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The Alpha Syndrome

This seminar is based on my book “The Alpha Syndrome”.

The  alpha role is today emphasized in dog upbringing and training and the role of the leader is exaggerated and misinterpreted. By describing a pack of canines as a human society, where low status and low rank is negative and high status and high rank is something desirable, the dog becomes a careerist, all the time aiming for a higher position in the group.

Consequently, dog ownership becomes a struggle for positions and it becomes important not to let the dog win in different situations. There are dog trainers and writers that teach dog owners not to let the dogs eat their food before the family members eat theirs, or not to greet the dogs when coming home, because then the dogs may have advanced upwards a step on the social ladder in the family. They even warn dog owners not to be too kind to the dogs because the dogs may because of that overtake the leadership in the family. When a dog does not obey a command they say that the dog defies and that is one step in the efforts to advance to a higher rank. It does not occur to them that it could be a result of poor training or poor training methods

If the diagnosis of a problem behavior is “lack of leadership”, consequently the therapy is to “take the insubordinate down”. In doing so one gets a temporary effect of more submission than usual in the dog, and it also becomes more afraid of punishment and therefore temporary more obedient.

Because the problem behavior usually recurs after a period of time, this creates a feeling that the diagnosis was correct but that the dog owner is not strong and severe enough as a leader. The owner then tries to be more severe and gets a new temporary effect and an accelerating spiral of violence has started…

In the process, the dog owner struggles with feelings of being insufficient, of being bad as a dog person and a bad leader. Also the demand upon the owner to be severe and punishing in the relationship with the dog feels wrong for most people.

Is the concept of leadership really relevant? Is it correct that the structure of a group of canines contains a built-in struggle for positions? Is the dog a careerist? Is it important to be a leader? What signifies the alpha position?

These and other questions are put forward in the seminar and it is shown through many studies today that we do not have to keep a watch on our leader role at all.

Preliminary Schedule

09.00 Opening and presentation

09.30 Definition of the concepts of leadership, dominansbegreppen ledarskap, dominans och and rank order, and the role of leadership in history and currently.

10.30 Biological functions of dominans and advantages with rank structures.

11.00 Dominans and aggression.

11.30 Is it relevant to include leadership in dog training?

12.00–13.00 Lunch

13.00 Criticism of the leadership concept the way it is used today. How normal relations function among animals.

14.00 Alternative theorier on rank order

15.00 Break for coffee

15.30 On the ”lack of leadership” diagnosis and quick-fixes. Leader or teacher?

16.00 Operant training developes obedience on the dog’s terms.

17.00 End of day


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