Not everyone gets to be top dog. Certain characteristics qualify a dog as an alpha male. These traits aren't necessarily negative but are ones human companions should be keenly aware of to successfully control of how everyone -- human and canine -- interacts within the household.
The Alpha and the Pack
Before canines became "man's best friend" and took up comfortable beds at the front door, they lived solely in groups called packs. These packs ranged in size from eight to 15 members, according to the Pet Place. Males were related to each other, as were the females, but bloodlines between the two genders were separate. One of the male dogs became the alpha or leader who got to eat first, lie down to rest in the best spot and get first pick of the females. He also was responsible for directing the pack's activity and warning members and defending them during dangerous situations. While modern breeding programs have eliminated some of this more primitive pack mentality, today's dogs will still display some elements of this social pattern as they bond with human companions and extend membership in the pack to those with two legs instead of four.
An Intact Male
If your male dog is not neutered, he most likely will be the alpha male if he isn't the only canine in the house. This is particularly applicable when other male dogs live within the home's social structure and are neutered, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In most cases, the females defer leadership to an intact male.
First At Everything
Being the alpha is the same as being first. He's the first one to eat when kibbles are served and he is the first one to grab snacks or table scraps off the floor. If he's the first one to drink fresh water when it is poured, he is the alpha dog. If the other dogs let him be the first to chase after toys and he most generally has possession of more toys than do the other dogs, he's probably the alpha. If he's the first one interacting with you when you come home or he beats everyone else to your lap, he's the alpha. The other dogs aren't just "letting" him go first. They are obeying the natural order of things.
An Alert Defender
Aside from companionship, people often bring a dog in to their home as added protection for the family. While not all dogs become alert guardians of the home, an alpha dog does. The alpha male is keenly aware of which humans belong in the home and what their daily activities are. He isn't necessarily aggressive toward visitors, but he also isn't overtly friendly even after his human companions have assured him that they are aware of the visitor and that such is all right.
The protective and engaging traits of an alpha dog can be helpful to establishing a lasting bond. However, it is important that human companions remain the ultimate alpha in any household. Obedience training is an excellent first step toward defining authority roles. According to the Dog Owners Guide, requiring a dog to sit on command before interacting with him, feeding him or grooming him sets appropriate boundaries.
- little dogs playing in nature image by dinostock from Fotolia.com