Using “Dominance” to Explain Dog Behaviour is Old Hat

Press release issued 21 May 2009

Paper in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research

A new study shows how the behaviour of dogs has been misunderstood for generations: in fact using misplaced ideas about dog behaviour and training is likely to cause rather than cure unwanted behaviour. The findings challenge many of the dominance related interpretations of behaviour and training techniques suggested by some TV dog trainers. Contrary to popular belief, aggressive dogs are NOT trying to assert their dominance over their canine or human “pack”, according to research published by academics at the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.

Click here to read the entire article.

7 Comments on “Using “Dominance” to Explain Dog Behaviour is Old Hat”

  1. Susan says:

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a guest over Christmas. She asked me: “who’s the alpha dog”.

    And….I had no answer. I’ve got four gompas. Does one of them have to be the alpha dog? I would say that none of them is, but….is that possible? Is there always an alpha dog?

    My inadequate response to my friend was that I suspect I’m the only alpha in the household, but….is that realistic?

    Any ideas??? Or better still facts????


  2. lhasalhady says:

    Great topic! I love learning, observing and applying gained knowledge. Over the many years I’ve been first-hand witness to changes in the way we train the canine species, particularly as we learn more and more about their rich lives and canine social structure.

    To cut to the chase, yes, I believe there’s always an alpha ‘dog’. Quotes intentional. As dog OWNERS (my dog DOES NOT own me, I own my dog) it is our responsibility to act as alpha dog within our homes. For way too many years people have thought that meant displaying dominance with what many now consider aggressive techniques. The alpha roll for example. Lots of canine behavior was inappropriately identified as dominance seeking. Often – 99% of the time!!!! – the bad dog behavior is due to an owner that hasn’t taken leadership responsibility. And too many times dogs end up paying the ultimate price for human irresponsibility.

    Leaders, canine or human, come in all sorts of forms. From inappropriately aggressive (but let’s not get into politics!) to kind, benevolent leaders. Being alpha over one’s dog can be – and should be – done from the latter. A kind, but firm, teacher. My grandfather comes to mind.

    There are so many great resources available for an alpha-need-to-be. For starters, Nothing in Life is Free. A link to this article can be found under Training in the Apsos! Apsos! section of this blogsite. There is a wealth of other helpful information and a list of excellent books. (If anyone browses that and comes across the alpha roll as appropriate, please let me know. I will immediately remove that resource.)

    My thoughts on ‘who’s the alpha dog’ are threefold.

    In a harmonious household, the owner is alpha dog, a kind benevolent teacher.

    Within my grooming shop I am alpha dog. The dogs know this, I don’t teach it. It is a matter of demeanor and body language. I teach expected behavior within the grooming shop, but I cannot think of one instance where a dog has challenged my alpha position. A dog might try various tactics to get out of a procedure I’m doing. That’s avoidance, not dominance. (And an inappropriately applied alpha roll would only make the dog want to avoid me and/or the procedure even more!)

    Within my kennel, there is usually an alpha male and an alpha female, but I am Leader of the Alphas. Generally I don’t interfere with social interactions between the dogs. They live together; they work it out. Puppies are slowly integrated into the appropriate adult pack, having had many previous opportunities to learn appropriate social behavior from their dam, their siblings and other adults. I can usually answer Susan’s guest’s question ‘who’s the alpha dog’. But I’m betting the rest of you couldn’t. Why? Alphas generally don’t show dominance.

  3. Susan M says:

    That NLIF article is excellent !!!! We are going to instigate a new regime here immediately. I, of course, think my dogs are very well behaved, but….in the larger scheme of things they are still very much more in charge than I am. It is going to be a bit of a struggle to break the alpha mom (me) of her bad habits….the puppies will be much easier to train :-))))
    Heck, this week I’ve finally started making Pony sit for her treats….what a stitch….timid thing that she is, she will back all the way across the room until she hits something before she puts her little butt on the floor….or she will stand on her hind legs to see if that is the trick I’m looking for. .Yesterday I watched her back up until she bumped into a stool andthen duck backwards right under the rungs…..I laughed so hard I thought I was gonna pee my pants…..

  4. Susan M says:

    Me again. I was just perusing the books in the training section and wonder if anyone else has had any experience with one called How to Raise a Puppy you can Live With by Clarice Rutherford.

    I have it on request, and I had it out a few times when I first got Rinchen — 6 years ago now…wow….

    Seemed quite well informed to me at the time, and I’m looking forward to returning to it to see if it still seems so now.

    I’d also love to see any other suggestions of particularly good books you might have found and that might be available in the public libraries

  5. Susan M says:

    Well, here I am just a talkin to myself again….so be it.

    I have another question about taking care of my dogs. What do I do about all of the situations in which I have no vested interest in the outcome? I find myself regularly wanting to offer possibilities without commanding a particular course of action; for example, when I open the front door to go out and get the paper and they are welcome to go out or stay in; I often stand there holding the door open for long enough for any/all of them to make up their minds, and I know for sure that they just aren’t sure who is supposed to be in charge here. It’s such a human reaction to offer them choices, but….does that serve? On the other hand, one dog is slow to make up his mind, and so I will stand for a while with the door open while everyone chooses in or out and then proceed. I’m not complaining about this on my behalf, mind you, I’m just wondering if ultimately I’m doing a disservice to them by not resisting the urge to offer them options when I don’t have a result that I want. Should I simply get up , walk out the door, close it behind me and ……. And all those times that I open the front door just to see if they are on the porch and they look at me to see if I want them to come in and I say….if you want, sure……????? I mean, they are always welcome to come in with me, and I can’t tell when they are perfectly happy outside and I’m actually imposing a change on them without meaning to.

    Any thoughts?

  6. lhasalhady says:

    I talk to myself all the time… Too bad I don’t have a way of turning that into blog entries… 🙂

    Actually I’ve thought about this comment, observing my own interactions with my dogs over the past several days. I see no leadership problem with offering choices when, as you clearly stated, there’s no vested interest in the outcome.

    My opinion on dogs making conscious choices has altered over the years. Clicker training introduced me to the concept of the dog itself having a vested interest in an outcome. As Skinner discovered with his children, operant conditioning isn’t as simple as a being acting upon its environment. Individual thoughts can alter the methods employed be said being when acting upon its environment.

    Ana and Lori taught me to allow time for a dog to puzzle something out during training. I continue to work on this skill, patience. It’s awesome to watch the light bulb turn on!

    Funny thing…I just opened the Training With Grace newsletter for the address: This was in this week’s newsletter:

    At Training With Grace, we believe that training is more about relationship building than just having a dog that can sit and stay on command.

    In all of our Training With Grace classes, we teach you about dog body language, relationship building games and exercises. We help you to understand why our dogs do the things they do and how to help them make good healthy choices that you both can live with. Please take a look at our selection of classes below to find the right one for you.

  7. Susan M says:

    Oh good….
    Now that we’ve settled that I can offer them options, I’m going to ask them if they want to move to Hawaii with me.
    “No” is not an acceptable answer…..:-))))))


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