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MEN often face pressure to measure up as alpha males, to “wolf up” as it were. Alpha male connotes the man who at every moment demonstrates that he’s in total control in the home, and who away from home can become snarling and aggressive.

 This alpha male stereotype comes from a misunderstanding of the real thing. In fact, the male wolf is an exemplary male role model. By observing wolves in free-living packs in Yellowstone National Park, I’ve seen that the leadership of the ranking male is not forced, not domineering and not aggressive to those on his team.

“The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf,” the veteran wolf researcher Rick McIntyre says as we were watching gray wolves, “is a quiet confidence, quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that. You have a calming effect.”

The point is, alpha males are not aggressive. They don’t need to be. “Think of an emotionally secure man, or a great champion. Whatever he needed to prove is already proven,”


“Imagine two wolf packs, or two human tribes,” Mr. McIntyre said. “Which is more likely to survive and reproduce? The one whose members are more cooperative, more sharing, less violent with one another; or the group whose members are beating each other up and competing with one another?”

Thus, an alpha male may be a major player in a successful hunt but then, after the takedown of the prey, may step away and sleep until his pack has eaten and is full.

In all that time, he has rarely seen an alpha male act aggressively toward the pack’s other members. They are his family — his mate, offspring (both biological and adopted) and maybe a sibling.

This does not mean that alpha males are not tough when they need to be. One famous wolf in Yellowstone whose radio collar number, 21, became his name, was considered a “super wolf” by the people who closely observed the arc of his life. He was fierce in defense of family and apparently never lost a fight with a rival pack. Yet within his own pack, one of his favorite things was to wrestle with little pups.


“And what he really loved to do was to pretend to lose. He just got a huge kick out of it,” Mr. McIntyre said.

If you watch wolves, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that perhaps no two species are more alike behaviorally than wolves and humans. Living as we do in families, we can easily recognize the social structures and status quests in wolf packs. No wonder Native Americans recognized in wolves a sibling spirit.

The similarities between male wolves and male humans can be quite striking. Males of very few other species help procure food year-round for the entire family, assist in raising their young to full maturity and defend their packs year-round against others of their species who threaten their safety. Male wolves appear to stick more with that program than their human counterparts do.

Doug Smith, the biologist who is the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project, said the females “do most of the decision making” for the pack, including where to travel, when to rest and when to hunt. The matriarch’s personality can set the tone for the whole pack, Dr. Smith said.

Or, as Mr. McIntyre put it: “It’s the alpha female who really runs the show.”

Clearly, our alpha male stereotype could use a corrective makeover. Men can learn a thing or two from real wolves: less snarl, more quiet confidence, leading by example, faithful devotion in the care and defense of families, respect for females and a sharing of responsibilities. That’s really what wolfing up should mean
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Responses to "Tapping Your Inner Wolf: What Does “Alpha Male” Really Mean?"

  1. Snow Wolf says:

    Awesome post!

  2. Anonymous says:

    WOLVES SOUL

    WOLVES RUN IN A FAMILY PACK, LIKE OURS
    THE ALPHA CRIES TO THE NIGHT SKY,
    TELLING STORIES OF A FORGOTTEN TIME
    WHEN MAN DIDN'T ROAM,THEIR TERRITORIES
    THE WHELPS HEART BEATS TO A DIFFERENT DRUM,
    LIKE THE WHISPERING CANYONS, RUSHING CARVING WATER,
    TO MOTHER SEA RUN. THEY KILL TO EAT,
    WITH LESSONS OF STARVATION,
    IN THE LONG WINTERS NIGHT, WHERE THE STRONG SURVIVE,
    AND WEAK LIFE ENDS.
    WHERE MOTHER NATURE TAKES HER TOLL.
    WHERE FREEDOM HAS KNOW FENCES, IS THEIR HOME.

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