The Dog Dish
The Dog Dish
Puppy Hierarchy and Its Discontents

You’ve probably heard the idea of an Alpha Male before. If you’ve been around pups long enough, you’ve probably heard of an Alpha pup and a Beta. And Gamma. And omega. The hierarchy we’ve created within the puppy-play community has its uses, but it can also create some serious problems. In this episode, we’ll look at the troublesome side of puppy hierarchy.

It’s a recording of a talk I gave at Florida Power Exchange 2019. You can also view and contribute to the notes of the talk.

Hierarchy History

Did you know that research into captive wolves, published back in the 1940s, created the concept of hierarchy within dog packs? And did you know the author of that research recanted his conclusions in the 1990s?

That’s right — the researcher who came up with this stuff has since said it doesn’t actually exist.

So that means if we rely too heavily on that structure, we’re leaning on a fictional construct of convenience. We need to very carefully check how and why we use our hierarchical structure and make sure it accounts for human nature as well as canine behavior. Both are pretty complex.

It’s All About Power

People negotiate their dynamic exchange of power between with every interaction. That dynamic changes based on individual needs and surrounding circumstances. If I walk up to someone who looks like they’re having a bad day, I’m going to approach them with a more supportive demeanor. If someone appears angry, I have to take a completely different approach, possibly coming on strong to talk them down from physical violence. It all depends on circumstances.

Hierarchies within our play scenes and dynamics should be no different. People need to respond to different circumstances. When someone labels themselves as Alpha and expects that to go unchallenged, I have to wonder why they feel entitled. If someone says they’re an omega, and folks expect them to stay that way, they miss an opportunity for growth.

My Proposal

In this talk, I eventually build to this point: Pups should use hierarchical roles to describe performances, not to label people.

When I introduce myself within the puppy community, I say I’m a proud stray gamma pup. Instead, I should say I’m a pup who’s currently stray and proud of it and acting as a gamma. That presentation suggests it’s all fluid, describing me now, not permanently.

There’s plenty more to chew on in this episode. I deliberately try to poke the bear, so I’m bound to say something that doesn’t sit right with everybody. This should be fun!


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