Alpha wolf/dog theory debunked

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Alpha wolf/dog theory debunked

Postby Linnea » Sun Aug 01, 2010 7:46 pm

The debate has its roots in 1940s studies of captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring's status is based on birth order. Mech, who used to ascribe to alpha-wolf theory but has reversed course in recent years, says the pack's hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents' lead.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article ... z0vOufhWRE

It's actually an article about the best method to train your dog and the poor little Dog Whisperer isn't faring too well. His methods are described as cruel and ineffective given that dominance doesn't play a part in canine behavior, particularly for a household dog. Interesting story...
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Re: Alpha wolf/dog theory debunked

Postby Brian » Mon Aug 02, 2010 7:21 pm

Linnea wrote:The debate has its roots in 1940s studies of captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring's status is based on birth order. Mech, who used to ascribe to alpha-wolf theory but has reversed course in recent years, says the pack's hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents' lead.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article ... z0vOufhWRE

It's actually an article about the best method to train your dog and the poor little Dog Whisperer isn't faring too well. His methods are described as cruel and ineffective given that dominance doesn't play a part in canine behavior, particularly for a household dog. Interesting story...


I'll preface this by saying I'm not a dog expert. But I read the story, and I think there are a few holes in it.

Firstly, Mech's study, as it's described, more closely models domesticated dogs than it does wolves, so the results are more relevant, not less. While it's true that dominance in a nuclear family is based on birth order, when a domesticated dog enters a home, there is no birth order, and no parent-child relationship. Dogs might not be as intelligent as humans, but they know very well that the female giving them food isn't their mother. When two dogs live in a home, they most often are pulled together from different nuclear families, just as in Mech's study.

The other thing is that Millan's work is based upon dog behavior. I'm not sure how one would argue against techniques that are simply drawn from watching how dogs interact with other dogs.

Finally, there seems to be some belief that Millan is smacking the dogs he works with around or something. From what I've seen of the show, that does not appear to be the case. There are a few things he does, like leading dogs on to treadmills, that I'm not completely comfortable with, and I get a little sad when I see a happy dog jumping around and yapping, and then compare that to a docile dog simply doing whatever the human wants, but there's a big difference between that and actually mistreating a dog. And in all the cases I've seen, the majority of the behaviors that Millan addresses seem to be genuinely upsetting for the dog, as well as the human.

Like I said, I'm certainly not an expert, but the article seems to be giving Millan a bad rap, and taking what the critics (who are at least potentially financially motivated) at face value.
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Re: Alpha wolf/dog theory debunked

Postby Linnea » Mon Aug 02, 2010 9:34 pm

I'm obviously more of a cat person but we had dogs while I was growing up and I don't recall a dominant dog of the three we had. As the article states:

It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs. The organization's statement, which does not explicitly name Millan but references his terminology and some of his controversial techniques, argues that dominant-submissive relationships that do occur in nature are a means to allocate resources — a problem that rarely exists between dogs and their owners. (Nor even, AVSAB notes, among feral dogs, which live in small, scavenging groups without alphas controlling access to food and mates.)


Makes sense... if there's plentiful food and the dogs are neutered, what do they need to establish dominance for?

I just thought the whole alpha wolf thing was interesting since people like comparing themselves to alphas when they think they have dominant (read aggressive) personalities.
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Re: Alpha wolf/dog theory debunked

Postby Brian » Mon Aug 02, 2010 10:16 pm

Linnea wrote:I'm obviously more of a cat person but we had dogs while I was growing up and I don't recall a dominant dog of the three we had. As the article states:

It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs. The organization's statement, which does not explicitly name Millan but references his terminology and some of his controversial techniques, argues that dominant-submissive relationships that do occur in nature are a means to allocate resources — a problem that rarely exists between dogs and their owners. (Nor even, AVSAB notes, among feral dogs, which live in small, scavenging groups without alphas controlling access to food and mates.)


Makes sense... if there's plentiful food and the dogs are neutered, what do they need to establish dominance for?

I just thought the whole alpha wolf thing was interesting since people like comparing themselves to alphas when they think they have dominant (read aggressive) personalities.


I think there are two different things to consider here, that would lead me to different responses.

1) In terms of dogs (and I don't really have any idea about cats' behavior), it doesn't matter if there's a rationale or reason for them to seek dominance. They're dogs. Their brains don't (to the best of my knowledge) even have the regions of the brain that humans have that are responsible for reasoning and rational thought. An animal with no reasoning capability is going to behave instinctively, whether or not their instincts have any good practical applications.

2) On the other hand, because humans do have rational faculties, people playing dominance games with each other is uncalled for and (at least, in my opinion) not moral. Clearly, if someone is going to step on you, you have to react to defend yourself, but at best, such situations are amoral, rather than moral.
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Makes you talk a little lower
About the things you could not show her."

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