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Old May 4th, 2012, 10:16 AM
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DobeOwnrX2 DobeOwnrX2 is offline
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Question Do dogs crave the Alpha role?

Hey Everyone. I always assumed that dogs displayed dominant behavior. I had also assumed that dogs engaged in 'alpha-seeking' amongst themselves in multiple dog situations. A few posts have made me wonder I guess. I am not the most experienced dog trainer, not by a longshot. But I have to trust the knowledge handed down to me by people whos dog knowledge is true in form.

Just looking for opinions here. Here is mine. I think its very obvious when you forget what the academics say and just look at dogs, you see the wolf come out of them in pack situations. I have witnessed my own dogs rally for position, and one usually comes out on top. I have also witnessed said dogs rally for my position or if not that then my partners position within the pack.

This said I would like to initiate an open look at this idea. Let's hear some opinions on either side.
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Old May 4th, 2012, 10:23 AM
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As far as I know, not all dogs challenge each other for "authority" or "rank".
Many dogs are comfortable with their "lesser status".
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Old May 4th, 2012, 11:38 AM
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I'm not a fan of the whole dominance theory schtick. I like this article for a better explanation of the social lives of dogs: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/...cept-dominance
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Old May 4th, 2012, 12:21 PM
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Goldfields Goldfields is offline
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My foundation female here, and I'm talking back when all my dogs were Australian Cattle Dogs, was the alpha dog, the gaurd dog too until my first male was old enough to take over. Then she became everyone's friend, almost apologising for his gaurding behaviour. We lost him early so that female took on the roll again until my next male was mature, then she was the nice one again. LOL. There's a saying that covers that actually, it's why have a dog and bark too?
I find that the true alpha doesn't have to assert himself, the rest just respect him. In my Shelties the alpha was a female, and the two wannabe alphas were her daughter and another sweet looking little blondie that appears to have a split personality. When I lost my beloved alpha girl the other two had a short battle, nothing serious, and it was the daughter that has became alpha. My sheltie boys are interesting. The one that is hypothyroid bears watching because he can fire up and is jealous and protective, however I notice he backs off quickly from the dog you'd consider the least threat, a gentle dog, smaller and older. I suspect the latter could be the true alpha in the pack. They're interesting to study.
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Old May 4th, 2012, 07:27 PM
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millitntanimist millitntanimist is offline
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Here's my

The problem with forgetting what the academics say and going with personal observation is that personal observation is so easily biased. It's very simple to diagnose "dominant" behavior in your dog when you are looking for it, even when there are other perfectly logical explanations. It blinds you to other possibilities because it is so amorphous and poorly defined.

For example, many people say that a dog who jumps up on them in greeting is 'dominant.' Problem is, this is a classically submissive gesture. Juvenile canids will run up and lick the mouths of family members returning from the hunt to stimulate regurgitation. As they mature, this licking behavior becomes a greeting. It's called an 'affiliation display.' Dogs also attempt to perform an approximation of this (it's buried in their genetic heritage) with us, it's just that our faces are so much higher from the ground . Hence, they jump.

It is not totally inaccurate to say that dogs display dominance and submission, its just that people have misappropriated it. These are part of dog communication, but they are not personality traits. You cannot say a dog is dominant (in ethological terms) because that is a misuse of the term. Dominance simply means " priority access to resources."
We want to say that a dog who shows dominant signals is a dominant dog, but all dogs regardless of social confidence use both dominant and submissive signals to communicate. You never have a dog that shows dominant signals all the time unless they are totally unsocialized or have serious behavior problems. The same goes for submission. It can happen, but this is the exception, not the rule and should not be mistaken for normal canine interaction.

I too watch my dogs. One of them displays much more dominant signals than the others in social interaction, and they usually defer to her at meal times and with specific toys. Yet, she lets one of our males mount her in play. She takes the worst sleeping spot available when we crash for the night. She will let our smallest wrestle toys and bones away from her, when she could easily overpower him. If there were some underlying pack hierarchy, logic would dictate that, as the dominant dog, she would always have access to "the best of the best" in the house. That is simply not the case.

The biggest problem with dominance/pack theory is that it utilizes comparative zoology. It attempts to use (outdated) models of wolf behavior to explain the behavior of modern dogs. It's a bit like using Victorian knowledge of chimpanzees to explain modern human social behavior.

A note on wolves: Dominance theory was born out of a mid 1900's study on wolf behavior. We know now that wolves are family groups, the "alphas'" are simply the breeding male and female, and the rest of the pack their offspring. There are no dominance struggles for leadership because no son or daughter will overthrow one parent to mate with another, it's ludicrous.
Where we got the idea that this happens is from said study, where we took a group of unrelated individuals, put them in close quarters under stress, and watched as they fought after we totally disrupted their normal social system.
Until more studies (by some of the same scientists) were done with wild wolves in the 1970's, we erroneously applied this theory of a rigid social hierarchy maintained by aggression not only to wolves, but dogs and all other canids as well.


Regardless, it's a mistake to equate wolf pack behavior to dogs because their social systems are very different. Wolf packs exist solely based on the availability of large game (interestingly, in areas where large herbivores are unavailable, wolves actually don't pack). Wolves are monogamous hunters, their packs exist to co-ordinate large hunts and rear successive generations of offspring.
Dogs, on the other hand, are non-monogamous, and primarily scavengers. They form what are called "loose associational groups" whose social dynamics are far more fluid than wolf packs. Because the relationships are not famillial, members come and go as they please. There is often no one "dominant" dog, rather, many dogs may take on a more "dominant" role on different occasions, or even between tasks. They don't need to co-operate for hunting. Males and females do not stay together to raise pups. Some feral dogs live completely alone. So why do we insist that dogs "pack" at all when all the criteria of other packing canids are not met?

Whether or not you want to subscribe to the theory, there are a few reasons why I really try to discourage it in regards to training.

1. Dominance does not = aggression (this is one of the dangers of calling dominance a personality trait). Aggression is a distancing signal. The less confident a dog is, the more aggressive it is likely to be.
When a diagnosis of dominance is given to a dog, the only logical solution to that is to reduce that dog's dominance/increase your own. Right away, this sets you up in an antagonistic relationship with your dog. Every misbehavior is personally directed at you and is your failure to "be a leader" to your dog. The prescription for dominance is usually forced submission, and usually corrective. This will almost certainly exacerbate your dog's behavioral problem because aggression is almost always fear-based. Introducing corrections or intimidation to a fearful animal will increase their fear, not alleviate it.

2. It's not a real diagnosis. Even among people who believe in dominance, there is no clear definition of dominant behavior and what it constitutes. There is only personal observation.
Recently, we worked with someone who had a border collie who was becoming reactive to cyclists. She was worried he was showing dominance, based on the diagnosis of her dog walker. We calmly explained that this is simply a border collie displaying herding instincts. Herding instincts are hardwired. They are a fixed action pattern. No amount of 'dominance reduction' will change his drive to herd, it can only be re-directed. If she had tried to address his emotional arousal to bicycles with corrections, she may very well have turned excitement into real aggression (because bicycles will become a predictor of punishment).

3. It's misleading It creates a level of mysticism around both dog behavior and the trainer. Whenever something works well and the trainer cites their own "dominance," regardless of what mechanisms are really in play, they set the dog and the owners up to fail. There are a hundred reasons why a trainer can get a dog to perform where the owner's can't (the situation, their body language, a dog's level of shutdown, etc.). When these people try to reproduce the same training techniques (if they haven't been told the real mechanisms by which they work) they often have mixed or even regressive results and they have no recourse other than stepping up their level of correction. It doesn't give people the tools they need to deconstruct a situation, identify the triggers behind it, and come at it from multiple angles or with different techniques.

4. It's counter-productiveThere is no evidence that some of the more harmless dominance reduction exercises produce any change in behavior (other than simply altering a dog's expectation in a given scenario) and a wealth of evidence that some of the more intensive ones create behavioral problems.

In case you've read this far, here are a few of my favorite books and articles on the subject

http://www.nonlineardogs.com/socialorganisation.html
http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org/why-not-dominance.php
http://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/do.../dominance.php
http://www.4pawsu.com/dogpsychology.htm
http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DTB1207
http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DTB700
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Old May 4th, 2012, 09:30 PM
violagirl violagirl is offline
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Obviously I have read the same things as many on this board. I often have discussions with my "old school" dog training friend on the merits or demerits of the "dominance" issue.

I don't think most people who say they have "aggressive" dogs have truly dominant-aggressive dogs. They are fearful dogs.

I think dog/human interaction is much more, as has been described, of a parent-child relation. A parent does not have to resort to yelling and corporal punishment to establish their authority.

In dog/dog relationships there does seem to be a hierarchy. But it changes on what other dogs are around, where they are and how tired/excited everyone is at the time.

Example. My friend has an older dog and a year old puppy. When they come over, my dogs will growl and show teeth at the overly exuberant puppy who wants to get in their faces, but never do that to the older dog. When the puppy is calm he is allowed to get close. But he doesnt' seem to catch on very readily to dog language. I don't think my dogs are aggressive or dominant, even the oldest bitch who is even LESS tolerant than the others. They do not like the puppy in their face. I can understand that.
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Old May 4th, 2012, 10:46 PM
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DobeOwnrX2 DobeOwnrX2 is offline
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The reason I say to forget the academics is because I used to be one. I studied in a scientific field that has no relevance here I guess. Let me tell you about science, and studies, and the rest of it. A vast majority of research is done by private interest with private money. That said you have to read all of the data. What you might read in a report is biased no matter how much jargon and calculations and whatever. Statistical analysis is a poor basis for conjecture or hypothesis. In short, I would be very careful about quoting to no end study after study. Animals cannot communicate in a cogent/coherent method that we can interpret in a responsible scientific context. If they could talk they would. I can observe and make conclusions from nothing more than a few cooked up statistics. I am reminded here of akums razor; it is a scientific principal which states that 'the simplist explination, is often the most likely'. I am not knocking science down, just opening eyes. These people are not gods, they are just as biased as you or me. Thats why there is disagreement within science. Nothing is ever proven in science, you can only disprove hypothesis'. I guess my stance is this; Dogs are genetically derived wolves or other wild dogs. Therefore I guess to me the simplest explination is probably the right one. Dogs operate within a pack mentality. There is no 'parent' relationship here Dogs don't know they are dogs and they don't know we are human. They don't understand species, only scents and other sensory information. As far as they are concerned we are just other things that smell different. Dogs see us as other members of this pack, and so they from time to time will challenge or rally for position within this pack. Do you really beilieve that a dog has the intelligence to tell the difference between a human pack and a dog pack? Dog's don't have human emotions or drives as we understand them. My dogs have no 'behavioral problems' (please get over yourself). I don't hit or yell at my dogs. When they challenge me I take a firm hold of their scruffs (LIKE THEIR MOTHER WOULD) and place them in a submissive position. This is necessary (to assert the alpha position) to maintain the balance we have with our dogs (or any pet). The simple fact is that one of us is the alpha (or whatever you want to call it) and the others fall into line. If we deny this then we risk serious injury from said pets. Asserting the alpha position does not require violence, physical contact is not violence (my parents never hit me but when they were reprimanding me they would always be holding or embracing me). You can deal with dogs diplomatically or you can deal with them realistically. The latter is less time consuming and more effective in my opinion. These are not my methods they are handed down to me from generations of breeders and people in my life. These peoples methods are TRUE TO FORM. They are practical tools, and they don't harm the animal. I stand by my statement. Be very careful before quoting all of these studies, look for legitimate peer reviewed material, and look for all of the data not just the numbers the authors have selected. The bottom line for me is this. If my dog is challenging my dominion over him then it is my responsibility to take this challenge seriously. Muddying the water with all kinds of scientific jargon is irresponsible at best. Go with your gut, dogs rally for position in the wild why would it be any different in 'domesticated' environments. A dog doesn't know its in a human world (only we do) it carries out its behavior via a genetic road map. I don't like to make assumptions but I will bet there is yet to be any SOLID evidence that would prove otherwise.

Last edited by DobeOwnrX2; May 4th, 2012 at 11:42 PM.
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Old May 5th, 2012, 10:09 PM
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Goldfields Goldfields is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by millitntanimist View Post
2. It's not a real diagnosis. Even among people who believe in dominance, there is no clear definition of dominant behavior and what it constitutes. There is only personal observation.
Recently, we worked with someone who had a border collie who was becoming reactive to cyclists. She was worried he was showing dominance, based on the diagnosis of her dog walker. We calmly explained that this is simply a border collie displaying herding instincts. Herding instincts are hardwired. They are a fixed action pattern. No amount of 'dominance reduction' will change his drive to herd, it can only be re-directed. If she had tried to address his emotional arousal to bicycles with corrections, she may very well have turned excitement into real aggression (because bicycles will become a predictor of punishment).
This is interesting. If not corrections, then what? How do you redirect that drive? And what do you term dominance reduction? I must admit I do find all the terms amusing because if you talk about herding instinct, the old farmers who actually had to work dogs every day wouldn't know what the heck these terms mean. If they saw a dog streaking past, Hell bent on heeling a cow it shouldn't, they'd hit it with a clod of dirt, give it a flick of the stock whip etc.. Curbs the dog's enthusiasm and doesn't make it aggressive, certainly makes it respect who is in charge, and most working dogs idolise their owners. Sometimes these debates make me think of how children aren't allowed to be punished nowadays, the world is not a better place because of it. Many children are growing up with no respect for others.
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