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Dominance (Alpha) Theory Debunked: 9 Reasons To Avoid It

Dominance Alpha Theory Debunked

They say a dog misbehaves because they want to be an ‘alpha.’

Or someone in the highest rank.

But trust me (and many experts) on this.

Your Fido doesn’t have an evil plan to take over your world.

And I’ll tell you all the reasons why.

Continue reading to discover:

  • The truth behind the dominance (alpha) theory.
  • What’s an ‘alpha roll’ and its effects on canines.
  • 9 shocking reasons why you should avoid dominance dog training.
  • And many more…

Dominance (alpha) theory debunked: 9 reasons to avoid it

#1: There’s no ‘alpha wolf’ in the wild

Let’s talk about the root of the dominance theory first.

So, the idea mainly came from a 1947 book.

It’s called “Expressions Studies on Wolves.”

And Rudolph Schenkel, a behaviorist, wrote it.

He observed wolves in zoos. Especially how they interacted with each other.

Schenkel found that the animals often had fights. 

And most of the wolves were aggressive.

So these findings led him to create a theory.

He believed that wolves in a pack usually fight for position.

And the ultimate winner will be the ‘alpha.’

Hence, the birth of the ‘dominance theory.’ 

Or the idea that animals fight to be in control of the group.

So some people use it to justify their dog’s bad behavior.

As if the pooch misbehaves to outrank their human. 

When Fido actually lacks training or is stressed. 

But luckily, today’s researchers debunked it.

“What’s wrong with his theory?”

The wolves in Schenkel’s study came from different packs.

So they’re basically strangers.

Then they were forced to live together.

As a result, the wolves were under great stress. Which made them act aggressively.

Thus, what Schenkel observed isn’t a natural behavior.

Also, it means the dominance theory isn’t accurate, either.

David Mech, a wolf behavior expert, further proves this.

But before he did, he once made a book in 1970.

It’s entitled “The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.”

And Mech admitted using the word ‘alpha’ there too. As it’s all that people knew at that time.

However, he learned more about wolves in the past years. 

Which then changed his mind – and the world.

Mech’s theory

In 1986, he started observing wolves in Canada.

But unlike in Schenkel’s study…

The animals were living freely in the wild in their packs.

Mech spent his 13 summers watching wolves.

And in the end, he had different findings from Schenkel:

  • The wolves didn’t fight to be the alpha.
  • No one ousted an inferior wolf from their place.
  • The wolf leader rarely pins other pack members.

Also, based on Mech…

A pack of wolves is a family

He says the members usually get along well.

So there’s no competition. Which is opposite from the old belief.

Upon mating, the father and mother wolves become the pack’s leaders.

Soon, they’ll live with their offspring. Which is usually for 1-3 years.

Then once the pups mature…

They’ll create their separate packs.

This is why instead of ‘alpha’

Mech and other scientists prefer:

  • Breeding male (father).
  • Breeding female (mother).

As these terms are more accurate for the wolves’ roles in the pack.

#2: Wolves and dogs are different

You may already know that Fidos came from grey wolves.

Experts say they birthed the first species of domestic dogs. And they lived until the last Ice Age.

So this is why people used the dominance theory on hounds.

But let’s say the idea’s true. (Although it’s not.)

Still, the findings were only for wolves. And not for our furry friends.

Dogs separated from wolves at least 36,900 years ago.

Thus, they’re 2 different species. Like apples and oranges.

So, you must avoid using dominance training on your Fido.

But since only some people are aware of this fact…

They trained their Fidos like they were wild wolves.

And one of the most famous promoters of this is Cesar Millan

Thus, he receives criticism for it.

#3: Dogs aren’t taking over their humans

Dogs Aren't Taking Over Their Humans

Your furry pal has no idea of dominance.

They don’t intend to replace you as the leader at home.

If your pooch pulls their leash, they only want to meet other dogs or people.

Thus, they’re not trying to control you.

Also, a Fido jumping on you isn’t an alpha move…

It means they want to see you closer and greet you “Hello!”

Now, you might wonder,

“If dogs aren’t trying to dominate humans…

Do they act alpha on other Fidos?”

Not exactly. But a study says canines are often competitive regarding food.

And they’re even more aggressive than wolves.

Hunters versus scavengers

Compared to their wild ancestors…

Dogs evolved to be scavengers.

They’ll beg for table scraps and rely on human food waste.

Also, unlike wolves who hunt in groups…

Fidos search for food alone.

Hence, our furry friends don’t tend to cooperate with others. Compared to wolves, who usually share a carcass.

But it’s not an alpha behavior.

Dogs only compete for food to survive.

Also, think about this.

Adopting your dog makes them free of scavenging.

Your Fido will have all the resources they need at home.

Plus, they get cuddles and attention too.

So if you’re that generous and caring…

Why would a Fido try to exert their dominance on you?

Instead, they’ll be more than happy to follow you. And they’ll also return the love. 🙂

Note: Dogs can be aggressive toward familiar people due to fear or stress. And also if you reinforce the behavior by accident. Say teasing your Fido to bite or giving them attention after misbehaving.

You might also like: 25 Best Ways To Calm An Aggressive Dog (#1 Works Instantly)

#4: Dogs aren’t pack animals

The alpha theory says a dog’s trying to be the pack leader, right?

However, they’re social animals.

“What do you mean?”

Dogs don’t live in groups like wolves.

So your furry pal doesn’t understand rankings.

Contrary to what the theory says.

This is why dominance training’s outdated. And you must avoid using it on your Fido.

#5: Alpha roll’s risky and backfires

This is a popular way to train dogs using dominance theory.

You do it by pinning your Fido on their back when they misbehave.

Sometimes, parents or trainers hold their dogs by the throat too.

Then they’ll be in that position until the canine settles down.

But I’m warning you.

Alpha roll’s dangerous for both you and your Fido.

So it’s best to avoid this at all costs.

“Where did this technique come from?”

It first started with the Monks of New Skete in 1978.

They published a book named “How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend.”

But contrary to the title…

The book promotes the use of a dominance technique.

The monks developed it due to the old study on wolves.

Wherein the wild animals in a small space often pinned each other down. And it’s seen as a dominant behavior.

However, the monks misinterpreted it.

Plus, doing it on a dog’s highly unsafe.

Why is alpha roll dangerous?

There are only 2 possible outcomes for it.

One, your dog may tolerate you pinning them down.

But they’ll be afraid of you from then on.

Two, your pooch will panic and defend themself.

So doing this may only lead to aggression.

Like what happened to the poor German Shepherd in the clip below:

Based on the report, the K9 dog’s trainer used alpha rolls on the dog.

And you can see that instead of calming down…

The K9 still tried to fight the trainer after being pinned down.

Then, the day after the incident…

The German Shepherd bit a worker. And the dog also attacked the trainer again.

Thus, alpha rolls aren’t effective.

Rolling on their back’s indeed a submissive behavior.

But dogs and wolves do it voluntarily. 

So if you force your pooch to do it…

They’ll think they’re being cornered.

And if they can’t escape, they have no choice but to bite you.

Then you’ll also stress your dog out. And it may be traumatic for them as well.

Read next: 9 Reasons Why Your Dog Rolls On His Back When You Approach

#6: It’ll result in more behavioral problems

Being dominant usually means you have to use harsh methods.

But these only cause anxiety in dogs.

One research points this out.

It says that fear protects animals from danger.

But too much of it results in behavioral issues. Say aggression.

And a study shows that fear’s the common reason why dogs act fiercely.

Also, dominance methods won’t fix the root of the problem

You can make your Fido stop lunging if you hit them.

But you didn’t find out why they’re doing it in the first place.

For all you know, your dog could be scared or stressed.

So ignoring their signs…

Plus being harsh on them will only lead to more issues.

Continue reading: 13 Reasons Why You Should NEVER Punish Your Dog

#7: You may hurt your Fido

Acting dominant to your dog can also harm them physically.

For example, a scared pooch will panic once you roll them over.

And since you’re exerting force on them, your dog might get hurt.

Then if things get worse, they could bite you as well.

This is why punishments like hitting your dog’s illegal in most places.

And you can even go to jail for it.

If you want to know more, read this article: Fact Check: Is Hitting Your Dog For Bad Behavior Illegal?

#8: Dominance training can affect their health

Aside from injuries and behavioral problems…

Too much fear may also lead to chronic stress.

This means your Fido will always be anxious.

And over time, it can affect your dog’s health.


The body releases hormones like ‘cortisol.’

This helps dogs and humans in handling stress.

But high levels of cortisol will be hard on your Fido’s body.

As it can result in the following:

  • Heart diseases.
  • Stomach problems.
  • Weakened immune system.

Warning: Some canines even die due to extreme stress brought by loud fireworks. So never ignore the common signals below and help your dog calm down.

  • Pacing.
  • Whining.
  • Freezing.
  • Trembling.
  • Folded ears.

#9: You might ruin your relationship

Lastly, dominance theory will confuse your dog.

Your Fido doesn’t know why you’re pressing them down on their back.

And they’ll also sense you’re not doing it for fun.

Plus, you may also view your pooch as a wild wolf. And misinterpret every move they make.

So what would happen?

If you keep using this kind of training…

Your pooch will soon be afraid of you.

Then they’ll trust you less. And the strong bond you had will be gone.

Note: You can reconcile with your dog if you hit or hurt them once. But this needs sincerity, effort, and patience. While more serious cases may cause trauma – which is harder to fix.