Dominance is such a pop word ...
Dominance is such a pop word, used by many owners, vets & trainers alike. It feels so right, yet it's very wrong. It is so believable, yet it’s so deceptive. I would like to give you the ability to hear this word and laugh at the mere concept that our beloved pets are trying to take over! I am also hoping to prevent you from labeling any dog as dominant, and then performing a potentially damaging rank reduction program on him, as a solution to this "problem".
Even though the dogs we keep as pets did evolved from wolves, there was an important intermediate step that many people are unaware of. Wolves 'gave way' to village dogs that gave way to our companion dogs. So when the behaviour of wolves was researched the results obtained where automatically applied to dog behaviour simply because they shared certain genetic material. The reliability of this method would be the same as saying that by studying chimpanzees you can learn all about human behaviour. Even if your were going to study wolves you wouldn’t study them in artificially created environment which would affect their behaviour and this is what happened when some of the research was conducted and observations made.
The notion of strict hierarchy has ruled the dog training world. Prominent researchers working with wolves in the wild have found that our concept of a pack is slightly incorrect. Like humans families, a wolf 'pack' or family consist of parents, children and also children from a previous litter, that haven’t left to start their own family. It has also been proven that in the wild it is the wolf cubs who will eat first as they carry the 'genes for the future'. Then the parents and lastly the lazy teenagers or older children who have not left home yet.
So what does all this actually mean in terms of our pet dogs?
It means that if we still use this old outdated idea, we are likely to misinterpret normal doggy behaviour like jumping up as an attempt for Rover to gain power! (“As if our dogs haven’t already got enough on their plates; If they have not got enough hours in the day to roll around in fox poo, get extra excited every time they sees us, spend time playing fetch and great games like tug of war, when do you think they have time to worry about taking over our house?)”
When training manuals or behaviour books use training as a means to sorting out hierarchies this often leads to the use of server physical punishment and negative psychological effects can occur for our dogs. An example of this is where incorrect comments such; the alpha male would roll a subordinate wolf onto his back, often lead to owner or trainer believing that they need to perform behaviours such as ‘alpha rolls’ on their pets. This would involve turning the dog onto his back and holding him there to show him that you the owner/trainer are more ‘dominant’. However, this presents a few issues as most handlers that perform such behaviours on larger dogs often get bitten not to mention the deterioration they cause to the dogs psychological state. It has been shown in research that an ‘alpha roll’ preformed by a wolf in the wild is in no way forced, but offered voluntarily for many different reasons. Just imagine what it must me like when your happy pet greets you and in return you perform the roll on him?
Dominance has also become a way for trainers, vets and owners to explain much of the normal doggie behaviour such as chewing, barking and jumping. People using the dominance theory will probably explain pulling on leash by implying that the dog is being dominant and trying to control the owner however, is it not possible that the dogs is just excited by all the novel smells outside, after all ‘Dogs can sense odours at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans can’.
Lastly, I leave you with the question; Is a dog that pulls on leash, jumps up and barks, a dog that is dominant or a stunning creature that is in need of some basic reward based training?
(Hint, if you haven't figured it out yet, you are meant to answer the above question using the 2nd option!!!)