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The alpha and the hungry August 30, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in older son, pets.
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The older son mentioned at dinner that dogs equate food with love.  This was, of course, a response to Gigadog trying to stick her nose on the table to horn in on our Friday night pizza.

Wanna share that?  I'm kinda hungry.

Wanna share that? I’m kinda hungry.

I said that actually, he wasn’t that far off.  The alpha dog of a pack is actually supposed to determine what it is that the pack hunts for and, in a sense, is responsible for providing the pack with food.  Therefore, it sort of makes sense that food and love are equivalent in dogs.

After a brief pause, I said that Teradog was a prime example of a good alpha given he really knows how to look forlorn so that the human will provide the pack with food.  In that sense, he’s a very highly successful alpha dog.

rainier_front

This prime newfoundland specimen is on the hunt for treats…

 

And you thought puppy dog eyes were all about being cute…

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Comments»

1. Anna - August 31, 2014

The alpha dog of a pack is actually supposed to determine what it is that the pack hunts for and, in a sense, is responsible for providing the pack with food. Therefore, it sort of makes sense that food and love are equivalent in dogs.

The “alpha dog” concept is derived from “alpha wolf”, which is derived from some studies in the 40s, where a bunch of unrelated wolves had been brought together and formed a pack, and their hierarchy and power dynamics was assumed to mirror the pack structure and social dynamics of a natural wolf pack.

That assumption was later proven wrong – close-up studies of wild wolf packs found that they are essentially nuclear families and the “alphas” ~ the leading couple, are the parents to the rest of the pack.

Young wolves who chose to remain in their pack (often just for a few years or so) help raise and feed their youngest siblings, and don’t breed (as long as they live with their parents). The hierarchy is inherited – older siblings usually dominate their younger siblings, and all help feed the youngest pups, so they beg food from everyone. The adults may hunt all together, in smaller group, or alone, depending on which size of prey is available. They all bring food back to the pups, so it isn’t just the alphas that decide what to hunt (also, it isn’t like a supermarket, so they have to take the opportunities they get). That’s the general model … As with everything, there are exceptions.

A family dog lives in a structure similar to a natural wolf pack – except it is “adopted” and remains permanently in the role of youngest pup. So your dog can’t be an alpha, you and your partner are the alphas, and your kids are the dogs’ (adoptive) older siblings. As the youngest pup, your dog expects that all the other pack members will feed him, and therefore he probably begs food with everyone in the family:-)

Where “alpha dog” makes sense is in a large pack of unrelated dogs (e.g. a dog sitting business or a dog training class), where the dogs establish a hierarchy between them from scratch, but not a family situation.

Also, in a multiple dogs household the dogs will usually establish between them who is more dominant – so who defer to who when there is a conflict of interest. That does not make the most dominant dog alpha, and it does not overrule “the law of possession”, it is just a way to avoid conflict by having pre-established who has the right of way when everything else is equal. Like traffic rules.

That said, I think you’re right about food = love. Food (giving it, getting it, sharing it) shows belonging, relatedness, kinship, bond. I guess that’s another area where the dog fits the human family model like a hand in a glove:-) Humans also tend to like to eat together as a social gesture, to confirm a sense of bond and togetherness by sharing food. (actually, personally I don’t… but most people do, according to my observations and common knowledge)

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2. mareserinitatis - August 31, 2014

Obviously I don’t get the whole dog psychology thing, but I do know that I told not to spoil them because they’ll think they’re alpha. (I try to follow the “nothing in life is free” philosophy: pups have to earn their food by sitting nicely and obeying commands. Of course, that doesn’t stop Gigadog from trying to STREEEETTTTCCCHHH her nose up on the table as she sits down…and I keep reminding her of the rule “no lips on the table” to no avail.)

But yeah, food is love for them. And they use those cute droopy faces to their advantage. 🙂

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Anna - September 3, 2014

but I do know that I told not to spoil them because they’ll think they’re alpha.

You also shouldn’t spoil your kids, but spoiling them probably wouldn’t make them think they’re now the parents, reverse the roles.

They’d mainly develop a very low frustration tolerance and poor sense of boundaries (et.c.), and therefore behave badly, be confused and not understand sound behaviour rules. Same with dogs… They need clear, stable social rules and consequences and like kids, they’ll test the boundaries. That doesn’t mean they are plotting to be the overhead of the family.

The alpha stuff is mainly just a pervasive dog training myth that has been easy to popularise because it is super simple, like a military hierarchy.

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