Canine Dominance: Is it a Myth?

Dogs Do Not Learn By Dominance And Submission: Many people believe that dogs learn by dominance and/or submission. This is an interesting theory that appeals to our sense of logic and the way nature appears to be ordered from the point of view of the human ego. Supposedly, dogs can learn to respect another individual through dominance. This presupposes that they can perceive another being’s point of view. Humans can indeed entertain others’ points of view, yet we know that no one learns to work effectively through the dominance/submissive model.

No matter how much employees respect their boss or how submissive they may act around him, they expect to be paid fairly. Not enough pay and the attraction turns to resentment and a poor working attitude. Since humans reject and resist such an approach whenever they experience it, how can we expect the dog, with his more limited view, to work on this basis?

Sam the yellow dog
Creative Commons License photo credit: Halkett

Not only does dominating a dog make him resistant to cooperation, but dominance has nothing to do with the smooth operation of wolf society. While it may appear that the leader is the most dominant in a pack of wolves, and that the inferiors have a profound respect for this “alpha” wolf because he is so dominant, that is a surface misreading of their lives.

Supposedly, this dominant individual teaches the other members of the pack what their lesser stations are, bringing order and stability into the group. However, the reason this individual is superior is because, within the group mood, he is endowed with the most uninhibited temperament and perceives order when the others sense disorder.

This produces an emotional balance, a self-confidence level that makes him active and direct in his behavior when the others are reactive and indirect. This confidence is then broadcast through his body language and probably through an internal chemistry revealed when he eliminates.

Given the pack leader’s internal balance, he will experience the least amount of stress when passing on to less familiar ground, as negatives are smaller in his sense of order. In addition, the pack leader will feel the strongest compulsion to be first on any path that leads outward to the hunt as he acts in the most straightforward manner.

The inferiors will depend on the pack leader’s enthusiasm to draw them across a threshold that may have a stronger inhibiting effect on them. An individual doesn’t become superior by being dominant; the leader, to feel complete, needs the group behind him. Only by guiding the hunt does one becomes a leader.

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