The D Word…

So, for my first blog I thought it only right to start with an important but contentious issue..…. In fact it’s not so contentious these days as we now know that the Dominance theory is not even applicable to wolves, let alone the dogs with whom we share our homes and lives.  For years we have been fed inaccurate information about canine behaviour, particularly in relation to the dominance theory.

If one approach to training has damaged the relationship we have with our canine companions, this is it.  Exacerbated by celebrity ‘dog whisperers’ this theory presumes that dogs want to be the boss, the alpha, that they want to be ‘top dog,’ that they want to raise their hierarchal status above our own, that aggression is often a default mode.

Now if humans had really looked at their dogs, learned a little more about behaviour and body language, we would have seen that this presumption couldn’t be further from the truth.  Instead, as the impressionable beings that we are, some of us decided that to maintain control and to earn respect we must put the dog in its place, show them we’re the boss, and in extreme cases make them quiver with fear so that they ‘respect’ us more.

Bonkers isn’t it?!

A wolf pack has a strong physical and emotional bond. They rely on teamwork and cohesion to survive. They don’t need to use bullying and aggression to prove a point. They have a complex pack structure where a natural hierarchy helps to optimise survival and harmony.  They have a strong family bond.  They work as a team.

We as a species could learn a lot from them. But instead we decided that we would take the findings of some flawed studies and apply it to the domestic dog, resulting in a deep misunderstanding of how dogs think, and also resulting in some unlucky dogs being pulled around, scruff-rolled, pinned down and abused even on a low level.

To base training principles on a theory that uses confrontational techniques when a dog shows problematic behaviour leads to the dog feeling fear, confusion and anxiety. This in turn can lead to withdrawal at best, defensive aggression at worst. It breaks trust. It ruins confidence. It totally spoils what can be a fabulous relationship.

Even the definition of the word ‘Dominance’ doesn’t apply to any one being all the time.  Dominance isn’t a characteristic, it describes an interaction between two or more individuals in a moment. Canine behaviour is much more complex than dogs simply wanting to dominate – it isn’t a life goal for dogs – survival, harmony and happiness is!

Overall, the dominance theory is a common yet dangerous one that misinforms owners and causes poor actions, leading to potential distress in the domestic dog.  The scientists that came up with the theory have even retracted their study due to its many flaws.

So next time you hear someone utter the ‘D-word,’ please point them in the direction of the internet and explain that the theory has no standing and never really did.

If we read dogs properly we will see that confrontation is the last thing they want. Fitting in, feeling safe, being understood, learning, bonding, having fun and knowing that you are someone they can trust is really all they’re after.

For more information check out these articles:

Position Statement – Dominance Theory

Pack Theory Debunked

David Mech – Alpha Role Theory

Alpha Dog

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