This idea sprang about after a Swiss Animal behaviourist, called Rudolph Schenkel, did a study on captive wolves.
His study showed there was lots of aggression and fighting, and that there was one pair of dominant wolves which mated yearly, and kept the others in check.
This is wrong, or should I say, unnatural. This is what happens when wild animals are kept in artificial surroundings and are not kept in family units. As with all captive zoo animals, individuals are swapped to and from zoos in order to ensure they do not become inbred. The result is a set of completely unrelated wolves who have no idea who each other are and who suddenly find themselves sharing the same home. Understandably they fight a lot, become defensive, and their hierarchy goes out of the window.
Unfortunately, Schenkel published this work, back in the 1940s. And to this day people still believe that this unnatural hierarchy is correct and true. In actual fact, this is not how dogs work. By assuming the role of “pack leader” through dominance, you may get results, but it is based on fear rather than because your dog respects you as a pack leader. This is why I hate Cesar Milan, for example. He is ALL about dominance and being the alpha, when in reality he knows nothing about animal behaviour. But, I digress.
Schenkel REALISED his theory was wrong and set about correcting it, by carrying out a study on wild wolves at Yellowstone Park. He discovered wolves do not act this way at all, and that in fact, the family unit all help to raise the cubs and hierarchy is determined through mutual relations, not fear and dominance. However not many people seem to know about this, and the myth that dogs must be treated through dominance and ‘alpha’ roles still exists.
THIS ARTICLE is magnificently written, and can help to explain this misunderstanding further. I strongly recommend that all dog owners read this, especially those who believe in the “alpha role” and “pack leader” myth.