Our Town: The care, training of the alpha dog

Dr Tom Ferraro

Many years ago I grew playing golf with Ernani DiAngelo, M.D., an eccentric and very cool psychiatrist at Hempstead Country Club.  

He would always say he  learned about humans by watching animals. It took me many years to understand that statement. In the Jack London classic novel “The Call of the Wild,” the central character was Buck a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie.   

Buck was remarkable in many ways but for me the prize moment was when he vied for leadership of the sled team by fighting Sptiz and taking his power.  

The novel is well loved because it reveals the basic desire for power or leadership in animals and humans.

Almost all of my  patients show a deep desire to be on top, to be number one and I’ve  come to see this as a biological and healthy drive.  

In animal research they call this the fight to become the alpha of the group. 

Every CEO on earth is alpha and so is every President. Political leaders are invariably sweet and kind on the outside but tough as steel inside.  

Tiger Woods may have been the ultimate alpha male and was able to stare down every golfer he faced.  His time of domination has passed and now we see both Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy vying for the alpha position in the world of golf.   

After the hierarchy is established in a group then the structure  and calm will set in which stabilizes the group. To find out more about alpha behavior I called upon a team of dog training experts and went on a walk with them as they took their new pack of dogs on a one mile morning walk through the woods of Alley Pond Adventure Course.  

Bill Bokowski and Kristie Malone of New Hyde Park are the owners of   Pawsitive Dog Training and they’ve been working with dogs for the last 17 years.  

They train aggressive dogs, shy dogs and dogs that run their masters.  

I had hoped to just focus on alpha behavior but predictably with a pack of dogs running down a trail in the woods all sorts of topics arouse.  

I was told that  dogs have three essential drives, a drive to prey, to pack and to defend.  

They communicate with smell and with body language. 

An alpha does not have to be the biggest dog, just the bravest and smartest.  

This reminded me of Joh Muir’s wonderful memoir of Stickeen the dog he used on his glacier exploration. Stickeen was not the biggest dog but he was the smartest and most loyal. 

These trainers told me that the alpha will often run off into  the woods to explore and then return to the pack while others in the pack would  timidly walk along the straight and narrow path remaining within the safety of the group. 

Bill and Kristi  told me that the act of submission was shown by the dog lowering its head and body and even laying on its back when confronted with the alpha.  

And the alpha showed dominance by staring at the other dog, strutting forward and even pushing the other dog aside.  

It reminded me of one of my professional golfers whom I watched as he was winning a tournament. When he was on the tee he would face directly toward the others in the group and even crowd them so they would back up. Pure alpha. 

I learned that the alpha will pay little attention to the betas and omegas in his pack but when he runs into an alpha from another pack they both would eye each other very carefully and often come to blows. 

With humans the alphas will rise to the top due to strength, cunning and courage and  when two alphas meet up watch out because there will be fireworks.  

This is exactly what happens during human  courtship. 

Usually two people will be attracted to each other because of similarity in power and as they grow closer a power struggle ensues to see who  will  be the alpha of the pair and who will be beta or second in command. 

I want to thank Bill and Kristie for allowing me to be with them on their morning  adventure and would recommend that if you have a dog who seems to be running your household  just  give Bill and Kristie a call at (718) 343-3509. 

We don’t want your personal Buck or Prince or Blackie  running roughshod over you  now do we. 

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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