Are You an Alpha Dog or Are You a Follower?

Physician's Money DigestJanuary 2007
Volume 14
Issue 1

Usually, there are two rolesa person can choose toplay in their life. Somepeople feel more comfortabletaking controland being the leader of the pack—theyare an alpha dog. Others are happierbeing a follower and taking advicefrom a person in authority. Establishingwhich category you fall underwill help you determine what steps youneed to take to achieve success in yourfinancial planning.

If you don't understand the alphadog analogy, I recommend you watcha popular cable TV show called "TheDog Whisperer." The brilliance of themain character is that he understandsdog psychology—dogs are basicallypack animals and look to the leader ofthe pack, the alpha dog, for a directionin life. Problem behavior patternsoccur when dog owners give them prerogativesthat are more suited to themselves—the owner playing the role ofthe alpha dog. Human prerogativeslike unlimited food, sitting on the furniture,and cuddling often confusedogs. They don't understand theresponsibilities of the alpha dog andbecome aggressive, nervous, and poopon the carpet.

The beauty of this analogy is thathumans are not much different frompack animals. For most of our evolutionaryhistory, we humans lived insmall groups looking to a strong leaderfor guidance and protection.

Of course, you probably think ofyourself as an alpha dog. You're a doctor,aren't you? You're at the peak ofthe societal pyramid. You order peoplearound all day. Patients and nurseshang on your every word. But, in fact,you may not actually be an alpha dog.Especially if you exhibit some of thefollowing behaviors:


•You don't waste your time readingall those accounting reports fromthe companies you want to invest in.Instead, you count the number of timesthe company is mentioned in magazine by the gurus.

•You look around the doctors' parking lot before you buy a new car.You want to get a good car, don't you?

•You're in a restaurant havingtrouble deciding what to order, andyou're happy to hear about the waiter'sfavorite dish. "That sounds good, I'llhave that," you say.

•You're wearing an article ofclothing or jewelry with the name of afamous person or designer on it.

•You're reading this column, hopingI'll give you some small tidbit ofmiracle advice that will solve all yourfinancial problems.

If, after careful soul-searching, youdecide you're actually an alpha dog, youcan stop reading right here. If you realizethat you're not, you need to read therest of this article carefully, or you mayfind yourself exhibiting such inappropriatebehaviors as pulling your hair outin frustration over the performance ofyour portfolio, munching on Tums allday, or pooping on the carpet (metaphoricallyspeaking, of course).

The main job in life for the nonalphadog is to find an alpha dog tofollow and take orders from. The bestthing you can possibly do is to interviewa bevy of financial planners, andcheck them out carefully. Get references.Ask those references: Is this personhonest? Have they given you goodadvice in the past? Then pick yourfinancial advisor and carefully followtheir advice for the rest of your life.

By the way, if you have trouble findinga good alpha dog, remember that Imyself am an alpha dog. Sit, lie down,roll over, and send me a check.

Louis L. Constan, a family practice physicianin Saginaw, Mich, is the editor of theSaginaw County Medical Society Bulletinand Michigan Family Practice. He welcomesquestions or comments at 3350 ShattuckRoad, Saginaw, MI 48603, 989-792-1899, or

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