Alpha Male or Alpha Female?

I got an interesting comment from Mark the other day on my Shiba Inu Personality article

Females are the alpha of this species, not the males. If there are two pregnant females in the pack, they will fight to the death. I think mine really is a cat in dogs clothing. She’s friendly to every animal. She will swim (while I walk) along the breakwater, gladly. …

From talking with my dog-owner friends, it seems that most of them have dog packs that are ruled by an alpha female.

I say mostly because the alpha role is often fluid with dogs and may change depending on environment and activity.

This really made me wonder …

Is it more common to have a male or female in charge most of the time? How is like for your dog pack?

Why is it more common to have an alpha male/female?

I speculate that it is more common to have an alpha female.

Female dogs are more concerned about controlling resources around the house, given their role as mothers.

Alpha males would be more concerned about leading the hunt, but since there is little of that in a domestic dog’s life, the male feels less of a need to assume the alpha position.

What about human packs?

Is it more common in human households to have an alpha male or an alpha female? This is, of course, very rooted in the culture surrounding the human pack; but I really wonder what the statistics are like …

Many people say that they have a 50/50 household but I think it is difficult to achieve such symmetry.

In general, I think there are areas where the male or female really wants control, and other areas where he/she just stays away from. Occasionally though, there will be situations where everyone wants to make the call – these are the cases where it will be most clear who is the alpha.

What do you think?

What is it like with your dog pack? and your human pack?

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  1. julie says

    My yellow lab is the alpha. Oddly she treats my 5 yo setter (who she has known since he was 5 weeks) as a puppy (he can eat out of her dish, if he whimpers she is there and he in turns obeys her w/o question). My setter never bosses around anyone but if my husbands want to be alpha dog does anything to my setter my lab is johnny on the spot with corrections growls and snarls, until hubby’s dog rolls over. So other than alpha what is the pack structure, is my husband’s dog beta or omega?

    • shibashake says

      Hello Julie,

      From what you say, it sounds like your Setter is the most submissive of the three dogs. However, dominance is often a fluid thing, and very dependent on not just temperament but surrounding context.

      What works best for me is to set-up consistent interaction rules among my dogs, and for me to supervise and resolve conflicts. In that way, the dogs get to relax with each other, and things never escalate into aggression.

    • julie says

      Hi and thanks. Yes my setter is submissive and sneaky. Any time he wants to be in charge of my husband’s dog all he has to do is make helpless puppy noises and no questions asked my lab is there to deal with the presumed bully.

      Am I reading too much into this or are dogs capable of manipulating to this extent. Also it is hard to predict when hoover will do the whimper thing. We try to maintain control but the lab is always 2 to 3 seconds ahead almost like she knows what is about to happen.

      Any advice in dealing with this dynamic is most welcome thanks again

    • shibashake says

      Am I reading too much into this or are dogs capable of manipulating to this extent.

      It is difficult to say without actually looking at the dogs and the situation.

      the lab is always 2 to 3 seconds ahead almost like she knows what is about to happen.

      Yeah, there is usually something that triggers the conflict behavior and our dogs are very good at observing body language and surrounding context. Dogs most often come into conflict over resources, so I make sure that my dogs don’t steal from each other – not just over food but also over space, affection, attention, etc.

      My dogs are most likely to come into conflict during meal times and during play. Both my Sibes are very food focused, so that is a very valued resource. As for play time, everyone is in a more excited state, so it is more likely for things to escalate into something more than play.

      I try to observe them closely, and look for things that will trigger dominance behavior. Then I make sure to supervise during those circumstances, and prevent conflicts before they occur. If I am a bit late, I will still go to resolve things in a consistent manner. In this way, my dogs learn that I will always be there to take care of things, so they just need to wait for me.

      One of my Sibes is a three legged dog, so I am very sensitive to any kind of bullying behavior.

      Here is more on what I do during meal time and play time-

  2. Colleen says

    In our household it seems to vary. It is myself, my husband and our male Shiba puppy Reptar (9 mos). When it comes to the alpha, Reptar understands that I am the Alpha female. He responds to my commands and looks to me for discipline and understanding more than my husband. He takes me more seriously when he is being taught or when commands are given. He will look at my husband and give him this look like “What? You talkin to me!?” think for a few minutes about whether he wants to obey him. When I give him the same command, most of the time he follows without a look or an extra thought. I thought this was surprising since women generally have to work a bit harder as men have the natural dominant qualities (voice, posture etc). I realize this is because when we are teaching him commands, I remain calm and don’t push him. He gets tested on what he already knows and is expected to do that. If we’re learning something new, I have more patience which resonates well with Reptar.

    On the other side, Reptar sees Mike as the protector. If Mike is out of town on business, after a day or so, Reptar realizes he’s not home so he feels the needs to step up. He sleeps at the door or always facing the door, coming back into the room i’m in to check on me and is on a much higher alert. He feels that he has to sleep in Mike’s position on the bed and assume his role in the house. If someone comes over that he does not know when Mike is away, Reptar is very rude to our guest. He barks and is constantly at my side. When he’s not full barking at the guest, he’s making little barking noises under his breath.

    Very interesting post!

  3. Alex says

    Well, most of the time I’m not 100 percent calm assertive, but it happens so fast I don’t have time to be scared. I also know that getting scared or panicked will only cause more trouble, so I stand my ground. If worse comes to worse and my gestures don’t ward the dog off I can always grab it, or kick it if it really means to injure.

    Dogs don’t deserve to be locked up all the time. It’s sad. People don’t see it as sad; they only see it as ‘that dog is mean’ or ‘those owners are bad’. God forbid it’s a “pitbull-type” dog, because then they’ll probably report it. But if it’s a lab or golden no one does anything.

  4. shibashake says

    lol – Lupin sounds wonderful. A ladies man – I like that πŸ™‚

    Lupin would rather get behind me and let me handle a dominating stray than to confront it himself, because he knows I can handle them.

    I wish people would walk their dogs. Some of the charging dogs in my neighborhood are both scary and sad. There was this Lab-mix that charged right up to me one time, snarling, with crazy eyes, and saliva flying. Can’t say I was able to remain calm and assertive πŸ™‚

  5. Alex says

    Lupin is a bit insecure, so he’s cautious even around the calmest of big boys. He’ll warm up to them if given some time to meet. He only has girl dog-friends; romps and bowls them over when in play, but never enough to hurt. They’re usually more excited to see him than he is of them, but he does love to romp and wrestle.

    Lupin would rather get behind me and let me handle a dominating stray than to confront it himself, because he knows I can handle them.

  6. shibashake says

    Lupin does tend to be a bit dominating around his girly friends; bigger guys, though, are a different story.

    That is interesting. My silly Shiba just lets the girls use him as a chew toy. I think he gets along better with females, and the less dominating males.

  7. Alex says

    Well, Since my sister and I are the alphas, alpha females! We only have Lupin, but Lupin does tend to be a bit dominating around his girly friends; bigger guys, though, are a different story.

  8. Jared says

    I think Mossi enjoys attention (human and canine) so much that he will assume whatever role (alpha or beta) that maximizes the attention. He seems to be shifting more towards Beta and becoming a lapdog. We are positively reinforcing this behavior. I think Shiba’s are highly pragmatic little dogs, but then again, everything is on their terms.

  9. shibashake says

    Haha, that sounds like my Shiba and Siberian, although my Shiba is a male. He lets my Siberian do whatever she wants most of the time – steal his food, steal his toys, pull his leg, etc. When he chooses though, he can easily assert his leadership over her. It is one of the things that I really like about Shiba Sephy – he is a good leader who doesn’t need to always be in charge. Sounds like your Shiba is the same way. Wonder if it is a general Shiba trait …

  10. says

    Hi! Love your site! I’m the proud owner of a crazy, female shiba inu mix (at least, based on her looks and 99%of her character traits, we’re pretty sure she’s a shiba mix) and a male german shep mix, who’s older, and I adopted him first and I can honestly say that he’s the alpha dog, but only when she chooses. I’ve seen a few times where she’s definitely asserted her leadership over him, but otherwise she mostly defers to him, “letting” him be alpha.

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