Commonly used in reference to the wolf of greatest status and authority in a pack.

More recently adopted for use to describe the phenomenon of one-upmanship among male humans.

Most amusingly used in conjunction with geeks and acquisition of new gadgetry. When, for example, a geek purchases a new computer, PDA, piece of bleeding edge software, or personal electronics, he is trying at some level to either seize or retain the position of alpha-male.

Term from ethology which refers to the male at the top of the social pecking order of the pack or group, an animal precursor to totemism and ultimately class hierarchies. Typically the physically strongest male in the group, exceptionally the most clever, the alpha male invariably has the strongest selection amongst females, the ultimate advantatge from an evolutionary perspective.

In humans, alpha male behaviour and characteristics are still noticeable althogh these can vary by social context. In a survey conducted between Hanover and New York women shown a series of head-only photographs of men picked those who were financially wealthy as "attractive" in better than 90% of cases. However, wealth is not the only alpha male trait that is still in vogue.

Height is often regarded as very desirable - tall men have been proven to be both more attractive to the opposite sex and also more fertile although whether these attributes are related is anyone's guess. Similarly, physically fit men do better than unfit men. Actual values of being "good-looking" are so subjective as to be practically useless for demographic testing but studies have shown that some level of facial symmetry is regarded as desirable in and by both sexes.

Intelligence, oddly, is not a winning male character-trait. Women consistently choose those men who are more financially wealthy or more closely match their physical requirements over those who have high levels of intelligence, according to studies conducted in Munich, Basle, Lyons, Tokyo, San Francisco, London, Johannesburg and New York.

Contrary to popular belief, apparent dominance in an animal social hierarchy may not to lead to maximum mate choice or reproductive potential. Studies in some primates have shown that some female reproductive strategies, such as cryptic female mate choice, specifically enable reproduction with males other than the alpha male. The extra strength and energy of the alpha male may thus go into protecting and feeding progeny that aren't his.

This helps explain the existance of alternate male strategies: evolutionarily speaking, that guy skulking around the outsides of the social group and not jockeying for position wouldn't be there if he didn't get laid occasionally.

(This is one of many reasons the definition and useful domain of "dominance" is still under significant debate.)

I am the alpha male in our pack.

I am the boss. I am the master. I am the biggest, the baddest, the best. From my paw flows pain and pardon, affection and admonition. I am the big dog.

Never mind that I am a 5'1” human female with much more bark than bite. Never mind that I have elders that I acknowledge as my superiors. I am the pack leader. When I speak, my inferiors listen. I didn't teach them to hear me immediately. To gain this level of control, I had to assert my dominance in many small ways, starting from the time they first joined my pack.


Several rules for Alpha Domination

The easiest rule of all? Start young.

Everyone knows that a puppy is a baby dog. However, what people fail to realize is that a puppy is a baby dog. This means that, much like a baby person, one day it will grow in to an adult. And, much like a baby person, a baby dog is learning as it grows. Do not teach it anything you do not want it to know when it is much bigger and stronger.


  • Establish dominance, the physical way.

    You are the big dog, and asserting this to a small, pliable puppy mind is much easier than trying to convince a much older, much more worldly dog. Flip the puppy on its back and look down on it. If it is accepting you as its leader, it will not struggle to right itself. It should just calmly lay there and stare back, showing that it accepts its submission to you. If the puppy doesn't do this right away, do not flag. Hold it still until it realizes how much stronger, bigger, and more committed you are than it is. When the puppy is still and submitting, it should be easy for you to play with its ears, feet, mouth, and stomach. This should be done so that the dog version of the puppy will be more compliant to veterinarians, groomers, and you (should you have to be the bearer of bad meds).

    Another method for establishing the bigger-badderness of yourself over the puppy is to hold it under the armpits and look it in the eye. Never raise the puppy above your own eye level, as this places it in a level of dominance. All squirming should cease, though some puppies will really get rocking before they finally give in. The puppy should also look you in the eye. If he is not meeting your eye, he is basically calling you a fraud. Letting him get away with this is not acceptable. It is not necessary to obtain full dominance in one setting. Don't push it, but make sure to instill who exactly is boss quickly. Try several times if necessary, but don't give up on it.


  • Pack leaders can make funny requests.

    These must be honored. Puppies should submit to the will of leaders if the pack is going to remain functional. Training should begin early to encourage compliance before bad behaviors set in. Teach the puppy all basic commands, such as sit, stay, come, and heel. These should be employed before provision of meals and toys, or to encourage a dog to calm down when it has become overly excited. Do not use violence as a punishment, but rather encourage the dog with treats and praise so that good actions are associated with good rewards. You do not have to be a tyrant just to be the boss.


  • You are the top of the food chain.

    Questions about the hierarchy in a social group encourage in-fighting in order to establish who's where on the food chain. You must always be on top. Everything that the puppy gets is from you. Toys and treats should be given only when the dog has submitted to your requests, such as “Sit” or “Come”. When it is meal time, make another request, such as “Sit”, and make sure that request is honored until you so choose to allow them to get up and enjoy their meal.


  • Hurting is not all right.

    Do not let puppies bite, especially in a way that elicits pain. Biting is a normal part of play-fighting, and especially in teething pups, it can't be helped. This does not mean that you must be your puppy's chew toy. When a puppy bites, make sure they know that they have hurt you. Say “ouch” or give some other signal, preferably not violent, and replace your extremities with a proper chewable item.


  • You are the champion, my friend.

    Games like tug-of-war may be fun, but also allow the puppy to feel dominant if it always wins-- that is, ends up with the toy. Make sure that you win most of the time. In fact, teach the puppy when it is time to let go, using commands such as “Drop” or “Let go”. Though he may win once or twice, letting him win constantly will lead to the false belief that he is stronger than you. And if he's stronger than you, what else can he get away with?


  • You are the king in your castle.

    When you go out of your territory, make sure that you do it as pack leader. Literally, you must lead the pack. Make the puppy sit outside of the door frame when you are about to enter/exit, and enter/exit before he does. While you are walking, make sure that your commands and desires are followed. I recommend Cesar Millan for this particular portion of the training though, as he has full seasons of advice, and I have only one already overwritten node.


  • You are not territory.

    Do not let yourself be marked. Mounting and humping is not a sign of affection, playfulness, or ardent desire. It is an attempt to tell you that you can be man-handled however the dominant animal desires. Do not allow this. Ever. It's obnoxious for an adult dog, but it's really disturbing when a 7 week old puppy pulls it.



All combined, the above rules should allow you to mark yourself as the alpha male in your home. As I said, the easiest way to assert dominance is for your puppy to grow up knowing dominance. The same rules should apply even for older dogs, who may have already established many behaviors. The rules may just be harder and more difficult to apply and enforce. Obviously, it will be difficult to flip a full-grown German Shepherd on her back until she stops wiggling. It may even be dangerous to try. In these situations, involving an experienced trainer or behaviorist may be best.
However, do try the more subtle dominance behaviors-- you are the winner, you are the first to exit, you are the source of everything that the dog needs. These sorts of actions will go miles in letting the dog know that you are superior to it, and it will hopefully respond accordingly.

IMHO, it is unnecessary to use excessive force to train a dog. It is not even truly necessary to go so far as to threaten the dog. In fact, especially with grown dogs, the threat of a threat is not enough. In situations with a dog who has asserted dominance, you must escalate your “threat” to the point that the dog will actually feel scared for its life in order to assent to your dominance. Are you really willing to nearly strangle your dog to death when a simple touch to the throat is insufficient? I won't go so far as to say that I haven't ever gotten frustrated and whapped a nose or a tail. I will say that if you are a good enough trainer, it is unnecessary. If you do not think you can be that trainer, get someone to teach you how to become so.


I hope all of this helps to set up a successful relationship between you and your dog. If not, please be sure to tune in to the National Geographic Channel. They really love Cesar.


The above node was written from my personal experience training dogs, talks with veterinarians, and a few helpful hints from the sites listed below.

  • http://www.canismajor.com/dog/behvterm.html
  • http://www.inch.com/~dogs/taming.html
  • http://www.cpvh.com/Articles/35.html

If you have been writing mainly science fiction, fantasy, horror, or mainstream fiction but are interested in branching out into urban fantasy or paranormal romance, there are a couple of genre conventions you'll need to keep in mind. You can get a basic introduction to many of these reader/editor expectations in my urban fantasy and paranormal romance writeups.

But I didn't cover one important character type, a trope that mostly doesn't exist in horror but is hugely important in romance and all its flavors: the Alpha Male.

The Alpha Male of the romance novel does not exist in the real world. But, because of publishers' desires to put out books that appeal to the huge romance readership, urban fantasy writers must be aware him (and his brothers, the Beta Male, and the Omega Male). While precise definitions vary, here are some characteristics of the three to keep in mind:

  Alpha Male Beta Male Omega Male
At the castle, he would be... The handsome prince of the realm or the fiercely brave captain of the king's guard. A steadfast tower guard or a hardworking cook. A lazy stablehand.
At the dance club... He wears designer cologne and the latest understatedly masculine fashions; later, his $500 shirt will be torn from his chiseled chest when he rescues a beautiful woman who’s being mugged in the alley. He wears a nice shirt and khakis and some Old Spice. He speed-dials 911 or runs back to the club to get the bouncer when he sees the lady in trouble. He wears a mustard-stained tee shirt and the same pair of jeans he’s been wearing for three weeks straight. He watches the mugging from a safe distance, hoping to see something exciting.
During the zombie apocalypse, he... Comes up with a daring plan and leads the survivors to the safety of an idyllic tropical island with a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other. Is scared and barely survives, but when the Alpha Male shows up with a plan, he picks up a gun and helps where he can. Tries to cop a feel on a newly-zombified stripper and is eaten. The zombie stripper finds his brains unsatisfying.
At his father's funeral, he... Is a pillar of strength for his mother and sisters; he made the funeral arrangements himself and he gives a moving memorial speech; later, he hunts down his father's murderer. Tries to be stoic, but he goes through a lot of Kleenex. He's depressed at the wake, and still can't believe anyone would want to hurt his dad. He hopes the cops will find the killer soon. Either shows up drunk or blows the funeral off entirely and stays home drinking and feeling sorry for himself. He does not call his mother until he needs to borrow money.
If his girlfriend was sad, he would... Whisk her away for a romantic weekend in Paris; on the plane, he single-handedly defeats the terrorist hijackers. Give her a hug and ask her if she wants to go to a movie. Not notice because he's too busy watching football.
His pick-up line would be… Something so swooningly romantic that any woman would faint before his masculine glory. Hi, my name is Joe.” “*Burp* Hey baby, do you swallow?”
His flaw is... He can be arrogant and impatient with people who seem stupid or lazy; he has his pick of women and in his downtime he's a playboy. He courts danger; it's hard on those who care about him. He's too eager to please and is a bit boring. He needs to go to the gym more. He’s too shy/uncertain/oppressed to go after his heart's desires. His sin? He's a normal human being. His flaws are many, and his awareness of them almost nonexistent.
He can be redeemed by... The love of a good woman. Learning to be more Alpha. Probably not redeemable, but soap would help.

What can't the Alpha Male hero be? Shy. Depressed. Impoverished. He can't be suffering from a chronic disease (unless it's lycanthropy) or an addict (unless he's addicted to love or blood). And he can't under any circumstances ever have erectile dysfunction. He can have some scars that serve to enhance his rakishness and male mystique, but not too many; he can't be ugly, because ugly is reserved for evil people.

The Alpha Male is a perfect package of wealth, power, talent, sexual allure, looks, and brains. He's as legendary as a dragon, and he’s loaded with pernicious gender and class stereotyping along with negative portrayals of introverts, etc. The problem is that the Alpha Male represents a myth that a lot of people present as being a reality. It's as if our society still believed, Medieval-style, in unicorns, with the result that the streets are full of jackasses with horns strapped to their foreheads.

On a more practical note, if romances don't appeal to you and you find yourself recoiling at the thought of writing a romantic sub-plot, it really does help to think of the Alpha Male as another kind of protagonistic monster you must include in the story along with your dragons, vampires, werewolves, selkies, etc.

Successful fantasy fiction (be it traditional fantasy or supernatural horror) depends on engaging the reader's imagination but also it depends on suspending the reader's sense of disbelief. The best way to "sell" a reader on otherworldly elements is to ground your characters and setting in the real world as much as possible. If the story otherwise seems like it could really happen, the reader will accept that there's a werewolf running the coffee shop.

Gender/class baggage aside, a problem inherent in the Alpha Male is that while romance readers accept and expect him, he can totally destroy the suspension of disbelief in people who mainly read horror, science fiction, and fantasy. One crucial technique for contemporary fantasy authors is to portray realistic interpersonal relationships; the moment you’ve got an Alpha Male, though, you're dealing in fantasy relationships that you can’t hide behind the expectedly-antique cultural sensibilities of a distant-past fantasy setting, and that makes for a challenging balancing act.

If all else fails, you can partially distract skeptical readers with good world building.

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