There are lots of books and articles out there from all kinds of experts with degrees and doctorates coming out of the wazoo that strive to debunk the ‘Alpha Myth’, as they call it.
Unlike lots of dog trainers, (of which I am not one, I purely counsel on certain behavioral problems) I DO use the term ‘Alpha’, and I do so because I would use it in ANY situation where a leader is required. Positive dog trainers today are fond of saying that there is no place for the term Alpha in relationships with dogs and use words like ‘parenting’ and ‘leader’ instead.
(Firstly, let me say, I am firmly behind positive dog training techniques and will not work with bullies who use shock collars and pinch collars, choke chains etc, on their dogs. That’s not leading, thats just hurting, out of ignorance for the dogs’ true feelings and sensibilities. Most people thankfully see the light after I demonstrate the pain a choke chain or pinch collar can inflict and are mortified at their previous actions.)
However, I do believe that in any gathering of people, dogs, cats, rabbits, chipmunks, whatever you want to consider…someone’s got to be upfront, leading the way, taking point.
Someone’s got to be first….and that’s all that the term ‘Alpha’ means.
Even Jesus himself chose the name ‘Alpha’, as he knew He was the King, and a teacher, a leader of men. Yet a more humble and gentle being never walked on the earth…
Never more did the necessity of an Alpha become more glaringly apparent to me than this week when I enjoyed a very educational visit from Captain Melinda Allen of the Gwinnett County Sheriffs Dept Jail Dogs Program.
During her tour of the Ranch, we discussed the running of the Jail in general and she explained the protocol that they have adopted, which fascinated me.
In 1981, in Contra Costa, California, the Sheriffs Dept adopted a ‘Direct Supervision’ protocol, which roughly translated means that each area where there are inmates has a Deputy on the floor, in charge and very visible. This provides a leadership figure, for the inmate population, that sees all, hears all, and has a cool, calm, confident approach with them. The inmates respond very positively to this protocol and, instead of forming clusters and gangs in the jail as a means of protection for themselves, they look to their authoritarian figures, the Deputies, who are always on hand, approachable and visible, yet cool and slightly aloof to ward off any notions of familiarity, to sort out any issues for them. This is ‘hands on behaviour modification’ on a whole new level.
This is the leadership system that has been implemented at Gwinnett Jail.
The positives in this case are endless; the inmates feel protected from other inmates because they have the certainty that nothing will be allowed to get out of hand. This feeling of protection gives rise to confidence, particularly in figures of authority, something lots of these individuals will never have had in their lives before…..and that confidence leads to trust.
Trust in authority makes for better citizens both inside and outside of jails…lets face it, the very purpose of jail is as a correctional facility where man’s behavior can be corrected to enable him to become a more productive and valuable member of society in general once he returns to it.
I have visited the Jail Dogs Program on a few occasions and have seen at first hand the value and ambience that is created in the jail environment using this protocol.
The jail is quieter than one would expect, much calmer and visitors are treated with hospitality and good manners. The inmates defer to the Deputy in every matter, which is sorted out immediately, hands on and with respect for each party. Respect trickles downwards, and so the inmates treat each other with more respect than you can ever imagine….
Because of this protocol, there has been a 98% reduction in violent and criminal activity in the jails since its introduction, and that, my friends, makes great financial sense as well as common sense.
Having an Alpha in each localized inmate population cluster has been an amazing introduction and a huge success. So great in fact, that our own Gwinnett Jail is held up around the world as an example of success and is visited by police departments all over the world, eager to tap into this knowledge bank.
And so, because that’s what this is REALLY all about….to dogs again…….
So many of you know that I burble on and on about the need for leadership with our own packs.
Families fall apart when there are no clear boundaries set for children and no one is steering the ship.
Companies flounder or prosper based on the confidence and leadership capabilities of the CEO.
Countries, under the correct leadership and with the right vision, can rise from third world nothingness to becoming huge powerhouses in the world economy…think India for instance.
Leadership, in any situation, is all important. Pure and simple.
In a dog pack, or a mixed human and dog pack, the need for leadership, an Alpha then, is of equal importance.
Years ago, in Scotland, a pack of wolves in a sanctuary were in turmoil. Wolf was killing wolf, and the local authorities wanted desperately to end the carnage but didn’t know how. Wolf experts were asked to advise on the situation and it was discovered that the Alpha male had died, thus the leadership position was open, which left the pack in such turmoil as each member set about proving that they should take on the job. It was suggested that a new Alpha male be introduced, to calm things down but this suggestion was not accepted and the pack dissolved, wolves were killed, without anyone trying to implement the one thing that would undoubtedly have worked. Dog packs, Wolf packs, whatever canine you are talking about, they need leadership and without it, they fall apart in the same way. Maybe not quite in so barbaric a fashion as the pack in Scotland in all cases but falling apart just the same.
In our own domestic situations, with our own dogs, they are always looking for leadership and asking who is in charge? We need to tell them very clearly using confidence and cool aloofness that we are. That way they don’t feel the need to fight over the top job between themselves or even throw down the gauntlet to us.
I don’t believe that dogs are planning world takeover (cats are, though) from the comfort of our beds; I do believe however, that just as a jail is a scary place for an inmate, the human world is a scary and unfathomable place at times for dogs. They need a guiding hand, a teacher and a protector to let them know that ‘we’ve got this’.
So, don’t be afraid to be an Alpha figure for your dogs, a parent, teacher, leader, Obiwan, Oracle..or whatever you want to call it. Wear the label loud and proud; it just means that you’ve got his back and that you’re taking care of business!