Is Your Dog Dominant?

Is your dog dominant? Or, has he just learned behaviors that annoy you? Dominance is one of the most misunderstood and misused terms. Dog owners need to understand how much harm can be caused by perpetuating the outdated use of dominance training.

The AVSAB (American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior) uses the following definition for dominance:

A relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates. The AVSAB also clarifies that dominance and leadership are not synonymous.

So, dominance means making your dog submissive through force or aggression in order to claim resources.

But how does this pertain to jumping, digging, excessive barking or potty training and, what about obedience behaviors? How do these problems relate to the definition of dominance? They don’t! Most common dog problems deal with learned behaviors, or the lack of. They do not come from a domestic dog’s tendency to strive for dominance over the pack.

So where did all the hype about dominance come from and why does it perpetuate?

Most of it came from the early study of wolf packs. But modern behavioral science has a clearer understanding of the social organization of wolf packs as well as domestic dogs. Some of the early studies were flawed. The dominance used by dog owners and trainers today does not resemble that of wolf packs in the wild.

Dogs evolved initially from less shy wolves that learned to live as scavengers on the outskirts of human settlements.

More than 15,000 years of evolution has changed the dog’s social setting and social behavior. The last few decades have given us many new studies revealing the nature of domesticated dogs. Researchers in companion animal behavior in the University of Bristol veterinary department studied a group of dogs at a re-homing center, and also reanalyzed existing studies on feral dogs. Their conclusion: individual relationships between dogs are learned through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert “dominance.”

So why is there currently a re-emergence of dominance theory?

No matter that it is harming a lot of dogs, it is entertaining and today entertainment is winning out over science. Popular TV shows and product endorsements are fueling confusion between celebrity status and qualified authority.

Chances are your dog is not dominant. If your dog does not behave to your liking you need to work with a trainer that understands modern methods of behavior modification not one that subscribes to dominance theories.

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