The biggest myth is that dogs have an instinct to obey the "pack leader." New research shows that wolves live in extended family units, not dominance hierarchies. Even more surprising, however, is that wolves who settle near garbage dumps don't form packs (Coppinger), and that coyotes also form packs, but only in the winter when small prey is scarce. This suggests that the pack is neither a dominance hierarchy nor an extended family, but exists solely for the purpose of hunting large prey, a dangerous enterprise that requires intense commitment and cooperation. It also requires a group of like-minded individuals who share a common purpose, but who also possess strong differences in temperament. It's these differences in temperament - long thought to be an integral part of the pack's hierarchical structure - that enable the wolf's pack-style of hunting to succeed. And while it's true that only one animal leads the pack when they hunt, that animal is not the pack leader: it's the prey.
There's no question that dogs and wolves will gravitate toward anyonewho exudes confidence, who gives clear signals on what you want from them, particularly if those signals and behaviors are in-synch with their instincts for group cooperation. But they clearly don't gravitate toward someone who's intent on dominating them or pushing them around. In fact, they don't like that at all. But don't just take my word for it. Here are some links that will help you understand the real pack dynamic:
"Since we have so many television shows, books, and other media which have, unfortunately, not only been perpetuating this faulty view, but basing training and behavior modification methods upon it, it is important that the public be made aware of the real truth of wolf packs." - "The Man Who Cried Alpha," Nicole Wilde. "Writers who refer to dominance and alpha behaviour in dog training are basing their message on outdated and now disproved theory (Steinker, 2007a)." -- The Alpha Theory: based on a misguided premise, Debra Millikan
"Q: What are your thoughts on human to dog hierarchy?"
"A: There is strictly no such thing - people are predominantly parent figures to their dogs, not pack leaders in hierchical arrangements and there is a wealth of science from evolutionary biologists to substantiate that view. Social order is seasonally evident in wolves and other wild canids to ensure the success of reproduction, not for any ongoing political reasons."-- Interview with Dr. Peter Neville.
"It won't be hard to get the wolf pack mentality to go by the board simply because we don't think many of the experts ever really believed it. It is through social play that animals learn from one another. Further, it is fun to play with our dogs even if none of us learn anything. It will certainly make more sense to the dog than to be tumbled onto its back and growled at by a human." -- A Talk with Ray & Lorna Coppinger
"Dog trainers have commonly accepted a model of training based on a supposed emulation of the behaviors of wolves, particularly alpha wolves. Central to this model is the notion of 'dominance.' This model is conceptually flawed in that it rests on some serious misconceptions about wolf behavior as well as serious misconceptions about the interactions between dogs and humans." -- Moving Beyond The Dominance Myth, Morgan Spector
"'Alpha' wolves (now simply called 'breeders' by most wolf biologists) do not train other members of the pack. Current wolf studies have also shown that they are not always the leading animals when wolves travel, nor do they always lead in hunting or eat first when a kill is made." -- "Letting Go Of Dominance," Beth Duman
"Dominance theory is so muddled that it often contradicts itself. For example, if a 'dominant dog' is acting aggressively and the solution is through 'calm-assertive' energy, which makes the human the 'dominant pack leader,' wouldn't a dominant dog always act calm-assertive instead of aggressive?" -- The Dog Whisperer Controversy, Lisa Mullinax
"Labeling a high-ranking wolf 'alpha' emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none. Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so 'alpha' adds no information."
"The concept of the alpha wolf as a 'top dog' is particularly misleading." - Professor L. David Mech, Univeristy of Minnesota
"There is considerable confusion in the literature concerning wolves between the concepts of dominance and leadership; the most dominant animal in the pack being called the 'pack leader,' although this animal is rarely a leader in the sense of setting or signaling an example that is followed by others. Movements of wild wolf packs are often coordinated, but may be initiated by almost any adult." John Paul Scott (of Scott & Fuller)
"The dominance hierarchy that has been described for wolves may be a by-product of captivity. If true, this implies that social behavior, even in wolves, may be a product more of environmental circumstances and contingencies than an instinctive directive. Second, because feral dogs do not exhibit the classic wolf-pack structure, the validity of the canid, social dominance hierarchy again comes into question." -- Abstract: "A Fresh Look at the Wolf-Pack Theory of Companion-Animal Dog Social Behavior," Wendy van Kerkhove