June 23, 2023


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Is Alpha Theory “Debunked”?

Whether you’ve been familiar with my work for some time or are just getting acquainted, you’ve probably seen me use the word “alpha.” I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the concept of a alpha theory recently, and wanted to focus a blog on really laying out what exactly I mean.

Taking on that alpha role can be a challenge and oftentimes isn’t what we are accustomed to, but it really can serve as a meaningful framework to guide our canine relationships. In this blog, I want to tackle past and present connotations of the word “alpha” and connect that to my usage and the notion of dogs as pack animals.

Before I dive in, the bottom line is – when I say “alpha,” I don’t mean a cold-hearted aggressive leader. It truly is about the embodiment of love and promoting peace and tranquility for dogs and people alike.

Is the term “Alpha” outdated?

The word alpha was developed to model social hierarchies within animal kingdoms and showcase the necessity of a pack relationship for many canines. I encounter a lot of people in my community that believe the term alpha is outdated, and this is something that I really want to challenge. Let’s break this down a bit.

Before I get too deep in, I want you to take a second to reflect. What do you think about the term “alpha?” What does it mean to you? What does it represent?

It has roots in the Greek alphabet, where “alpha” is quite literally the first letter. This by itself is interesting to consider, it really sets the term up to be a starting point and is positioned in a place with a natural sense of primacy. The word was eventually applied to the animal kingdom furthering the notion of a sense of power and control related to other animals in the pack.

In the development of our ideas about alphas, the word has picked up a lot of negative meanings in the last few decades. Notably, the term “alpha male” seems to be one that many people link to my use of the term alpha, but there are a lot of issues with this. The alpha male was taken from the animal kingdom and applied to our society’s structured gendered roles in ways that are actually problematic. Essentially, the mentality that many associate with being an alpha is about complete dominance and power with the intention of “winning.” The key idea here is that this interpretation views an alpha as strong, uncompromising, and unforgiving.

I really want to argue that while the term has developed a lot of negative associations that should not be persisted, the concept of being an alpha truly is a legitimate lens to approach the work I do with dogs. It’s not the term itself that is outdated, but rather the notions that have become engrained with our conceptualizations of it.

The idea of an “alpha male” has infiltrated our human existence – we encounter alpha males all the time, and they get a bad rep for a reason. Being able to separate the term alpha from the concept of an alpha male allows us to examine it in a new lens and remove ourselves from the constructed ideas that already exist.

I know it’s challenging to shift your thinking, but see if you can understand “alpha” as a term removed from gender and politics. Try to view it from your dog’s perspective – an alpha to them really is just a guiding presence.

Dogs are pack animals, and need leaders.

Dogs are descendants of wolves, and while they forged their own unique path, the idea of keeping a strong pack together seldom wavered throughout their development.

As a pack animal, our dogs work together. Historically before the domestication of canines, these packs were extremely collaborative and provided protection, food, and comfort to each other. This is the natural state our dogs thrive in – and my interpretation of the alpha is really about connecting back to this state so they can feel grounded and safe.

Being a pack animal has a lot of implications, but some of the most important ones relate to canines inherently wanting and needing a social hierarchy to follow. For animals, having this clear social hierarchy actually allows them to find solace and peace in their position by keeping their tasks reasonable and responsibilities grounded. The suggestion I want to make here is that perhaps an alpha can actually promote peace in ways that do not have an aggressive, overpowering edge.

Being a pack animal has a lot of implications, but some of the most important ones relate to canines inherently wanting and needing a social hierarchy to follow. For animals, having this clear social hierarchy actually allows them to find solace and peace in their position by keeping their tasks reasonable and responsibilities grounded. The suggestion I want to make here is that perhaps an alpha can actually promote peace in ways that do not have an aggressive, overpowering edge.

In our domestication of dogs, we have completely transported them into an unknown environment, largely lacking these pack opportunities our dogs are hardwired to want. In our role as their caretakers, it’s essential to find a way to persist a social framework that can align with their pack mentality to promote comfort, and one way to do this is by taking on that role of the alpha and establishing your own pack.

What I really want to impart here is that our dogs were wired to be pack animals for a reason. They not only crave, but actually tangibly need leadership to thrive. These animals have been in existence for tens of thousands of years and depend on this leader to succeed. When they are separate from a pack and don’t have the chance to integrate those social hierarchies naturally with other canines, it is our role to step in.

Read Next: Your Dog is a Pack Animal (+ What That Means for You)

What I mean when I say “Alpha Leader”

So what exactly am I talking about when I say you need to be an “alpha leader?”

As I mentioned earlier, the alpha leader is *NOT* an aggressive, maniacal dictator that hurts, abuses, or controls. At all. Ever. These things are unacceptable in our relationships with dogs, always. The term alpha has taken on a lot of ugly, inauthentic meanings, but it really is not about that.

What I really mean here is that you take on the role of a trustworthy, calm leader. As I mentioned earlier, our dogs rely on a leader in their lives to guide their existence and promote harmony. When we step up and take on this role, it allows the entire environment to integrate seamlessly and promote happiness and long-term health for us and our dogs.

On an intuitive level, we know that it’s our role to protect and guide our dogs. Dogs want their alpha leaders to have the same things we value – ease of existence, peace, awareness. Being the alpha really means you are tapped into what is happening around you and your dog on a lot of different levels.

When we are the alphas, we can design and guide the success of our pack. From the tone we set to how we want situations to unfold and what their outcomes may be, when we set examples and send energy out, our dogs pick up on this. Being an alpha is about showing up consistently for our dogs and making choices that will benefit the entire pack.

To really become this alpha, it requires tuning into our canines and really considering what things may be impacting their psychological and physical wellbeing. Whether it is what we are feeding them or where we are taking them or who we are exposing them to, all these factors are crucial in creating a safe atmosphere for your dog.

Energy is such an important consideration here. So much of embodied energy is about what you are projecting. Our dogs are uniquely intuitive and really do pick up on the positive (and negative) things that are impacting your energy. It’s all about taking on a position that is confident and secure.

Why are leaders important?

Being the embodiment of an alpha in your canine relationships sets a foundation for the future. Taking on that role of a leader is not only important, but essential. And, being an alpha is not a part-time job. It really is about showing up everyday to be the leader, it truly is a vast concept that takes time and practice to develop.

This all connects dogs back to their guiding pack mentality and allows us to support them in frameworks they understand and are wired to uphold. Being the leader allows your canine to find comfort in their existence. When they do not have to try and embody this role themselves, they can feel safe without tremendous amounts of responsibility.

Being a leader is so important because it is the overarching foundation for everything. When we are anxious and sad, our dogs can tell and often internalize this. Conversely, when we are confident and secure, our dogs feel this as well. We must honor our canines in every way that we can to give them (and us) the most fulfilling experience possible.

For everyone in every walk of life – we are all seeking strong, powerful leaders we can trust to follow and help us succeed. As humans, this concept of success can get much more complex, but it’s pretty simple for our dogs. Being safe, happy, and healthy is really what they’re looking for in a leader, and it’s our job to give them that.

A leader is unilaterally important for nearly every living thing, but especially our canines that are so strongly guided by their pack mentality.


For me, taking on the role of the embodied alpha has been the number one way I’ve forged meaningful and lasting relationships with so many canines. I completely understand that being this alpha figure can be a challenge and even conceptually, takes some time to understand. But it truly is such a wonderful practice.

There’s so much misinformation and convoluted ideas surrounding the word “alpha” in the 21st century, but I urge you to really consider it on the animalistic level. Being an alpha is about providing stability for your pack.

Our dogs need this pack mentality to drive their successes and integration in our human world, and when we do not take on this role, it harms not only their wellbeing, but the holistic relationship.

It really is about connecting to your individual dog. The most important thing here is being a tune to what physical, social, and emotional things are happening in your canine’s life and how these may be impacting them. Being the embodied alpha really does allow us to promote a consistent concept of energy and peace.

Take on the alpha role. Take control of your relationships in ways that guide your entire pack to thrive. If you’re interested in learning more, my eCourse on being an Embodied Alpha can be found here – Embodied Alpha Masterclass.

separation anxiety in dogs

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



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