Type A Personality Behaviour (TAPB) vs. The alpha dominance theory – Alpha, Beta, Omega (ABO)

TAPB is taken from human psychology, whilst ABO is from Ethology. They may, however, be considered as similar, and in many ways, parallel continuums.

TAPB – Type A Personality Behaviour
This generally refers to human behaviour and the ability to cope with stress. The continuum shows Type A at one extreme and Type C at the other:

TAPB Continuum

Type A Personality<——>Type B Personality<——->Type C Personality

Type A personality is highly competitive, dominant, unaccepting of any faults though often self-critical, and characterized by a constant feeling of working against the clock. Individuals generally experience a high stress level, hate failure and find it difficult to stop working, even when they have achieved their goals, oftentimes resulting in sleep disruption and insomnia. They strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments.

Interrelated with this is the presence of a significant life imbalance. This is characterized by a high work involvement. They are easily ‘wound up’ and tend to overreact. They also tend to suffer from hypertension.

Type A individuals tend to be easily aroused to anger or hostility, which they may or may not express overtly. Such individuals tend to see the worst in others, are highly critical, displaying anger, lack of compassion and sometimes show envy. When this behaviour is expressed overtly it may involve bullying, even aggression.

Individuals in this group tend to be naturally dominant and display high levels of energy and charisma – nature over nurture has intervened here. History shows this. Think of the Blair / Brown relationship. Brown may have been the ‘power behind the throne’, with the necessary qualifications, but was he a natural leader, or did he display the aforesaid qualities to be so? More recently, think of Trump / Pence. Trump’s mindset led to him achieving the highest post in US politics (possibly the world), rather than academic qualifications or intellect. He was a natural ‘No. 1’. Pence, on the other hand, a natural ‘No.2’, or Type B personality – though he may not agree with this definition!

Type B personality is characterized by a relaxed, patient, and easy-going nature. Individuals with a Type B personality work steadily, enjoying achievements, but do not tend to become stressed when goals are not achieved.

People with Type B personality tend to be more tolerant of others, are more relaxed than Type A individuals, more reflective, experience lower levels of anxiety and display a higher level of imagination and creativity.

Type C personality has difficulty expressing emotions and tends to suppress them, particularly negative ones such as anger.  This means such individual also display ‘pathological niceness,’ conflict avoidance, high social desirability, over compliance and patience.

Interestingly, Lewis Goldberg, in 1993, developed the Big Five Personality Traits theory. These are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – (OCEAN). Of course, we all lie at varying points on the continuum; it’s never unequivocal! Various surveys may be found online and a useful link is here: https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/IPIP-BFFM/

ABO – Alpha, Beta, Omega
This generally refers to a hierarchical structure in the animal kingdom. This is illustrated in the continuum:

ABO Continuum


‘Ranking’ may be considered a fluid state with different species achieving rank in different ways. For example, gorillas achieve high status using force and aggression, chimpanzees by using a combination of aggression and intelligence – forming alliances, and some species of birds often working in unison with a male ‘beta’ helping the male ‘alpha’ in finding a mate. Here we are concerned with canids and in particular the grey wolf (Canis lupus).

Classification of wolves into dominance hierarchies of alpha, beta and omega, were based on studies, in the late 60s/70s, of unrelated wolves in captivity. Dr David Mech et al, author of the studies, later rescinded the findings as incomplete, indeed, irrelevant. Alas, this terminology still endures today for the sake of convenience and disambiguety! Furthermore, due to the negative connotations of certain words, today the ‘alpha pair’ is often referred to as the ‘breeding pair’ and the ‘pack’ as the ‘family’. Common usage, however, means the terms are often used interchangeably. It rather depends on the context: for example we talk about wolves ‘hunting as a pack’ but ‘living as a family’. Of course, in modern day dog training, the word ‘pack’ is rarely used, except in certain genres and by certain people!

This blog is not intended as an explanation of wolf and family life, but as a brief summary of the notation ‘ABO’. There is a fluid hierarchy with the alpha at the top; usually, but not necessarily, male. At the behest of anthropomorphising, think of a chain of command. There may be an alpha pair or breeding pair – the only family members allowed to breed. The alpha will have attained his/her position through cheer force of character and energy, not necessarily through strength. Second in command (the sergeant) is the beta – also a diplomat and collaborator, ensuring deference in the lower ranks. The beta may, but not necessarily, assume the alpha role in the event of abdication or death of the current incumbent. All other family members are the omegas who show complete deference and submission to the alfa/s. The family lives as a cohesive entity, relying on cooperation rather than dominance. Unlike dogs, the male is fully involved with care of pups as well as heading hunting expeditions. In lean times, pups will be given preference to food. Second generation siblings, aunts and uncles will also share in caring of the young. First generation siblings by now will almost certainly have left the pack in search of a mate or another pack.

An omega personality is not necessarily the smallest or weakest animal. A study of the Sawtooth Pack in Idaho, identified Lakota as being the largest and strongest wolf. This proto-omega type personality – the ‘lone wolf’ – is more self-reliant, less collaborative than a beta, and less focused on leading a family. They will hunt smaller prey independently but may rejoin the family in lean times as larger packs tend to bring down larger prey. The ‘Allee Effect’ – safety in numbers.

As the result of the 70s wolf studies, the mid 70s/80s saw dog training at its worst, using dominance and punishment based theories. Think of Woodhouse, Fennell and, to this day, Millan and Daniel Abdelnoor aka ‘Doggy Dan’. Comparative psychology and zoology can help up to a point. However, a dog is not a wolf; even if the theory were correct, why would we, humans, use these methods? It’s akin to studying bonobo behaviour to understand that of humans!

There may be some truth in the theory that a person’s personality and appearance is in sync with that of their dog’s (or their wolf’s for that matter!)

Shaun Ellis the Wolfman in his Cornish hideaway!

3 thoughts on “Type A Personality Behaviour (TAPB) vs. The alpha dominance theory – Alpha, Beta, Omega (ABO)

  1. Hello Richard a very interesting read, I have been reading Jan Fennell and watched her videos with modern science of how dogs learn it makes more sense however part of what Fennell would teach seems to work so well calling herself the dog listener she communicates to a dog by how a wolf pack do if this was not correct how does she turn around so many dogs by just using body language?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Katie and thanks for your valued comment. Of course, animal behaviour and dog training is not an exact science. What works for one dog parent or one dog will not work for all. I think it’s a matter of ‘balance’ and finding the right approach for a particular personality. I agree that many ‘owners’ will humanise their dog, using adjectives such as ‘pooch’, ‘my baby’ and many more. Have empathy with the dog (not the same as sympathy), ‘think dog’ and get into the correct mindset, again depending on the particular personality. If that means adopting a ‘pack’ mentality, then so be it. But remember, all the domesticated dog wants is a quite life, to have his/her basic needs met, and be shown respect. Respect will therefore be reciprocated. NB: the word ‘balanced’ does carry some baggage – some trainers claim to adopt a purely ‘positive’ approach. I am of the opinion that dogs, like children, would, not necessarily prefer, but benefit from some form of feedback. For example, barking and lunging at another dog is not acceptable and potentially dangerous. Here, ‘differential classical conditioning’ or ‘conditioning for an alternative behaviour’ comes in. Not as complicated as it sounds, but we must let the dog know that the behaviour is unacceptable! Of course, I am not advocating cruelty, but a ‘balanced’ approach.


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