Wolves are cool, right? Whether they're Savage Wolves or Noble Wolves, there's something about them that captures people's attention. Unfortunately, wolves, or more specifically wolf behavior, is very misunderstood by many people.
The popular image of a wolf pack involves a group of snarling animals that are always trying to one-up each other. The "alpha" pair are the strongest and most powerful male and female in the group. They however have to work to keep their place as "Top Dog" by frequently fighting with other members of the pack.
This image, however, is not accurate. Scientists used to believe this was how wolf packs worked; however, it's since been recognized that wild packs don't act this way.note Captive wolves do, if grouped with unrelated wolves, as was common in the past.
In nature, the breeding pair is naturally dominant, not because they fought for their position, but simply because they are the parents of most of the other wolves.note Most other adults are usually pups who haven't left to form their own packs yet (these pups generally leave the pack by their third year to make their own packs), though many packs do include siblings of the breeding pair. These will be subordinate to the dominant pair because rank among siblings is established early in life - not by who is bigger or stronger, but by who is more confident and assertive. Non-related wolves are rarely let into packs. In most packs, the traditional "alpha/beta" dynamic doesn't exist because the wolves are all family; as such, wolf hierarchy is related more to age than strength - and not without reason; if you live a long time in the wild, you're pretty tough, right? If wolves are unrelated, however, or the pack is very large, then the dynamic is more likely to exist, but even then wolves usually aren't violent towards other pack members in the same way they are to rival wolves.
Captive packs made up of unrelated wolves introduced to each other in adulthood tend to have a more volatile hierarchy, since there's no natural order but physical strength, and disagreements must be settled; the two parties can't simply part ways.
This concept of wolf behavior is so commonplace that it often gets used with domestic dogs. Since dogs are a sub-species of wolf, it's assumed that they act a lot like their wild relatives too. This is also inaccurate. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years precisely not to be wolves. The need to form a pack to survive is undesired in dogs, and dogs with too strong a desire to be the "Alpha" (even above their owner) simply don't get bred, while violent dogs are often put down. As a result, their psychology and behaviour has developed far away from that of their ancestors. Some research on feral dogs suggests that they might not even form concrete packs like wolves do, with additional research suggesting that a dog's physical strength has nothing to do with its dominance (hence why a tiny Chihuahua can be more "alpha" than dogs several times its size). Still, you'll commonly see wolf behaviour attributed to dogs, and it's a major component of several dog training methods (which may or may not be healthy).
By extension, this trope is often applied to werewolves, and the use of such a ranking system is also used as a distinguishing feature of other fantastic species. Among werewolves and other sapients, these rankings can act as a Fantastic Caste System.
Sub-trope to Artistic License Biology and Greek Letter Ranks. Tangentially related to Alpha Bitch as the supposed "alpha male" is similar in concept. No relation to alpha and beta as software terms.
- The Keeper Wants to Build a Zoo in Another World, so He Tames Monsters: Ikuhara mentions this while explaining canine psychology to Merou. It may be true for Hellhounds like Cerberus, but as a zoologist, he should really know better than to uncritically apply it to real-life wolves.
- Seton Academy: Join the Pack!: Ranka describes herself as the pack leader of the cooking club, and during a time she went mad with power after getting dozens of students to come to the club, she describes herself as number one, while the others were of lower number rankings.
- "Alpha/Beta/Omega" (also known as A/B/O or "Omegaverse") fics are a subgenre of Alternate Universe Fic where otherwise-human characters have certain canine features — most notably a rigid Fantastic Caste System dividing people into Alphas (dominant), Betas (neutral), and Omegas (submissive). Many writers just use the concept to write kinky dom/sub Lemon Fics with an animalistic bent (commonly involving Mr. Seahorse, Ukefication, and/or Mating Season Mayhem), while other take it in more serious and worldbuilding-oriented directions. The idea is loosely inspired by werewolf stories. It came from Supernatural fandom, and then spread to other fandoms. For a little more detailed explanation, see this Fanlore article and this Lindsay Ellis video.
- In Briggan's Story, the full alphabet is used. Messengers, warriors and hunters are on the top; scouts, jesters and pup-sitters are on the bottom.
- A Diplomatic Visit: Late in the fic, it comes out that the Alpha is the title for the supreme leader and founder of the Packlands, who is above all the Packleaders for the individual packs. He's also the Lord of Summer, though Twilight doesn't understand what that means when he first states it.
- Remus and Danger are always referred to as the alpha male and female of the Pack, while Sirius and Aletha are the beta male and female. The cubs are, of course, subordinate to the adults.
- Within the Pride, Harry is the alpha male from when the Pride is formed. Hermione starts out as alpha female, but Ginny ends up taking the position around when she starts dating Harry (the transfer of authority is made explicit immediately after the two hook up, but there are some tangential references to Ginny acting as an alpha earlier on). After being displaced as alpha, Hermione slots comfortably into the beta female role, while Neville is the Pride's beta male. Note that Neville and Hermoine are not romantically involved: Neville is dating Meghan Black, while Hermione ends up engaged to Ron.
- Their Bond: Wolfo packs have a hierarchy system ruled by alphas. Goro assigns these ranks to "two-leggers" as well, with Link being an alpha and Zelda being an omega (later a beta-omega).
- Weres Harry?: Werewolf packs are led by an Alpha male and female. It's stated that being an Alpha is innate: a werewolf cannot become an Alpha simply by wanting to and any werewolf will instinctively recognize an Alpha as an Alpha upon meeting them. It's also implied that it is very difficult for non-Alpha werewolves to function unless they are in a pack under the leadership of an Alpha (Remus is stated to have gotten around this during the Marauder era by treating the Marauders as a kind of pseudo-pack, with James and Lily as Alphas).
- Alpha and Omega is about Alpha wolf Kate and Omega wolf Humphrey falling in love despite being on opposite ends on their pack's order.
- Isle of Dogs: Chief refers to the main dog cast as a pack of alphas (and they're named Boss, King, Duke and Rex).
- In Up, Muntz's dogs all fit into a distinct hierarchy, and are even named after the Greek letters that denote their rank—the alpha is named Alpha, the second-in-command named Beta, and so on. Dug, the Odd Name Out, is at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Dug eventually beats Alpha and restrains him with the Cone Of Shame, which earns him a place as the pack's new alpha.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) introduces these pack dynamics to the Titans. Godzilla and Mothra are the Alpha Titans, a symbiotic couple powerful enough to boss around all the other Titans. And King Ghidorah is powerful enough to rival Godzilla, usurping the position of Alpha and commanding other Titans' loyalty, after he defeats and seemingly kills Godzilla. The scientist who identifies this behavior had studied wolves in the wild before, and directly claims that the Titans are functioning like a wolf pack.
- The raptors in Jurassic World are organized in this fashion, with the order of dominance being Blue, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. When it's pointed out that the naming convention skipped Alpha, Owen says that it's because he, himself, has taken that role in the pack. Blue is also the most willing to accept Owen's place as her leader, with the other three being more prone to aggression despite submitting to Blue's (and therefore Owen's) leadership. Indicating that despite the outdated "Alpha and Beta" terminology, it's actually more of an age-based hierarchy since Blue is the oldest of the raptors and Owen (who was present for the births of all four) takes the role of their father. This is more or less verified when Indominus rex is able to take leadership of the pack in a combination of Asskicking Equals Authority and exploiting their confusion over Owen's allies betraying them, but the survivors of the pack are easily convinced to rejoin Owen when he returns even though fighting Indominus is suicidal. Owen is family whereas Indominus took their "allegiance" by force.
- The werewolves in What We Do in the Shadows have a rigid hierarchy led by an "alpha" who tells the other ones what to do, makes them laugh at his jokes, etc.
- Animorphs: When morphing wolves for the first time, Jake is the only male (to Marco's chagrin) because Cassie didn't want to waste time having two male wolves fighting for dominance. It works out well (although Jake feels the need to pee against every tree they pass), until they meet a wild wolfpack.
- Blood and Chocolate The loup-garou pack determine who is the new alpha male and "queen bitch" via a battle royale known as "the Ordeal" following the death of one of the old pair. Vivian wins the female Ordeal almost by accident but refuses to take the position and mate with the new alpha male until after her human boyfriend shoots her.
- The Call of the Wild: Buck first has to deal with the near-psychopathic lead dog of his sled team, killing and replacing him. In the end he joins a wolf pack by killing a couple of them; a mention that wolves with his markings were spotted in later years in the area suggests that he became the alpha male.
- Averted in A Dog's Life. Squirrel is a stray dog who, after her mother abandons her and later her brother is taken by humans, lives by herself for most of her life. She keeps wary of other dogs and only comes in contact with them when she scavenges for food. The only time Squirrel travels with another is when she befriends a bitch named Moon.
- A Dog's Purpose:
- Averted. Toby does temporarily live in a mixed dog pack, but it's done more realistically and lacks this hierarchy
- Parodied. Upon meeting her as a puppy, Ellie's owner tries to "assert his dominance" by rolling her on her back. Ellie just thinks it's a game.
- The Dresden Files: The Alphas, a gang of werewolves, obviously chose their name with this in mind. Billy and Georgia Borden fill the actual roles.
- Justified in Firstborn. Wolves use this dynamic, however in their case it is a mixed pack. It consists of an alpha pair, their pups, the alpha female's sister, an unrelated male, and a magpie. Blue Boy lost his original mate and pups to another pack, came across three wolves consisting of two sisters and an unrelated male, and joined them. Blue Boy quickly became the alpha male and paired with one of the females. The other two initially became mates, however they ended up splitting apart eventually.
- McKinley from The Good Dog is the "top dog" of his town.
- Julie of the Wolves uses this dynamic because it was written when this was the main theory about how wolf packs worked.
- Kitty Norville: Kitty's pack was initially led by an insecure murderous rapist named Carl. He eventually got torn apart by his own pack and Kitty and her husband Ben became the new alphas.
- Justified in Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, in which werewolf packs adhere very strictly to the alpha/beta view of wolf hierarchy. However, it's noted several times that this is only because they're magical werewolves, and real wolf packs absolutely do not work that way.
- The Sight: The main wolf pack have this sort of ranking with fictional language words for alpha, beta and omega wolves, and only some of them are related - two parents and their children, the father's sister, her mate (whose relationship with her is noted to be unusual) and two others. Downplayed in that they are treated by the narrative as a family, and barring some Deliberate Values Dissonance in how they treat Bran act like one instead of a group trying to one-up each other.
- The children's series Soldier Dogs refers to leader dogs as "alphas".
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Arya Stark is forced to send her direwolf pet/companion Nymeria running out of fear that Joffrey and Cersei would have it killed because it defended her from Joffrey's bullying. Over the course of the books, she dreams of being a wolf, leading a pack of them as they raid the countryside. It's later revealed to other characters that the Starks have a warging ability in their blood, and thus Arya is subconsciously tapping into Nymeria's head when she dreams.
- In Survivor Dogs, dog packs and wolf packs all use the alpha-beta-omega dynamic. It also works as a caste system. Each pack has one alpha, one beta, and one omega. Everyone else is divided by rank and role (hunters, patrol dogs, etc). Alphas are the leaders and betas are their second-in-command. Omega are the lowest ranking dogs— they eat last, are referred to as "Omega" regardless of name, and do the "dirty jobs" such as cleaning up the other's bedding. Sunshine, for example, is an Omega just because she's a small Maltese, but she enjoys being an Omega and dislikes being pitied, while Whine was an Omega because, as a Pug, he's The Load of the pack. The strongest dog is the alpha and dogs move rank by fighting one another one-on-one.
- In Twilight, the Quileute werewolves operate this way. The alpha, if he so chooses, has total control over his packmates, while his beta is simply a designated second-in-command with no supernatural power of his own. Oh, and, judging by the way the characters giggle about the term whenever it's used, the author thinks she invented the term "beta".
- In Wolves of the Beyond, wolf packs are ruled by ranks. For example, lords are the highest ranking wolves, while gnaw wolves are the lowest member of the pack.
- The Yillian Way by Keith Laumer. A diplomatic team from Earth arrives to negotiate with the Yillian race, but find themselves ignored and served disgusting slop. The head diplomat is fully prepared to eat this Alien Lunch regardless, but his aide realises it's a Secret Test of Character. He knocks over the table, marches up to where the big shots are eating and insists on being served good human food. As Yillian society is based on alpha domination, he successfully asserts his authority in their eyes.
- Andromeda: Nietzscheans, a Human Subspecies of Social Darwinists, are organized into "prides" led by an alpha male who achieves his position by Asskicking Equals Authority, and a matriarch who's the caretaker of the pride's genetic health and not necessarily one of the alpha's wives.
- Farscape. An Invoked Trope in "Till The Blood Runs Clear". Realising that two Vorcarian blood trackers are from a species that uses alpha-male dominance, John Crichton adopts the Alpha role to make them do his bidding. It works...for a while.
- Game of Thrones: As in the source material, Arya has to send Nymeria away in Season 1. Fast forward to season 7, and Arya, on her way back to Winterfell after hearing that Jon has become King in the North, finds herself surrounded by wolves, led by Nymeria. They share a reunion, but ultimately part ways because Nymeria's place is in the wild, not as her pet or companion.
- Star Trek: Voyager: One of the Species of Hats is the Hirogen, whose 'hat' is Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Each hunting party is led by an Alpha, with a Beta as his second. This isn't just Gratuitous Greek as this trope affects their behaviour; in one episode Harry Kim is able to get two Hirogen to back down by claiming to be working directly for the Alpha.
- Teen Wolf: alpha werewolves (the most powerful) lead packs comprised of weaker beta wolves, while omegas are defined as unattached to a pack or an alpha.
- While Warhammer 40,000's Space Wolves don't use alpha/omega terminology (it's already used to classify psyker Power Levels), Fenrisian wolves have an I Fight for the Strongest Side mentality, as the Space Marines usually defeat the wolfpack's strongest member to gain mastery over the pack (this can be explained as Fenrisian wolves being the descendants of wolf/human hybrids; "there are no wolves on Fenris"). They also have a special unit called a Lone Wolf, a Death Seeker who rejects the company of his fellow Marines and only counts towards the opposing player's victory if he's still alive at the end of the game.
- Packs in Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Werewolf: The Forsaken almost always have an alpha who fought his way to the position.
- In Fallout 4's Nuka-World expansion, The Pack is an animal themed raider gang that uses this dynamic, with the leader called The Alpha. Since there's only actually one named character, it's unclear what the rest of the ranks are. Rank is largely based on strength, though pranks are also an accepted way to gain status over a rival.
- Monster Hunter: Many monster species have an "alpha male" variant that is bigger and tougher than its fellows.
- Due to Science Marches On, this is used in the 1990s wolf Life Simulation Game Wolf. It features alpha wolves and beta wolves.
- WolfQuest, another wolf Life Simulation Game and a 2000s Spiritual Successor to Wolf, is a notable aversion. The game is intended to be realistic, so the terms Alpha, Beta and Omega aren't used, and you find a mate to start your own pack with rather than fighting your way to the top of a pack.
- In Kevin & Kell, Ralph Dewclaw, a wolf who is rather inept at hunting, having repeatedly failed to eat his rabbit brother-in-law Kevin, and later became rather overweight after taking a job working for Kevin, describes himself as the "omega" of his pack.
- Peter Is the Wolf: Werewolves operate on a Might Makes Right philosophy that means any pack member can take what they want from their packmates if they are stronger.
- Erebus from Scurry leads his wolf pack with an iron paw. When one underling jumped at Altas the moose without a signal from Erebus, his fate was to be savaged and cannibalized by the other wolves, with tacit approval from Erebus. The world of Scurry has undergone some unspecified After the End apocalypse that has left many species behaving oddly.
- In Skin Horse, Buddy is the alpha of Sweetheart's Uplifted Animal Spitz dogpack, but this turns out to be an elected position. He is decidedly not the toughest dog in the pack; he's the one everyone likes.
- Wally the werewolf in Zebra Girl was basically the omega of his pack, the designated bullying target. Though most of his packmates were really a bunch of psychopaths using their poor grasp of wolf instincts as an excuse for their killing sprees to the point that their alpha decided to kill them all and start over, Wally only surviving because he left with his human girlfriend and her even scarier friends.
- One article on Springhole talks about how this trope is untrue and how it's overused in werewolf fiction.
- Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts:
- Justified with the main pack of Newton Wolves, as these wolves are descended from those raised in captivity. They value scientific knowledge above all else, hence why the group tries to pass off Kipo as their leader when forced to interact with them. The Newton Wolves themselves are led by two alpha males, brothers both named "Billions"note , and are implied to have inherited their position from "Old Billions."
- Averted when we later learn about Wolf's childhood as a human who was adopted into a traditional family of wolves. In the third season, her wolf siblings are shown to have left the pack to set out on their own, while Word of God says her wolf father has since adopted other wolf and human children to raise.
- Played straight in season three, when the Mega-Dogs are revealed to have an alpha/omega structure that Wolf takes advantage of to become their new leader. Interestingly the "alpha" Mega-Dog, the Corgi, is both the smallest (comparatively speaking) and female, having a litter of puppies in the finale.
- In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Who's For Dinner?" Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe attend a pack meeting. One of the attendants is referred to as "Alpha," although he isn't the leader. (Someone else is.)