The Issue of Dominance

Many dog trainers believe that you must dominate your dog in order to successfully live with him. Obedience training classes ring with the cry, "You must dominate your dog!" and "You must be the pack leader, the alpha figure," a sentiment echoed in many dog training books. It is also claimed that if you don't dominate your dog, he will try to dominate you. Your dog is the enemy; obedience class is often the battleground.

I don't agree with this. You don't have to dominate your dog in order to train him and have a good relationship. The justification given for this insistence on dominance is that a dog's human family is a substitute for a dog pack, and that the social organization of dog packs, like wolf packs, is based on a dominance hierarchy. This dominance hierarchy is supposedly maintained by displays of dominance on the part of the pack leader. Therefore, the reasoning goes, human owners should be dominant over their dogs.

There are many problems with this line of reasoning. First of all, the outstanding characteristic of wolf and dog social behavior is the cooperation and friendliness among pack members, not their struggles for dominance. It is questionable whether the social order of wolves or dogs is based on dominance displays by one individual. Another problem is that dog and human combination "packs" are very different from wolf packs. Besides the obvious fact that there are two different species involved with all of the inherent communication difficulties, humans must control their dogs in ways that have no parallel among wolves. This reasoning is simplistic. The interrelationships of wolves in a pack, or dogs and their human owners, are complex and vary with the individual personalities involved.

For cooperative social groups to function, there have to be differences in personalities so dogs, wolves, or people can serve different functions. As we've previously seen, dogs are born with different personality traits. Just

One of the outstanding characteristics of wolf and dog social behavior is their friendliness toward each other.
The friendly social behavior of dogs comes to them from their wolf ancestry.

like people, some have more leadership qualities and some are content to be followers. It takes both to make a cooperative social group work. These differences mean that not all dogs want to take over the leadership position, just as it is true that not all people want to be leaders.

Rarely do dogs try to dominate their owners. A dog who doesn't do what the owner wants him to do is not necessarily trying to dominate his owner. Our dogs live in a world full of restraints that prevent them from behaving as they would like. It is natural that they will struggle against them. A dog pulling on the leash is not trying to dominate his owner. He simply wants to go faster or to be free, or maybe even enjoys pulling. Only when extreme assertiveness is combined with active defense reactions and no training do dogs behave in a manner that might be described as dominating their owners. Dominance aggression, when dogs bite their owners, is a separate behavior problem. See chapter 9 for more information on this.

Emphasis on dominance causes many problems in dog-human relationships. Domination can result in avoidance, fear, and suppression of a dog's initiative. It is possible to dominate a dog by suppressing undesirable behaviors with force while still not communicating to the dog what you want. Mutual communication is cut off when an owner fears that his dog is always trying to dominate him, and a dog's initiative to communicate is suppressed. Worst of all, establishing dominance is often used as an excuse for using unnecessary force in dog training.

Dog owners will improve their relationships with their dogs by placing emphasis on respect, clear communication, and mutual cooperation, rather than on dominance. The domestication of dogs has given us power over them by virtue of their dependence on us for survival. We must control our dogs for their safety and well-being, but we must be careful not to abuse this power. Instead, we should use this power in a positive way to allow our dogs to live a happy life and to give ourselves the full benefit of our relationship with dogs.

Dog Owners Handbook

Dog Owners Handbook

There are over a hundred registered breeds of dogs. Recognizing the type of the dog is basically associated with its breed. A purebred animal belongs to a documented and acknowledged group of unmixed lineage. Before a breed of dog is recognized, it must be proven that mating two adult dogs of the sametype would have passed on their exact characteristics, both appearance and behavior, to their offspring.

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