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Why “Dominance” Is Misunderstood

The dominance dog training method, used by many trainers, works for some dogs. It would not be as popular as it is if it didn’t. But, for some dogs it can cause problems to worsen. I learned this the hard way with my own dog, Lilly, and I want to help other people not make the same mistakes I did.

The common dominance theory was developed from a study where scientists put a bunch of wolves together and studied how they interacted with each other. Problem was, these captive wolves were trapped together. If one wolf is not getting along with another wolf, their fight or flight response is triggered, and there is nowhere to get away, then they’re only left with one option. The results of the study showed the “dominant” wolves using force and intimidation to remain the leader.

After technology advanced a bit more to the point scientist could study wild wolves, something only dreamt about before, they found the relationships in a wild wolf pack were more like parent child relationships, the alpha male being the father, the alpha female the mother, and the rest of the pack pups of various ages, who may leave to find a mate and start their own pack at about three years of age.

Furthermore, domestic dogs, though having similar DNA, are not wolves. Humans have selectively bred dogs to enhance certain qualities and reduce or get rid of other qualities while some qualities do remain similar. For example, this is how we have dogs who are good at herding sheep instead of hunting them but still have a digestive tract designed to eat meat.

Plus, different instincts are at various strengths in each breed. Some dogs were bred to be small and brave (and maybe a bit reckless) to readily hunt fierce badgers down holes wolves could not fit into. Other dogs were bred to guard their family or home against intruders, some by strength and some had a job more like a security alarm before technology and doubled as pampered good luck charms. I could go on and on. Then there are the breed exceptions, such as the retriever who won’t retrieve and the mutt who doesn’t fit into just one category. Thus, it would be foolish to believe all domestic dogs have the same instincts as a wolf does.

But still the dominance theory is believed by many people and, because it is a punishment based method, does produce results if the dog doesn’t fight back or lose their confidence. Intimidation does not trigger a canine instinct to love and trust. I want my dog to trust me as her leader not submit out of fear. What do you want your relationship with your dog to be like?