Alpha Dog Behavior

Domestic dogs engage in instinctual behavior passed on to them from their wild ancestors. When in groups, dogs understand that they must cooperate with one another for survival, however they also compete for the position of alpha dog. An alpha dog is the leader within the social structure of the pack. The leader makes all the decisions, leads the entire pack, and gets special privileges like being the first one to eat.

Alpha Dog Determination

Dogs will engage in a competition for the position of alpha. Normally, within each pack, there is an alpha male and an alpha female. Dominance will be decided, sometimes by fighting. If you own more than one dog, it is best to allow the dogs to growl and nip at each other to determine who will hold the position of higher dominance. This is normal. If your dogs continually fight and snapping becomes biting that causes damage, it may be preferable to keep the dogs separated, or look into forms or natural or prescription medication.

Alpha Dog Behavior

Dogs use body language to communicate with each other. The alpha dog will circle and sniff other dogs in the pack, stand over them, stare them down, or place a paw on another dog. Sometimes, alpha dogs will urinate to mark their territory. Dogs who hold a lower position in the hierarchy will display their submission by lowering their heads, or rolling over to expose their bellies to the alpha dog.

Respect for the Alpha Dog in a Group

As the owner, it will be advantageous to you and your dogs to respect the position of the dominant dog. You will observe signals from your dogs making it clear which holds dominance. Since this is an instinctual behavior, it will be best for you to cooperate with the established social structure by feeding the alpha dog first, putting on this dog's leash first, allowing him in the car or the house first, etc. Overriding the social structure within your group of dogs by supporting the "weaker" dog out of sympathy will disrupt the natural behavior of your dogs and cause confusion.

Your Role in the Hierarchy

It is of utmost importance for you, the owner, to establish the position of alpha among your dogs. With you as the leader, your dogs will behave more favorably and understand there is no competition. Without competition, you should not experience aggression toward yourself or your family. If your dog growls or snaps at any family members while eating, or otherwise, a proper alpha dog role has not been established. You must, without violence, make the dog aware that you hold the alpha dog position by being firm, telling the dog "No," and establishing new guidelines. If you are competing with your dog for alpha position, do not allow the dog to sleep on your bed, enter your home before you, or growl at you under any conditions. Once your alpha dog position has been established, most behavior issues should correct themselves, as your dogs will become more submissive and understand their role in the "pack".