Dog Social Structure – De-Bunking Linear Hierarchy - Part Two

click here if you have not read part one yet

Dominance is over used in dog training terms, and has confused the dog training world. It has been blamed for behavioural issues that it simply has nothing to do with. Dominance in terms of status over another individual does not exist in the dog world. However, situational dominance does occur. This is usually where a resource is involved, something an individual places value on. When there is competition for a resource, the dog that values it the highest and communicates that it intends to keep the resource, and does keep the resource, is naturally dominant in that situation. But that is where that individual’s dominance ends, from there the situation can change. The dog can choose to leave the resource and allow others to take it, and in a different situation with a different resource another dog may put higher value on that item and achieve dominance in that situation. Their relationships are dynamic, when a dog offers appeasement, it does not mean that it is subordinate, likewise when a dog is displaying tense or assertive body communication patterns it does not mean that it is dominant over those it is communicating with.

A dog’s behaviour is always a result of three factors. Genetics, environment (internal and external) and what they have learned previously. Their genetics is what they are pre-disposed to, their environment including their surrounds and their internal environment, what mood they are in and if their body is affected by pain or not, and previous learnings. Dogs are always learning and past experiences with people, dogs and any species they encounter will affect how they are behaving in every moment. When analysing behaviour, we must always take these three factors into consideration.

When it comes down to it, what a dog essentially wants to feel safe and comfortable, any communication pattern it learns is to gain feedback from others. The most important, and usually the first information being sought after from a new individual is “are you a threat or not”. How a dog behaves when it is not feeling safe and comfortable depends on the three factors above, but the goal is always the same: self-preservation, never to achieve status.

Old Dominance Myths Based on Linear Hierarchy That are False

Dogs Playing
  • You do not have to eat before your dog. You can eat whenever you like in relation to when your dog eats, simply do what is most suitable to you and your dog’s needs.
  • If your dog likes height, then it could be that your dog has learnt to stay vigilant of its surroundings or that the top of your sofa is very comfortable. If you feel that your dog likes to be higher than you, you are mistaken, it has no idea what height you are in comparison to it.
  • You do not have to walk in front of your dog. The old theory suggested that the alpha walked at the front, this is not the case, not even in wolves.
  • If your dog comes over to you to rest itself or lean on you, it is likely that it simply takes comfort from contact with you. The old theory would suggest that this individual is trying to assert itself over you.
  • Humping is often misunderstood, we will cover this later in the course, but humping is not dominance.
  • Going through doors before your dog. Your dog does not know what a door is, and so trying to go through a door before your dog to show it you are dominant is pointless on many levels.
  • Moving other individuals out of the way to achieve a resource such as affection or a ball means that they want the resource, not to achieve status over that individual.
  • Dogs that jump up on beds or sofas are not trying to take your comfy spot away from you, they have no concept that you wanted it. They simply found a comfy spot and so enjoyed resting there. If you like your dog up on the sofa or bed with you, there is nothing wrong with this, just as much as if you do not want your dog on the sofa or bed. It is all personal preference.
  • Rolling and holding a dog on its side does not convince it that you are dominant over it, it does however cause the dog to panic and so will either try to escape, fight or freeze in that situation.
  • You cannot convince your dog to like something by approaching it yourself and showing it affection. They have no concept as to how you may feel about something emotionally or intellectually. So please do not think that you can get your dog to like another dog by going over to it and giving it a stroke.