Alpha dog

Hello Everyone,

Recently we had the heartbreaking event of losing a beloved dog, Carson. We had three dogs, Carson the Australian Sheppard, Gunner the Great Dane, and Oreo the Pomeranian. Carson was the Alpha dog when he was here, eating first and keeping the other dogs in line. Since Carson’s disappearance we adopted another dog from the local pound, Alvin a Bernese Mountain Dog. Gunner has stepped up and become Alpha, although a very kind and gentle one. He is firm when needed, but seems to be a mentor to the others.

So, my wife and I were just talking about seeing the transition to Alpha happen and I have a question. If a male alpha dog has a son, does the dad stay Alpha until he passes away or will the son become Alpha when he becomes the strongest dog? Meaning, does the position of being dad dog always mean that he will be the son dog’s Alpha? Do dogs respect family like humans do? Also, are female dogs ever Alpha dog over the males? (Good knows that in my family my wife is in charge and would be considered Alpha! I’m real good at saying “yes Mam”! Of course she has more sense than me and without her I would be lost. Somehow I managed to marry the sweetest, smartest and most beautiful woman in the world. How did I get this lucky?!)

Humans tend to overestimate and misunderstand dominance in dogs.

That said, “alpha” is a position earned (or lost) entirely by an individual dog; it has nothing to do with inherited position.

I don’t think all dogs are born as potential alphas. It’s a combination of personality and circumstances. And within a family that includes people they don’t really occupy the top spot.

What Sailboat said. “Dominance” is a pretty fluid concept within a pack of canines and in any healthy group, it’s all about avoiding conflict. Dogs don’t respect family in terms of position. And dogs (males) arte typically much more cooperative than bitches. Male dogs will fight and posture with a great deal of sturm and drang, but it’s often about show. Bitches are more likely to fight to kill. Your Gunner seems to be doing it right!

Also, female dogs are usually the “alpha” dog in any group. I have a 110 lb, very dominant male Rottweiler, a sweet-natured 80-lb male black Lab, and a 27 lb terrier cross bitch, who totally rules them both. But of course, and this should go without saying, the humans in the household are the ones that actually rule.

Also a teeny nit-pick. It’s shepHERD, not “sheppard.” As in a HERDing dog. :slight_smile:

You are making the mistake of assuming that the alpha dog’s male progeny automatically becomes alpha at some point. Not so. An alpha dog can come from anywhere, although it helps to be the son of the alpha female.

This reminds me - dogs (and cats and probably several other species) can have multiple sires per litter, if the bitch makes herself available to more than one dog while she’s in heat.

As an aside: when this happens with felines, the male will sometimes kill whatever progeny is not “his.” Occasionally he will kill newborns no matter what the parentage, because he sees them as a threat.

Thanks for the replies. I guess I was just wondering if dogs "respect"their parents or do their parents rate no more than any other dog. And yes I know that the humans in the family are the true Alphas, I can surely see a defined pecking other among the three dogs. Oh, Sheppard was the evil doings of my stupid tablet’s auto correct. I think it is conspiring with the TV to make me look stupid!

I only have experience with a female and her daughter, though twice over. In the first case they were the only dogs, and the mother remained Alpha even when her puppy was grown, though at that time, their relationship was a lot more equal.

In the second case, the mother was never alpha and didn’t have the alpha personality. Her daughter is similarly timid except when it comes to toys.

As **chiroptera ** said, dominance is pretty fluid. In watching my own dogs as they age and dogs come and go, it seems that there is not a linear hierarchy, with one dog at the top and the others beneath, but a deference and politeness all around, with one dog prevailing over some issues, and another over others, and for the most part, they all get along. Each group of dogs has their own dynamic.

Nice cite.

My Lab cross was at loose ends when the others died and he found himself the alpha dog. The pressure was driving him crazy, though he was our only dog. Then we got the Little Girls. They immediately started bossing him around and you could see him relax. He wasn’t an alpha and didn’t want to be one. I was wrong about which Girl was the alpha, though. I thought it was the bossy one but my wife told me to watch closer, and she’s right. That one is the muscle but the other is simply the boss. A quiet, sweet boss that the others defer to.

Do you have a cite for that? I’m doubtful that a male feline could tell which cubs were not his in such a situation.

I swear I have read this on a reputable site before, but I may have been incorrect with that assertion.

I’m off to work and in a hurry but[URL=“”] this articledoes a pretty good job of laying out reasons why both toms and queens will, at times, kill kittens that they at least suspect aren’t theirs.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve seen in our pack. We have two unrelated females, which is supposed to be a formula for conflict.

Sadie is the original dog in the house. She’s 58 pounds and strong, and somewhat reactive to other dogs, especially large ones.

Simone is the younger, smaller, but more athletic dog (34.5 pounds). She came along after Sadie had been an “only dog” for about two years, and there was a period of adjustment. Nowadays it seems like which dog has authority depends on what’s going on:

[li]Both dogs will take turns eating kibble from a bowl, but Simone can force Sadie away from the bowl by grunting. [/li]
[li]Simone can also make Sadie get up and leave a dog bed Simone wants.[/li]
[li]Sadie can displace Simone from certain kinds of human attention, but she doesn’t always take advantage of that fact.[/li]
[li]Sadie will NOT yield up a toy to Simone for any reason, ever – if Simone tries to take it, even as a game, Sadie will escalate until Simone gives up, or even bite her. She’s put a scratch on Simone’s nose a few times. (We keep them in separate rooms while we are away, for this reason).[/li]
[li]Sadie pees where she wants, but never marks over Simone’s spots; Simone recoils from Sadie’s sites and avoids them.[/li]
[li]Either dog will go through a door first; I’m not sure if it’s random or if they change order due to some factor I’m not recognizing.[/li][/ul]

This part strikes me as fascinating.

I know it’s well established that male cats will kill the kittens/cubs of a female he is trying to mate with (assuming he hasn’t done so recently). I’m puzzled at the idea of one picking through a mixed litter and being able to figure out which ones are genetically related to him and which ones are not. I supposer there could, theoretically, be some genetically based smell that a male cat could sniff out, but I doubt it such a thing actually exists.

I don’t let my dogs be alpha. I treat them equally, and try not to let any of them assert any authority over the other. I’m the alpha in the house. In a previous situation, the female dog was second in command I suppose, but the other one (male) got to sleep in the bed. In the current situation, both (males) sleep in the bed. But I’ve lost one recently.

I’m not exactly sure where my husband stands in the order but all the dogs always defer to me.

We had two dogs Clancy and Sheba. Clancy was already established, a couple years older, and larger when Sheba came into the household. Clancy was clearly the Alpha.

Due to their personalities Sheba seemed fine with this. They were able to play enthusiastically, and it was pretty clear that Clancy never felt threatened by Sheba. He never had to “keep her in line” because they both knew the score. Sheba was famous for stealing whatever toy or bone Clancy was into, and Clancy never defended it. Food could cause issues, so we were careful not to allow that to be a problem. Each got their own bowl, and touching the other dog’s food was streng verboten.

Clancy, being older, eventually became far less capable than Sheba. Regardless that she was far healthier and stronger, Sheba never showed any interest in becoming the Alpha. Maybe it was habit, but she was fine following Clancy’s lead until we eventually lost him.

PJ came into our home shortly (only a little over a month IIRC) before we lost Clancy. PJ was smaller and very young, so Sheba really needed to be the Alpha. She tried, but it was clearly stressful, and she was way down on energy, presumably missing her buddy. She had a couple of small strokes in the first year, but eventually she and PJ worked things out, learning to enjoy each other. It kind of seemed like Sheba was OK with PJ pretending to be the alpha, just occasionally putting her in her place when she got too full of herself. We lost Sheba a couple years ago.

We are currently kind of passively looking for a buddy for PJ. This will be interesting, as we are pretty sure that PJ will badly want to be the Alpha…though she seems to get along pretty well with any dog that is not being an asshole, though it takes a while for her to trust bigger dogs, and she warms to males much faster than other females.

My black Lab is supremely laid-back and (I really noticed this when I was taking him and the terrier cross to doggie daycare) absolutely refuses to engage in any sort of conflict. He is not at all a pansy or subservient dog - he will simply turn away from conflict of any sort. He’s not a wuss - I’ve watching correct and uppity pup who tried the dominance-humping move, but other than that he’ll do just about anything to get along.

He is completely comfortable with being the beta dog in most situations, and I’ve seen this at friends’ houses with their dogs, at doggie day care, and at a park I sometimes go to with other dog owners. He’s extremely bonded to the terrier cross; when she had to spend a few days at the ER vet last year he was utterly discombobulated.

The little terrier cross bitch and the asshole Rottweiler have worked their relationship out; neither is clearly “alpha” (I dislike that term for being too simplistic, actually) and they each have areas where they’ve agreed to let the other one be the boss.

That’s poor terminology really; I don’t think dogs have an egalitarian bone in their bodies, but if they’re well-balanced dogs, they’re good about figuring out which battles are worth fighting!

The terrier bitch not only hikes her leg and marks, she back-scratches afterwards. Many bossy bitches do this.
But, the Rottweiler always, always, marks over her. However, she doesn’t care.*
The Lab goes off in a quiet corner to squat and pee in peace. :slight_smile:

*Because she is calmly confident in her supremacy of My Bed. She’s the only one allowed on the furniture. She knows it, I know (and allow) it, and doG help either of the boys if they attempt to encroach on her literally elevated status.
She was raised by Rottweilers - I had three when I got her as a puppy and she was a teeny thing compared to them - so she takes her literally-elevated status seriously. And I let her.

The terrier cross owns all toys. Except the big ones, like the tractor tire and the Jolly Ball, which are bigger than her so she lets the asshole Rottweiler have them.

The asshole Rottweiler must be the first of the dogs to [del]explode[/del] go out the door to the back yard.

The Lab, however, has a giant stuffed toy dog that he carries around and sleeps on. For some reason I’ve never been able to ascertain. the asshole and the terrier, both of whom are awful Destructo-Dogs, have left it alone and defer to his ownersip of it, since April 2011 when I brought it home.

The asshole Rottweiler has an enormously high self esteem and expects everything first. He isn’t pushy about it, he just expects it. So with feeding, the order is him, then the terrier, then the Lab. It’s become such a routine I think they’d each be upset if I did it in the “wrong” order. Bottom line though, I own everything; everyone including the asshole must wait for permission before bolting out of the front door or a vehicle, and the asshole must sit and wait for permission before eating.

They all have to work for treats and rewards. I play games like “sucks to be you” with treats: eg on the sit command, the slowest to sit…well, sucks to be you, no treat. And you’d be amazed how quickly dogs catch on to this sort of thing!

So, yes - based on both tons of reading and tons of experience, I really think “alpha” is not a very useful term and analogies to wolf packs are inaccurate. Perhaps it’s a little different in a pack of wolves, or pariah dogs, where there is a: less human intervention and b: more “natural selection” when it comes to breeding, pack order and organization.

kevbo, I hope you find a buddy for PJ! Sounds like you already know what to look for - male, not huge, laid back. I know if I were to lose both my boys tomorrow, the terrier would want company (or, someone to boss around LOL) but I’d have a hard time finding a female dog she’d be OK with and she finds small dogs uninteresting. So I’d need to find her a big boy. :slight_smile: