Parenting vs Alpha-ing
While waiting to be adopted I have been reading Temple Grandin’s book, Animals Make Us Human. As a cat I am particularly fond of this book title. The content was even juicier. It introduced research that challenged the long accepted “alpha male” paradigm of dog training and parenting. It highlighted that in the wild wolves do not naturally function through wolf packs structured by dominance hierarchies but from peaceful family units. It answers the controversial question regarding whether dogs are better suited to live with parental figures or alpha pack leaders…
The answer to this inquiry is based on the fact that dogs are essentially juvenile wolves. What is meant by this is that genetically, dogs went through a form of arrested development (called pedomorphosis) in the process of evolving from wolves to the domesticated dog. Last week’s Pet Column mentioned that the physical appearance of most dogs maintains a youthful puppyish appearance and serves as an example of pedomorphosis.
Studies have shown that, with a few exceptions, the less “wolfy” in appearance dogs are the less wolf behaviors they display. For instance the facial features of the Cavalier King Charles, which maintains a puppy-like appearance through adulthood, display the least wolf-like behaviors (note that these behaviors are not considered bad attributes as they cover both aggressive and submissive behaviors) of the breeds studied. (The Siberian Husky, a very “wolfy”-looking dog, displays the most wolf-like behaviors.)
So does the reality that dogs are juvenile wolves which, in their natural state, are raised in a family rather than a pack mean that you should throw out your training books on establishing an alpha role with your dogs? Good question. And the answer is essential to the training philosophy of the Second Chance Pet Column.
Dogs are like adolescents and need to be treated as such, not necessarily because they will step into the alpha role if you don’t, but like any adolescent – they will become out of control and unruly if they are not provided with clear boundaries and rules of acceptable behaviors.
Juvenile humans and dogs need parents that set limits and teach proper behavior. So whether you consider yourself a dog alpha or a dog parent, please accept that your dog will never become a true adult thinker and you need to maintain clear limits for their lifetime. You have to be in charge or you will find you have an out of control juvenile ruling the household. And parents who meet with the best success, with both children and pets, know that being firm does not mean you have to use physical punishment.
And why do I, sweet Freya the one year-young Calico care about this? Well because cat’s need the same kind of parenting style. Firm, loving and free of punishment. Don’t believe me? Well just ask your cat then…
I am sure you can imagine why I was named after the Goddess of Love. My story is that I was a pregnant stray who was rescued and delivered safely here to Second Chance. My kittens turned out happy and healthy and are ready to be adopted into loving homes of their own. I am ready to do the same. That’s where you come in. I am a very friendly lover of love, human attention and belly rubs. And yes, I am a Goddess.
Second Chance Humane Society Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops service San Miguel, Ouray & Montrose Counties. Call the SCHS Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter, Volunteer, Feral Cat, or other Programs. View our shelter pets and services online: www.adoptmountainpets.org.