Two classes of alpha 1 adrenoceptors were identified in canine brain and liver using conventional radioligand binding methods. Scatchard plots of specific [3H]prazosin binding to brain and liver membranes prepared from 100-150-day-old Doberman pinscher dogs were consistently curvilinear and best fit a two-site binding model (frontal cortex, Kd1 = 57.7 +/- 10.0 pM, Bmax1 = 64.6 +/- 17.1 fmol/mg protein, Kd2 = 1.5 +/- 0.5 nM, Bmax2 = 159 +/- 37.6 fmol/mg protein; liver, Kd1 = 82.6 +/- 36 pM, Bmax1 = 7.0 +/- 5.1 fmol/mg protein, Kd2 = 0.8 +/- 0.2 nM, Bmax2 = 62.1 +/- 8.7 fmol/mg protein). Kinetically derived affinity constants from association and dissociation experiments agreed with those obtained by Scatchard analyses of equilibrium binding data. Binding sites were saturable, heat labile, bound ligand reversibly, and appeared to be appropriately distributed in relation to endogenous catecholamine. [3H]Prazosin also bound with high affinity to two classes of binding site in porcine and bovine brain membrane but [3H]prazosin binding in monkey and rat brain was best described by a single-site binding model. Affinities obtained were in between values obtained for high and low affinity Kds in the other species. Competitions for [3H]prazosin binding sites in canine frontal cortex were conducted with the following antagonists: WB-4101, corynanthine, phentolamine, benoxathian, phenoxybenzamine, chlorethylclonidine, thymoxamine, prazosin, yohimbine and agonists: methoxamine, (-)-norepinephrine, and clonidine. All ligands but prazosin, norepinephrine and clonidine competed for specific [3H]prazosin binding in a statistically significant biphasic manner. Benoxathian and WB-4101 displayed the highest affinities (benoxathian: Ki1 = 0.26 nM, WB-4101: Ki1 = 0.20 nM) and selectivity (high affinity/low affinity: benoxathian = 1640, WB-4101 = 13204) for the high affinity [3H]prazosin binding site; chlorethylclonidine had highest affinity (Ki2 = 91 nM) and selectivity (low affinity/high affinity = 405) for the lower affinity [3H]prazosin binding site. As defined, the two sites were similar to the alpha 1a and alpha 1b recently described in the rat and rabbit. A noticeable difference was that the subtypes described in dog brain had a 30-fold difference in affinity for prazosin.