Dominance or leadership?

You’ve probably heard people saying things like “my dog is dominant”. You may have used it too to describe a situation when your dog was being “pushy”, “stubborn” or just plain “naughty”.

dogs play

First of all, let’s get the definition right – what is dominance? It means gaining control and power over resources, being ambitious to the point of stepping over others, acquiring a higher status in a social group or even get all the way to the top of the hierarchy. But this is species specific behaviour in a group of animals of the same species (called a “pack”), or among people.

This is the bottom line: dogs and humans are different species – no matter how much people try to humanise dogs. What is common between us is that we both are social species. We certainly can form a very strong social unit with our canine friends, but not a “pack”. Dogs don’t see people as dogs – they see us as humans and they don’t try to compete with their two-legged family members to try to raise their status because it is not something dogs do by nature. Dogs are not control freaks. They are not trying to dominate people.

So is it really necessary to eat before feeding your dogs? I don’t think so. Even wild, high-ranking wolves do not necessarily eat first, and we know that dogs and wolves parted ways 10,000+ years ago. So really, comparing the two species is almost as insulting as comparing chimpanzees to humans.

And yes… it is okay to allow dogs to win a tug-of-war game or let them to walk ahead of you or behind, left side, right side it doesn’t matter as long as they don’t pull on the leash and the walk is enjoyable for both of you. This will not change your relationship with your dog, in fact, spending quality time together and engaging in fun activities makes your bond stronger.

However, using aversive training methods, yelling at or pushing your best friend into an alpha roll to show who’s the boss will only create fear and/or anxiety and will likely to ruin your bond with your best mate (by the way, think about the terms ‘boss’ and ‘leader’).

boss vs leader

For more information, please read the position statement on dominance by the Australian Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group. Another great resource is an easy-to-read booklet by Barry Eaton called “Dominance in Dogs – Fact or Fiction?” (available to order from Dogwise) that sums up the science behind the dominance concept and pack theory and dispels the myths. For a shorter, but also comprehensive article, see “Why Won’t ‘Dominance’ Die?” by David Ryan (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors).

So now that you know the real deal, dump the D word!

Written by Bea Labady

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