totally devoted to dogs

Canine Dominance: Is it a Myth?

Dog Training

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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  1. But surley a pack leader must exercise a form of dominace/repsect to keep the pack in order and remain the Alpha. Should the underdog feel there is a chance of taking the Alpha on it would be because the underdog has sensed a weakness?

  2. IMO, I must disagree in a way… dominance and submission are key in a dog pack, but it’s mental dominance and submission, not necessarily physical, although sometimes it is used. The confident dog will be the leader. This is why humans must practice dominance by being confident and calm. Your body language will tell your dogs how you expect them to behave. Never use anger or frustration around your dogs, and they respond very well. Stay calm and confident in all situations, and your dog will respect and trust you to take the lead.

  3. I agree. We have a 12 year old French Bulldog, Candy. She interacts regularly with our son’s black lab, a friend’s dogs, and our other dog, a 7 year old Miniature Schnauzer. Candy dominates all of them – takes their bed when she’s visiting, first choice of the toys, etc. When the big dogs harass the Schnauzer, she stops it. She’s not the biggest, strongest or smartest, but she demands respect and gets it.

  4. Dog packs do not exist in a natural dog society in this way. Dogs (and wolves) live in family groups which are led by the parent dogs. They do not need to dominate the rest of hte pack as the off spring have a natural respect for their parents. Sure there is some discipline, just as in any family but as in a human family, a ‘parent’ who is overbearing and violent will produce children who are emotionally scarred and handicapped. This will not bring out the best in offsrping of any species. In the same way a very permissive parent will not raise respectful sucessful offspring. Please stop believing you need to dominate your dogs, this just shows a human insecurity, be good, fair, consistent parents to your dogs. They are not in a pack any more than a group of children are automatically in a gang,

  5. Dominance does not exist and in many respects the Alpha dog theory does not exist either. Where a dog is showing signs of what we humans call dominance it is in fact just displaying a behaviour that has not been curtailed through established boundaries and that behaviour is what the dog thinks will get it what it wants. The other aspect is the Alpha dog theory. As dogs are self centred (whats in it for me) and they also have a survival instinct they do not want to be injured as that could cause death, an alpha dog who is well fed and satisfied will not fight a lesser dog for food as, a; they do not require it and b; any fight might lead to injury and therefore death. Therefore in this case the dominant or alpha dog would concede to the lesser dog. Of course if the alpha dog is hungry it will fight and probably win but that is based on size and power not deference to being alpha dog.

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