The Nature of Wolves – #05 Strength of the Pack

For most of the 20th century, researchers believed that gray wolf packs formed each winter among independent and unrelated wolves that lived near each other. They had reached this conclusion from observing groups of wolves that had been taken from various zoos and thrown together in captivity.

Under these circumstances, researchers observed that wolves would organize the pack hierarchy based on physical aggression and dominance. The alpha male wolf, indeed, was the wolf that was the strongest.

Later researchers observed how pack formation happens naturally, outside of artificial settings.

Instead of forming packs of unrelated individuals, in which alphas compete to rise to the top, researchers discovered that wild wolf packs actually consist of little nuclear wolf families. Wolves are generally a monogamous species, in which males and females pair off and mate for life. Together they form a pack that typically consists of 5-11 members, the alpha mates plus their children, who stay with the pack until they’re about a year old, and then go off to secure their own mates and form their own packs.

The alpha pair shares in the responsibility of leading their family and tending to their cubs. By virtue of being parents, and leading their “subordinate” children, the mates represent a pair of “alphas.” The alpha male, sits at the top of the male hierarchy in the family and the alpha female, sits atop the female hierarchy in the family.

In other words, male alpha wolves don’t gain their status through aggression and the dominance of other males, but because the other wolves in the pack are his mate and offspring. And like any good family man, a male alpha wolf protects his family and treats them with kindness, generosity, and love.

After observing gray wolves in Yellowstone for more than twenty years, wolf researcher Richard McIntyre has rarely seen an alpha male wolf act aggressively towards his own pack. Instead, an alpha male sticks around until his pups are fully matured. He hunts alone or with his mate and children to provide food for the family (and sometimes waits for them to get their fill before he eats himself). The perceived bullying of Omega wolves is just preparation for when they leave the pack and have to defend themselves. The Alpha and Omega instigate rough play with the cubs and the Alpha lovingly lets them win. He even goes out of his way to tend to the runts of his pack.

Alphas, though, are fierce predators, and can even take down large prey like moose and bison. And when their family is threatened by outside enemies and competitors, the alpha will fiercely defend it — sometimes sacrificing their own life to save their mate and pups. They are the protectors of the pack.

Wolves do sometimes engage in displays of social dominance. Mature male wolves do have dominance encounters with other male wolves – fathers will stand up to a stranger alpha, or sometimes show their own offspring who is in charge. An older wolf brother will also demonstrate his superiority to younger members of the pack.

If you have two dogs, older and a pup observe how the younger plays with the older dog and bites his ears and ankles. The older dog plays patiently, but sometimes the pup will push him too far and the pup lies on its side in submission.

So an alpha wolf can indeed be violent and assertive when the situation calls for it. Yet for the most part, they lead not with noisy brashness and teeth-bared aggression, but steady strength, mettle, and heart.

Source: – How to Really be Alpha like the Wolf


Observe dog walkers, or observe your own dogs in a family setting. The person who walks the dogs, plays with them and feeds them is their pack leader.

Watch the dog’s behavior when they are walked. Some younger dogs, or new family members try and pull on their lead, but after a while realise their place in the family. They are happy and the most loyal of animals. However, if another dog owner meets them, they will react in one of two ways to the other dogs.

Thinking about the terms Alpha, Beta and Omega and applying them to your observations, try and define each in your own words.

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