader. She is in charge, gets first pick on sleeping spots and water and anything else. She also guards the property, while the others just follow her and watch. If she goes inside though, Echo doesn't know what to do and alarm barks at everything coming past the yard. But when Chess goes back outside, they follow Chess and let her do the barking/protecting, since she's the only one that is actually protective, and the others just set off an alarm. They all watch Chess to see what they should be doing, and it's obvious they see her as the leader.
 

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Hmm that's interesting but does Chess' behavior change when she's at the dog park or is it still the same? Was there any difference in attitude during her obedience training compared to your other dogs?
 

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I think some dogs tend to be assertive and some dogs tend to be deferential.

But it's not static. That is, rather than always being an "alpha" or "leader" dog as an inherent personality fixture, a dog may be assertive in one context or with some dogs and deferential in another context or with other dogs.

I've never met a dog who was always assertive in every context with all other dogs. It doesn't seem like a very desirable trait in a social animal where avoiding or de-escalating conflict is useful for everyone's survival.
 

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Chess tends to be in charge wherever she goes. Not in an aggressive way, but she wants her space and she gets it. She doesn't go after every dog she sees, but she won't tolerate any rude or pushy behavior. And yes, it does become an issue sometimes.
 

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Chess tends to be in charge wherever she goes. Not in an aggressive way, but she wants her space and she gets it. She doesn't go after every dog she sees, but she won't tolerate any rude or pushy behavior. And yes, it does become an issue sometimes.
See, I wouldn't call that 'being in charge' at all - just the opposite, in fact. If I close my door and don't open it to visitors, that doesn't make me 'in charge', it makes me shy, introverted or maybe someone with social anxiety. I'd say that Chessa simply lets the other dogs know she likes her space, and the other dogs are politely responding to her communication.
 

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I don't believe in all of the 'be alpha over your dog' stuff, I do however believe that some dogs are very clearly the leaders in a group of dogs.

I have 3 dogs and my roommates have 2, so when they're outside, they form a small pack, and Chess is 100% the leader. She is in charge, gets first pick on sleeping spots and water and anything else. .
I would be really interested to know how you've determined that she gets first pick on sleeping spots/water/anything else? When I watch our dogs in the yard, they all seem to have 'preferred' spots, although to my human mind, none of them is preferable to another. :)
 

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So if I have to rephrase the question without the alpha word, it would be have you ever met a dog that was clearly a leader amongst its own kind? If so how could you tell?
Among feral dog groups, it's been shown that it's the friendliest dog that the other dogs will follow.
Who Needs an Alpha? Dogs Follow the Friendly | Pet Behavior
Hey thanks for sharing the article it was definitely thought provoking!

But to put your comment in context, dogs following the friendliest dog in a group isn't exactly a given.

According to the article, "While some feral dog groups have a dominance hierarchy that predicts priority to food and mates, this hierarchy is not as strict as in wolves. "

No doubt dogs behave differently from wolves and I'd argue that there is still that dog leading the pack of them and I'm curious as to what's that like as a pet animal?
 

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Chess tends to be in charge wherever she goes. Not in an aggressive way, but she wants her space and she gets it. She doesn't go after every dog she sees, but she won't tolerate any rude or pushy behavior. And yes, it does become an issue sometimes.
See, I wouldn't call that 'being in charge' at all - just the opposite, in fact. If I close my door and don't open it to visitors, that doesn't make me 'in charge', it makes me shy, introverted or maybe someone with social anxiety. I'd say that Chessa simply lets the other dogs know she likes her space, and the other dogs are politely responding to her communication.
Ok so my question then is has there been a case where two well socialized dogs that understood canine body language within a reasonable degree ended up fighting?

Are most dog fights from poor social skills and lack of socialization? What else causes them?
 

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I think some dogs tend to be assertive and some dogs tend to be deferential.

But it's not static. That is, rather than always being an "alpha" or "leader" dog as an inherent personality fixture, a dog may be assertive in one context or with some dogs and deferential in another context or with other dogs.

I've never met a dog who was always assertive in every context with all other dogs. It doesn't seem like a very desirable trait in a social animal where avoiding or de-escalating conflict is useful for everyone's survival.

i understand what your saying. You suggest that some dogs tend to be assertive while others deferential which seems to imply a dog could be predominantly assertive in terms of personality and yet still be deferential based on their situation.

I would agree that it wouldn't be useful for a social animal to possess a fixed assertive attitude rather than a fluid one but it seems logical to conclude that dogs are equal parts assertive and deferential.

That just doesn't convince me or I'm understanding ur argument wrongly which I highly think it's the latter.
 

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Ok so my question then is has there been a case where two well socialized dogs that understood canine body language within a reasonable degree ended up fighting?
I would think so. Dogs have personalities, moods and emotions similar to people, though their moods/emotions tend to be less complex than humans according to what science has discovered so far. So just as a generally well-balanced, friendly and socially adept person can have a bad day and end up arguing or fighting, so can dogs.

Are most dog fights from poor social skills and lack of socialization? What else causes them?
I think most dog fights are from human mismanagement, at least as far as 'pet' dog fights are concerned. The dogs may be communicating just fine, but humans misinterpret or insist on two dogs interacting when they've made it as clear as they can that they don't care for each other. Or humans who accidentally teach their pet dogs that they need to 'guard' their valuable items, whether it's their dinner dish or a toy. Take away the human element, and I think most pet dogs are much more able to avoid having conflict escalate to an actual fight.

This isn't to say that fights won't happen, of course. Food resource guarding is a natural behavior of dogs and even more natural when they aren't being fed regularly. Food is worth fighting over, so in a dog's natural state I would expect to see fights happening over food even if exemplary dog language is employed. Same with mates, or territory.

The more confident a dog is, the less likely that dog is to get into a fight under any circumstances. My dog is very fearful of new things, whether objects or dogs; if he sees something that concerns him, he stands up straighter, raises his tail and head and watches closely. Some people have identified this stance as 'dominant' or 'protective'; in reality, it's pretty damn rude at least as far as other dogs are concerned. A confident dog, on being approached by my dog in such a manner would turn his head and avoid eye contact, perhaps pretend to sniff something on the ground, and generally work to de-escalate the situation. A less confident dog will respond in kind, and engender something of a Mexican stand-off.

In my opinion, trying to see dogs as anything but individuals and interactions as separate events is a mistake. If one were to see my dog Boone, and my BF's dog Tara interact outside the house, they'd probably think Tara was dominant, if they were inclined to that line of thought. She approaches him at will, she sniffs him even though his body language suggests he doesn't really like this, she puts her head over his back when trying to entice him to play; she chases him away from the humans especially if she thinks treats might be forthcoming. But inside the house, one might see that Boone is in 'in charge'. Tara moves out of his way, and he can keep her out of the bedroom and off the bed with just a look; he's taught her not to 'finish' off his dinner for him until a certain amount of time has passed; as near as I can tell, that's 20 or 30 minutes.

What I think is going on is that Tara has poor dog skills and is somewhat rude; Boone puts up with this when they are out playing because he lives with her and accepts her as she is, and in the grand scheme of life, these things aren't worth fighting about. However, the two or three things he wants he *really* wants, and Tara has learned to respect that.

I think the big mistake in looking for signs of 'alpha' or 'leadership' is that people will tend to put a dog into a role that just might not be accurate. If someone has an inaccurate view of their dog, then they may make serious mistakes in terms of training and interacting.
 

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Chess is very well socialized and gets along well with dogs that interact nicely. When we go on trail rides, we often have 4-8 dogs come with us. Normally Chess is in the lead, and anytime she alerts to something, all the dogs go with her. They're all very attuned to her. I'm not saying she would always be in charge in every situation, but she has a draw that other dogs follow.

In the yard, there's one (human) porch chair. If Chess wants it, she gets it, and if someone else is up there, she jumps up and they jump down. She can be a bully and a RG'er sometimes, and it's annoying, but beyond that she does seem to be accepted as something of a leader.
 

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No doubt dogs behave differently from wolves and I'd argue that there is still that dog leading the pack of them and I'm curious as to what's that like as a pet animal?
I think to whatever degree the 'pack' holds sway in pet dogs, it's the humans who are the 'pack leaders', since by default they have access to everything - food, water, outside access.

Because my dog came from a multi-generational feral/wild dog pack in a third world country, I've done as much free research as I can into how dogs behave in social groups. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, but generally speaking, there are a group of dogs inhabiting a territory, and they'll set the territory boundaries through barking/displays of force rather than outright fighting. Within this larger group, smaller groups of three to five "friendships" can form, as well as pairs and singles. Still the group is very fluid, and only loosely organized - more like a neighborhood where some neighbors are great friends, and other neighbors barely know each other, and individuals move in and out of the neighborhood. Some of the neighbors are more touchy, some are more easy-going. Perhaps the touchier one appears to get things his/her way more often, but it's not because they're a 'leader', but because the other neighbors are simply more easy going and consider getting along more important than getting ahead. When something really important to another individual comes up, the 'touchy' neighbor may find him/herself completely over-ruled.

How this translates to a family pet dog is that a family pet has no need to fight for resources, since they are supplied. Dogs aren't generally looking for conflict of a physical nature; they prefer displays to actual fighting. They are essentially wired to get along with other individuals as much as possible. Note also that in contrast to wolves, dogs will almost always choose human companions in preference to other dogs almost from birth. So not only are dogs wired to 'get along', they're specifically wired to form bonds with people in preference to other dogs. By default, in a dog's world, people are 'leaders'.

What happens between canines within a home is, I believe, not attributable to any kind of 'inherent instinct' to form packs, or set hierarchy; it's a function of the various dogs' personality and situation. A dog can be both confident and friendly and have other dogs follow his/her example or achieve the same thing by being a bully and unnecessarily aggressive.

I really think @sassafras pretty much nailed it.
 

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Chess is very well socialized and gets along well with dogs that interact nicely. When we go on trail rides, we often have 4-8 dogs come with us. Normally Chess is in the lead, and anytime she alerts to something, all the dogs go with her. They're all very attuned to her. I'm not saying she would always be in charge in every situation, but she has a draw that other dogs follow.
Its funny to watch my dog and Tara interact; Boone will be in the bedroom, and in the living room, Tara will bark at something outside; Boone comes racing out of the bedroom- already barking and ready to defend - albeit no idea what he's about to defend against. Same when they're out in the yard playing. But again, it's not so much because Tara is a 'leader', but more than that for Boone the sky is always about to fall, so he's instantly ready for that. Tara is less enthusiastic in terms of following Boone's barking lead, but she does do so. Does Chessa ever follow other dog's leads when they bark?


In the yard, there's one (human) porch chair. If Chess wants it, she gets it, and if someone else is up there, she jumps up and they jump down. She can be a bully and a RG'er sometimes, and it's annoying, but beyond that she does seem to be accepted as something of a leader.
It does sound as if Chessa is a little higher on the 'assertive' scale as suggested by @sassafras. Do you also consider her able to de-escalate situations, or to reassure a socially anxious dog that she's safe? Dogs who can do that are really the 'leaders' in my opinion. :)

It's great that you recognize Chessa for who she is, too. A bit of a bully at times, but well enough liked that the other dogs in her group are willing to follow her lead, right? :)
 

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According to the article, "While some feral dog groups have a dominance hierarchy that predicts priority to food and mates, this hierarchy is not as strict as in wolves."
The definition of dominance when it comes to animals is basically in regards to securing resources. Wild wolves, when different packs do bump into each other, very rarely enter into scuffles over things like territory, food, and sex.

That article is seriously innacurate in that statement, seeing as wolves don't actually have any sort of hierarchy. What we call "alpha" wolves are merely the sire and dam of ever other wolf in the pack. The only reason they tend to eat first is in order to obtain food to give to their youngest pups. There are hardly ever, if any, fights for resources within a pack because it would break down the family system. There are never fights for breeding rights within a pack because only the parents are active in breeding and the rest are all siblings (and instinctively know not to inbreed). Individuals do split off from their family and develop their own family groups.
 

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Ok so my question then is has there been a case where two well socialized dogs that understood canine body language within a reasonable degree ended up fighting?

Are most dog fights from poor social skills and lack of socialization? What else causes them?
When I moved to the country my neighbors had a GSD, named Lady, that they had rescued. I brought my 2 dogs a terrier mix named Shadow, and a Chow Chow mix named Jersey. All the dogs were well socialized both to dogs and people, Lady was wary of people and very shy when it came to them. Jersey was a bit leary of people, and Shadow was good with them.

Lady and Jersey decided it was hate at first sight and would fight if given a chance, BUT it was mostly noise neither of them every came away with bloody wounds, us humans did our best to keep them apart. One day, seemingly out of the blue, they worked out their differences and thereafter they were the best of friends, where one was there the other would be, and it was that way until Lady passed away a few years later.

Lady was the alpha (leader) of the duo, even though when it came to humans she was fearful and seemingly timid. Lady would decide where they were going and Jersey would follow. Now at home Jersey was neither leader nor follower, Shadow, while neither of the girls would follow him, would not follow them.
 

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I agree with Sassafras.

Cosmo can be incredibly over bearing in specific situations (although I'm not quite sure what triggers it) but if a dog shows behaviors like that towards him, especially if they're bigger than him he's instantly defensive and tucks his butt and hides under me like a big baby.
 

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i understand what your saying. You suggest that some dogs tend to be assertive while others deferential which seems to imply a dog could be predominantly assertive in terms of personality and yet still be deferential based on their situation.
Yes, I'm saying that an individual dog may have more of a tendency to be assertive, but that doesn't mean they are always assertive across the board.

I would agree that it wouldn't be useful for a social animal to possess a fixed assertive attitude rather than a fluid one but it seems logical to conclude that dogs are equal parts assertive and deferential.
I'm not connecting the dots between the first part of this sentence and the second? Could you elaborate?
 

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Hi there. I definitely have an alpha female. She needs to be boss with all interactions with other dogs. She came from the SPCA at 4 months and I socialized and trained her. This behaviour didn't show right away but grew as she matured. She is great with male dogs and can put them in their place too but when we are around other females it is most certainly a fight. She will let other dogs in the house but they are not allowed to touch her toys or food dishes - even if she isn't using them. I thought it was aggressive behaviour until I researched and confirmed it with a vet. She isn't aggressive but needs to be the boss. She also tries to be alpha here at home as well but that behaviour is nipped in the bud with a look or word cause she knows that i am her alpha.
 
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