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The History and Misconceptions of Dominance Theory

BoxerRescueMTL
January 2nd, 2006, 03:24 PM
I thought this would be a helpful article to post...

The History and Misconceptions of Dominance Theory

The original alpha/dominance model was born out of short-term studies of wolf packs done in the 1940s. These were the first studies of their kind. These studies were a good start, but later research has essentially disproved most of the findings. There were three major flaws in these studies:

These were short-term studies, so the researchers concentrated on the most obvious, overt parts of wolf life, such as hunting. The studies are therefore unrepresentative -- drawing conclusions about "wolf behavior" based on about 1% of wolf life.
The studies observed what are now known to be ritualistic displays and misinterpreted them. Unfortunately, this is where the bulk of the "dominance model" comes from, and though the information has been soundly disproved, it still thrives in the dog training mythos.

For example, alpha rolls. The early researchers saw this behavior and concluded that the higher-ranking wolf was forcibly rolling the subordinate to exert his dominance. Well, not exactly. This is actually an "appeasement ritual" instigated by the SUBORDINATE wolf. The subordinate offers his muzzle, and when the higher-ranking wolf "pins" it, the lower-ranking wolf voluntarily rolls and presents his belly. There is NO force. It is all entirely voluntary.

A wolf would flip another wolf against his will ONLY if he were planning to kill it. Can you imagine what a forced alpha roll does to the psyche of our dogs?
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Finally, after the studies, the researchers made cavalier extrapolations from wolf-dog, dog-dog, and dog-human based on their "findings." Unfortunately, this nonsense still abounds.
So what's the truth? The truth is dogs aren't wolves. Honestly, when you take into account the number of generations past, saying "I want to learn how to interact with my dog so I'll learn from the wolves" makes about as much sense as saying, "I want to improve my parenting -- let's see how the chimps do it!"

Dr. Frank Beach performed a 30-year study on dogs at Yale and UC Berkeley. Nineteen years of the study was devoted to social behavior of a dog pack. (Not a wolf pack. A DOG pack.) Some of his findings:

Male dogs have a rigid hierarchy.
Female dogs have a hierarchy, but it's more variable.
When you mix the sexes, the rules get mixed up. Males try to follow their constitution, but the females have "amendments."
Young puppies have what's called "puppy license." Basically, that license to do most anything. Bitches are more tolerant of puppy license than males are.
The puppy license is revoked at approximately four months of age. At that time, the older middle-ranked dogs literally give the puppy hell -- psychologically torturing it until it offers all of the appropriate appeasement behaviors and takes its place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The top-ranked dogs ignore the whole thing.
There is NO physical domination. Everything is accomplished through psychological harassment. It's all ritualistic.
A small minority of "alpha" dogs assumed their position by bullying and force. Those that did were quickly deposed. No one likes a dictator.
The vast majority of alpha dogs rule benevolently. They are confident in their position. They do not stoop to squabbling to prove their point. To do so would lower their status because...
Middle-ranked animals squabble. They are insecure in their positions and want to advance over other middle-ranked animals.
Low-ranked animals do not squabble. They know they would lose. They know their position, and they accept it.
"Alpha" does not mean physically dominant. It means "in control of resources." Many, many alpha dogs are too small or too physically frail to physically dominate. But they have earned the right to control the valued resources. An individual dog determines which resources he considers important. Thus an alpha dog may give up a prime sleeping place because he simply couldn't care less.
So what does this mean for the dog-human relationship?

Using physical force of any kind reduces your "rank." Only middle-ranked animals insecure in their place squabble.
To be "alpha," control the resources. I don't mean hokey stuff like not allowing dogs on beds or preceding them through doorways. I mean making resources contingent on behavior. Does the dog want to be fed. Great -- ask him to sit first. Does the dog want to go outside? Sit first. Dog want to greet people? Sit first. Want to play a game? Sit first. Or whatever. If you are proactive enough to control the things your dogs want, *you* are alpha by definition.
Train your dog. This is the dog-human equivalent of the "revoking of puppy license" phase in dog development. Children, women, elderly people, handicapped people -- all are capable of training a dog. Very few people are capable of physical domination.
Reward deferential behavior, rather than pushy behavior. I have two dogs. If one pushes in front of the other, the other gets the attention, the food, whatever the first dog wanted. The first dog to sit gets treated. Pulling on lead goes nowhere. Doors don't open until dogs are seated and I say they may go out. Reward pushy, and you get pushy.
Your job is to be a leader, not a boss, not a dictator. Leadership is a huge responsibility. Your job is to provide for all of your dog's needs... food, water, vet care, social needs, security, etc. If you fail to provide what your dog needs, your dog will try to satisfy those needs on his own.

In a recent article in the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) newsletter, Dr. Ray Coppinger -- a biology professor at Hampshire College, co-founder of the Livestock Guarding Dog Project, author of several books including Dogs : A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution; and an extremely well-respected member of the dog training community -- says in regards to the dominance model (and alpha rolling)...

"I cannot think of many learning situations where I want my learning dogs responding with fear and lack of motion. I never want my animals to be thinking social hierarchy. Once they do, they will be spending their time trying to figure out how to move up in the hierarchy."

That pretty much sums it up, don't you think?

Melissa Alexander
melissa @ clickersolutions.com
copyright 2001 Melissa C. Alexander

Prin
January 2nd, 2006, 08:24 PM
The subordinate offers his muzzle, and when the higher-ranking wolf "pins" it, the lower-ranking wolf voluntarily rolls and presents his belly. There is NO force. It is all entirely voluntary.

A wolf would flip another wolf against his will ONLY if he were planning to kill it. Can you imagine what a forced alpha roll does to the psyche of our dogs?

Young puppies have what's called "puppy license." Basically, that license to do most anything. Bitches are more tolerant of puppy license than males are.

Is this article from a credible source? I just don't believe the above points.

I've seen very confident, dominant dogs pin other dogs with their bodies without intending to hurt them or kill them, having the sole purpose to show the underdog that he is not as powerful as the dominant one- sort of warning to naive dogs who just don't seem to get it. I saw Jemma flip my step-sister's dog on its back with one step, to show him that he's no match for her after an evening of him attempting to dominate her. It was almost a joke. No teeth, no growling, just body movements. One snap of the neck and the dog was down. The other dog was definitely not willing, he just was unable to hold himself up. At my park, there's a Kuvacz who, when he gets really annoyed, rolls dogs over and holds them under his body. Nobody ever struggles or fights back, but it's not because they are willing before the roll.

And the puppy license? I think dogs are more gentle with puppies, but I think by far, the males are more gentle than the females. Females are far less patient. Maybe between intact dogs it's the females who are more patient, but I highly doubt it.

And these two are contradictions:

Low-ranked animals do not squabble. They know they would lose. They know their position, and they accept it.



...Once they do, they will be spending their time trying to figure out how to move up in the hierarchy
The first one is the principle reason for dominating your dog early on, when you are much stronger and the dog is easier to handle, and the second one seems to assume that if you don't try to dominate your dog, they will all of a sudden become human and forget their heirarchy instincts. The truth is, you have to be at the head of the pack. If not, one of your dogs will take the place and it will be very hard to remove the dog from the top afterward. Whether you do it with NILF or whatever, you have to do it.

tenderfoot
January 2nd, 2006, 08:52 PM
I am with you Prin.
Our own packs of dogs have displayed the behaviors the article disputes.
As trainers we try not to talk about alpha or dominance but leadership. Yes dogs have a variable hierarchy, but the human needs to always be the leader. Dogs are hard wired to challenge to find their place in the pack, but they will also submit if the leader meets those challenges consistently.
Sadly, some of the most 'devoted' dogs I have observed came from abusive circumstances. They will 'cow' to their person and grovel for them. I find it so sad to watch these dogs but have also observed that the dogs do regard these people as their leader - albeit a cruel one.
Our 'alpha' dogs have always been benevolent leaders but they will not hesitated to put a dog in its place if needed - no blood ever shed. I also observe 'betas' groveling to the alpha and illiciting an aggressive response from the alpha. The beta almost seems to enjoy it as much as the 'alpha'.
Dogs are not wolves but they are as close as it comes and there isn't any other model to study beyond the dogs themselves.
And yes I have learned wonderful things about being a parent from the animals in my life - I am not above learning from all of the amazing creatures around me. It often teaches me greater patience and fairness than observing the humans in my world.
Interesting that this should come up - tomorrow we are off to work with 30 wolves.

BoxerRescueMTL
January 2nd, 2006, 10:00 PM
Is this article from a credible source?
I guess that depends who you ask, Prin. Dr Ian Dunbar is pretty credible, in my opinion (The information in the above article came from an interview with Dr. Ian Dunbar)
Ian Dunbar PhD, BVetMed, MRCVS, CPDT is a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, dog trainer, and writer. He received his veterinary degree and a Special Honours degree in Physiology & Biochemistry from the Royal Veterinary College (London University), and a doctorate in animal behavior from the Psychology Department at the University of California in Berkeley, where he spent ten years researching the development of hierarchical social behavior and aggression in domestic dogs. For seven years Dr. Dunbar ran a behavior clinic specifically for biting dogs. Dr. Dunbar is a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the California Veterinary Medical Association, the Sierra Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (which he founded).

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Dunbar has given over 750 one-day seminars and workshops for dog trainers and veterinarians in an effort to popularize off-leash puppy training classes (which he pioneered), temperament modification, and owner-friendly and dog-friendly dog training. Dr. Dunbar's books, videos, and AKC Gazette "Behavior" column (which he created), have won numerous awards. Dr. Dunbar is currently Director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior in Berkeley, California, where he lives with Kelly, plus Claude, Ollie, Ugly, Mayhem and Dune.http://www.puppyworks.com/speaker/dunbar.html

and the article is from this website http://www.clickersolutions.com/articles/2001/dominance.htm

Prin
January 2nd, 2006, 11:19 PM
A lot of these guys who study dogs somehow get detached in the end. I've read a couple where they were so off the mark just in their procedure and in their definitions of the body language that it tainted the whole study. To me, it's more credible to have Ms. Jane Trainer-for-30-years write a study with the help of a vet or scientist (to validate the scientific method) than Dr. Joe Labcoat write one alone.

The fact that he didn't even state if the dogs were neutered or not or the group was mixed or whatever just bugs me too. A park full of neutered and spayed dogs will have a completely different dynamic than a park full of the same with ONE intact male or ONE intact female. In a park with all intact males and all intact females, of course the heirarchy will be between the males- they are competing for the females, the territory, etc. But with neutered males and spayed females in a park, the heirarchy definitely switches to the females. The males have a bit going on, but definitely not the "scrap" potential that the females have. In a mixed park, all altered, with some dominant males and some dominant females, a female always ends up the alpha. In a park with intact only, it varies, but usually it's a male at the top.

I did a research paper last year for an animal behavior class about how dogs choose their playmates. I guessed that dogs would most likely play with a dog they could gain the most from (i.e. play with somebody above them in the heirarchy). With any animal, playing is practice for reality, right? So, theoretically, a dog like Jemma, who is an incredibly successful dominant dog, would only play with dogs above her.

But then what do those dogs gain by playing down? From what I have seen, in a group, Jemma will only play with intact males or females that are much much bigger than her. She has a lot to gain if she learns a way to overpower a dog twice her size, while the bigger dog also gains by learning how to maintain himself with a dog much more agile and quick than he is. Because Jemma is incredibly fit and agile, she has that to offer or teach the big guy.

And you'll notice after playing with the same dog a number of days in a row, both dogs start to pick up each other's sneaky moves. Like Jemma learned how to body check from huskies she played with and she still does it. Boo learned from a pushy pointer to wrap his paw around the dog's head to bring it closer and he still does it.

My point is, when you take hormones away and just let dogs be dogs, it's a completely different story than when the dogs are intact and the dogs are hormone driven and driven by reproduction. Also, changing the dogs everyday, even on a rotation changes everything. The alpha one day might be the Omega the next. With the same group of dogs, a lot of the communication becomes more subtle and you can get ideas like "there's never violence".

And a full-time, life-time trainer has seen much more behavior in packs of dogs than a guy who has been in school forever, practiced as a vet and all that. I'm not saying he doesn't know how to train dogs or anything like that. I'm just saying that when it comes to pack behavior, his observations seem a bit sub-par.

You know what? Each time I read the article, it bugs me more and more, so I'm going to stop. :D After this:

"Alpha" does not mean physically dominant. It means "in control of resources." Many, many alpha dogs are too small or too physically frail to physically dominate. But they have earned the right to control the valued resources.
That's not exactly true either. My dad's Jack is VERY agile and dominant. He dominated my brother's 78lb pitbull, but not just by walking by. He physically dominated him and won (he also took a piece out of the pitty's ear). It's not about size, it's about technique. The smallest dog can scare the crap out of a huge dog (we've all seen it) and it's not like the big dog steps aside. The big dog concedes because he thinks the dog is a big threat. Dogs don't know how big they are- they can't say, "I'm bigger than everybody" and expect to be alpha. It's really on a case by case basis that it's established.

**exhale**

sorry for the long, long disection...:o:o:o

LM1313
January 3rd, 2006, 01:34 AM
So what's the truth? The truth is dogs aren't wolves. Honestly, when you take into account the number of generations past, saying "I want to learn how to interact with my dog so I'll learn from the wolves" makes about as much sense as saying, "I want to improve my parenting -- let's see how the chimps do it!"

Not true at all. Chimpanzees and humans are two VASTLY different and separate branches on a family tree. Humans are not descended from chimpanzees, gorillas, or monkeys. It's just that somewhere, way back, we had a common ancestor. Humans are descended from hominids.

A more accurate comparison would be to say that studying cats will not give you the necessary insights to understand dogs, since they also share a common ancestor, way back.

Dogs are directly descended from wild dogs or wolves and very recently (in the grand scheme of things) at that. Indeed, the basenji is so closely related to wild dogs that, like them, it only comes into heat once a year instead of twice. Wolves and dogs can produce fertile offspring--not even horses and mules can do that!

Wolves will definitely physically hurt other wolves at times. I recall an alpha female wolf in a Yellowstone pack got killed, ripped to shreds in an attack led by her lower-ranking sister. Also, if you go to this website, http://www.wolfpark.org/ , some of their wolves had to be placed in a separate area from the main pack after they were attacked and driven out.

~LM~

BoxerRescueMTL
January 3rd, 2006, 08:18 AM
The fact that he didn't even state if the dogs were neutered or not or the group was mixed or whatever
All I'd like to point out is that this is simply a snippet of an interview about the study. It is not the actual study, so no details are really mentioned.

Inverness
January 3rd, 2006, 10:23 AM
My point is, when you take hormones away and just let dogs be dogs, it's a completely different story than when the dogs are intact and the dogs are hormone driven and driven by reproduction.
:confused: Prin, what do you mean, "let dogs be dogs" ??? Dogs, I mean "real" dogs, ARE intact. Spayed/neutered dogs are not "dogs" anymore, they're companion animals altered to better suit OUR needs (by controlling behaviour, sexuality, drive, etc.)... (yes, altered for their own good, but still, it's all because of our wanting to have them around...).

tenderfoot
January 3rd, 2006, 10:27 AM
Well said Prin & LM -
The fundamental problem with studying dogs is that the variables are so great. Are you studying a feral pack? How big is the pack? How long has it been established? What breeds or mixes are you observing? Is food readily available or is it hunted? How much does the pack actually have to rely on each other for survival? How was each member socialized from birth? Do humans play a part in their lives?
There are just too many variables to count any one study as totally valid. I do respect Dr. Dunbar for the work he has done, but that does not mean I accept his observations over my own. I have a brain too, and there are things he has taught me but there are many more that my own work has taught me. Learning about animals has many layers to it and I do not claim to know it all and I don't think anyone should. We have opinions that are supported by our experience - that's the best anyone can do.

Prin
January 3rd, 2006, 01:56 PM
:confused: Prin, what do you mean, "let dogs be dogs" ??? Dogs, I mean "real" dogs, ARE intact. Spayed/neutered dogs are not "dogs" anymore, they're companion animals altered to better suit OUR needs (by controlling behaviour, sexuality, drive, etc.)... (yes, altered for their own good, but still, it's all because of our wanting to have them around...).
The thing is, this guy is saying that wolves are very far from the house pets we have now. Well, the trend should be toward all house pets being sterilized, right? (At least when referring to responsible owners who are actually willing to learn about any of this, anyway.) So our dogs would be those, not a pack of intact ones. You know? A non-breeding person with several dogs, or a person who goes to a dog park where dogs can form packs will likely have the dogs in question neutered. So that should be the focus. You know what I mean? Not too many people would let their dog play in a group of intact dogs. He's trying to make this study "real", but in reality, intact dogs in dog parks and in homes with multiple dogs are the minority.