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What Being ALPHA Really Means

The term “alpha” has several meanings in the dog world. This post will explore what being alpha really comes down to, along with what matters most in improving your relationship with your dog.

Countless trainers say you have to be the alpha with your dog, and that you need to show dominance. Others don’t believe in the concept of being alpha vs. beta.  This is because, in many cases, the terms “alpha” and “dominance” are misinterpreted.

Consider your past for a moment. Think about the intimate relationships you’ve had, and then think about the bosses you’ve had over the years. What did the best partners—and the best leaders—have in common? I want you to think about the qualities that made you respect these people. Because what alpha really boils down to is respect. And dominance involves being assertive in standing up for what you want.


Being dominant with your dog, or being the alpha—these are just words. At the end of the day, the key thing is whether your dog respects you (especially when you say no). By asserting yourself, you can show your dog how strong you are. You can reinforce that you mean what you say. The thing is that a lot of people don’t understand this. They don’t understand how to get a dog to respect them. And so, they end up with a dog that doesn’t follow the rules, or that doesn’t understand expectations.

But if your dog doesn’t respect you, how can they respect anyone else?

What's Humane?

In a sense, positive-only training is great. But not everyone will take that approach with your dog. Not all shelters will, and certainly not all law enforcement, and not necessarily other animals or even people.

What happens when you have a conflict with your dog? Do you walk away from the situation feeling confident, or do you walk away defeated? You don’t want your dog to think they can get away with anything and everything.

Remember: This is for their benefit, not just yours.

The most humane way to treat a dog is to give them the skills they need to understand their environment. The world will dish out negative consequences in response to specific decisions and behaviors, and dogs need to learn to act accordingly.

So, in theory, positive-only reinforcement doesn’t always make a lot of sense—because even putting a leash on your dog is a form of negative reinforcement. Leashes take away the dog’s freedom, but they can also help protect them.

With that, don’t try to be the alpha in your relationship with your dog. Instead, think carefully about how you can get your dog to respect you.


Fostering a sense of mutual respect is key. The idea is to give your dog accurate feedback—to engage in instinctual communication and build a healthy relationship.

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