Pets Food

Alpha wolf concept is too furious for the pet food industry

In real wolf packs, there are no alphas, betas or other Greek letter designations for degrees of dominance and submission. Nevertheless, the concept of alpha male appears repeatedly in business leadership guides and advice, not to mention the misogynistic depths of the internet.

“Highly intelligent, confident and successful, alpha males represent about 70% of all senior executives,” reported the Harvard Business Review. “As the label implies, they’re the people who aren’t happy unless they’re the top dogs—the ones calling the shots. Although there are plenty of successful female leaders with equally strong personalities, we’ve found top women rarely if ever match the complete alpha profile.”

The pet food industry is no exception to this myth of the alpha. From brand names to marketing slogans, the idea of ​​alpha wolves has been domesticated to refer to companion animals and their relationship to humans. As a business sector closely linked to wolves’ highly successful descendants, perhaps the pet food industry can play a role in debunking the pseudo-science behind alpha dogs. At the same time, abandoning the alpha dominance hierarchy idea could benefit the management and leadership of pet food producers, ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers and others in the industry.

“…What’s real is family” – Dom Toretto, Furious 7

One of Hollywood’s on-screen alpha males, Vin Diesel, unwittingly debunked the alpha wolf idea in a quote from “The Fast and the Furious” series. The concept of alpha males derives from experiments conducted by Rudolf Schenkel in the 1940s. Schenkel observed groups of wolves held in captivity at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland. The wolves weren’t related to each other and lived in enclosures of only 10 by 20 meters. Under these cramped, unnatural conditions, the wolves formed hierarchies in which the dominant male and female formed a pair bond and suppressed other wolves from taking control of the pack. These observations led to the concept of alpha wolves. However, even Schenkel noted that these were not natural conditions. Outside captivity, wolf packs from with a mother and father leading a several generations of their own offspring. Family is the reality.

Some have suggested the Schenkel experiments more closely resemble the situation of humans in prison. Does one really want to run their pet food business like the head of the Aryan Brotherhood?

Empirical observations of wolf packs

Another wolf researcher David L. Mech at first used the term alpha in his research publications and a popular book published in 1970. However, observations of wild wolves led him to reject the term in the late 90s. Nevertheless, Mech’s early work had popularized the term, and some humans vigorously beat their chests feeling vindicated by a supposed natural order that placed them on top of the world. However, among the wolf packs of Ellesmere Island, Canada, Mech did not observe an alpha male dominating the beta-cucks and females of his social group.

“I conclude that the typical wolf pack is a family, with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them,” Mech wrote in the Canadian Journal of Zoology in 1999.

Wolf packs aren’t a patriarchy or a matriarchy, and alphas don’t suppress the young pups to keep them from becoming leaders themselves. Instead, the mother and father wolves share responsibilities. The leaders’ primary goals are to protect and teach the next generation how to one day be successful leaders of their own pack. That sounds like a good way to run a business too.

“Without Family, You’ve Got Nothing.” – Dom Toretto, Fast X

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