The dominance theory and dogs are a hot topic. There has been a big shift in perception when training our dogs. Gone are the terms ‘dominance’, ‘alpha’, ‘hierarchy’, ‘aggression’, and probably other, now unmentionable, words as well. Use any of these words and wait for the ‘dog-world’ sky to fall on you!
All well and good, and arrived at in the main by David Mech retracting his theories on the composition of the wolf pack – but should we be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
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“It’s appropriate to use the term alpha in an artificial pack… where you put many wolves from different families together, so completely unrelated wolves… they would then form a pecking order or a dominance hierarchy of which you can call the top animal the alpha” L. David Mech
Therefore it is appropriate to use the term “Dominance” within an artificially formed pack of dogs in a domestic situation. However, it is not appropriate for humans to use dominance over a dog to train or educate it. Become the guide, the parent to give the dog opportunities to fit into the world they find themselves within.
The dominance theory and dogs – Natural family units need no dominance
Certainly, the realization that wolves live in family packs. No hierarchy is other than the mother and father leading the way. No battle for supremacy insight is spot on. That however is not the norm for our family dogs – nor are our family dogs exactly like wolves.
The reason (in my opinion) that there is no conflict in these family packs is because they have a choice. When the pups reach maturity they can leave, find a mate and form family packs of their own. Or stay within the pack and take whatever role best suits them.
Our family dogs do not have a choice who they live with
Dogs are put together as unrelated adults or puppies. One or two may stay with their parents and grow up within a family group. If it is the latter then all should be natural, and therefore well … shouldn’t it? Actually, no. What happens if you have a male puppy which desperately wants to form his own family? Or a female who wants the same? They cannot do this, they cannot follow the natural course to leave the family group.
What happens when dogs natural instincts are denied them?
Well, I can tell you because this happened to me. I had a kind and gentle male dog, a feisty and ‘in charge’ female dog – and they were very happy and uncomplicated. The female took the lead role. The male was happy for her to do so. They had puppies. We kept a male and a female. During the puppies’ ‘childhood’ they were like the Waltons – mum stayed in charge. Dad was happy with this, and the puppies were … well, just puppies. No conflict at all.
What happens when a puppy matures?
The male pup was born to head a family of his own. He would have been off and running as soon as he was old enough in a natural environment. This was not an option he could take. The female would have stayed and taken a role within the family group. She adored her father and they were both totally uninterested in power games. The male adolescent took the lead role from his mother. This, fortunately, was a bloodless coup, the mother gave way and all was well. He then decided that there was only room for one male in the family.
No room for two male dogs in this household
This adolescent never missed an opportunity to threaten his father and attack him if my vigilance slipped. His father did nothing to warrant this. For the happiness of both dogs, when a perfect home presented itself I was forced to rehome one. It had to be the father as the son was not an easy boy.
This young dog never showed or has shown, aggression toward any other dog. He is extremely tolerant and gentle unless his father was in his sights. Nothing I could do would change his mind. Physically I could keep his father safe 99% of the time, but emotionally he must have been a mess. With his father gone, the son settled down to be pretty much the perfect family dog – with mother and sister.
Your dogs’ needs are more important than your wants
One without the other can create a very dangerous imbalance.
In an unnatural setting, (and almost all of our ‘forced packs’ of unrelated family dogs DO live in an unnatural setting), dominance, alpha status, hierarchy DOES exist (in my opinion). To pretend it does not or to ignore what is playing out before your eyes. Not address this simply because we have been told that this is a ‘discreory’. Is to be purposely blind – and can create a very dangerous situation.
We certainly should not try to dominate our dogs
I absolutely agree that we humans should not try to dominate, assume ‘alpha status’ in the way perceived from watching a well-known TV celebrity’s take on this, and ‘aggression’ is hugely misunderstood, but be aware that dogs placed in an unnatural situation, are not privy to the latest scientific discoveries and will act as they see fit. We are still a million miles away from fully understanding what this may be, and what form it will take.
The Mech report was debunked re dominance within an unrelated wolf pack. But not as far as debunking dominance within a forced pack, and very limited time and study has been put to this, however, this is a very interesting and informative study done in 2015 to quantify this very insightful blog post by Lesley Harris
Read More of Carolines method for Naturally educating your dog here in her book Why Does My Dog Do That?