Wolves fighting for dominance as a “thing” came from observation of captive packs. Observation of genuinely wild packs has revealed that it is not, in fact, a “thing.”
They weren’t even captive packs, they were a bunch of unrelated wolves shoved together in too-small a space.
So if you’re an ‘alpha wolf’ then you are, in point of fact, not the noble, fierce and imposing leader of a group who respects you, but a scared wild creature with no social support frantically lashing out at strangers to try and gain some semblance of control over a fundamentally uncontrollable environment?
That would explain a few things.
The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then in all of previous history.
One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. “Alpha” implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today, the “breeding male,” “breeding female,” or “male parent,” “female parent,” or the “adult male” or “adult female.” In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the “dominant breeder” can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a “subordinate breeder.”