Social dominance?

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JudyN
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Social dominance?

Post by JudyN » Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:40 am

Victoria Stillwell wrote an article that appeared in the Times on Saturday where she said that humping can be a sign of social dominance. Are we 'allowed' to use the 'D' word in this context?

I've seen Jasper clearly demonstrate that he is 'in charge' with other dogs that I can't not see it as a 'status' thing. Typically it can be a paw on the back and a glare in the eye, though sometimes humping might come into it. When he meets young entire males he will often do the paw and the glare, with maybe a few verbals and physically controlling them, just once and then, having established their respective status, be absolutely fine with them. (Thankfully the days where he would want to persistently bully them have passed.) It's rare for a dog to intimidate him enough that he decides that the other dog can be 'boss', though it does happen, and he's also never picked on the 'wrong' dog who will turn on him. And the other dog is generally not upset in any way - typically he'll do this with confident but easy-going labs who accept that he's not a dog to play rough-and-tumble with.

I think trying to hump his friend Eddie after Eddie showed me a lot of attention was significant too.

It's hard not to read this as him being a 'high ranking' male, at least in some sense - a genuine 'top dog' woudn't have to demonstrate their superiority in the first place. But how to put this into words without using the D word, alpha male (which I know shouldn't apply to random social encounters anyway) and so on?
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ZaraD
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by ZaraD » Mon Mar 04, 2019 5:16 am

Interesting as i thought there was no such thing as dominance. I can see how people can thing of it as that.i tend to say bossy instead of dominance, Sampson was a bossy dog with other male dogs and i can see how people would say he is dominant over other dogs.

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Re: Social dominance?

Post by JudyN » Mon Mar 04, 2019 7:56 am

A lot of it comes down to terminology, Zara - the strict definition of dominance used by sociobiologists is very different, and it has come to be misused so much when applied to dogs the term is best avoided. Ah, I knew I'd find something more concrete if I searched Jacksdad's posts and he does indeed mention 'social dominance':
while there is no such thing as "dominance" as "preached" by many dog trainers, there is a valid concept called "Social Dominance" and it is NOTHING like what is "preached" by many dog trainers. but it can take a bit of study to reach the point you truly understand the difference, how it is helpful, how it is not etc.
(from https://positively.com/forum/viewtopic. ... ce#p148546 )

Though I'm still not sure how to reply if people say that he's a dominant dog, his behaviour with other dogs is all about dominance, and so on. It's not quite bullying, as once he's said what he has to say he leaves it at that.

Certainly, this sort of behaviour only applies with other dogs. He's shown a lot of 'controlling' behaviour with humans but this can 100% put down to fear/insecurity ('DON'T answer the door, Mum, that could be a mad axe murderer outside'/ 'Don't LEEEEAVE me, Mum!')
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Nettle
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Nettle » Tue Mar 05, 2019 3:07 am

I would disagree about it being dominance, social or otherwise. It's more like social ineptitude. Think of group of youths that start to push each other around 'just joshing'. If I do this, what will you do?

I suspect some sub-editor has changed Victoria's words and she is probably steaming about it.
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by JudyN » Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:43 am

Though in a group of youths, there will be one who decides on the rules of the game, which pub they're going to go to, whether slashing the tyres of a car is a good idea, and the one who accepts the rules, goes to whichever pub the 'leader' suggests, and will be ignored if they suggest that slashing tyres isn't a nice thing to do. And something similar seems to happen in dog-dog interactions. So (putting Jasper to one side as there are certainly times when he is a socially inept git, and needing to make it abundantly clear that he makes the rules is presumably a sign of insecurity) is there a way that we can talk about the dog who gets to choose the rules and the one who will happily go along with them?

On the main site Victoria says 'SUBMISSION IS NEVER FORCED... If a particular dog is dominant over another, such status is usually freely acknowledged and mutually understood... Because dominance is a mutually agreed to state, the dog allowing another dog to be dominant is freely offering its submission...'

So, if a particular dog tends to be the 'dominant' one and another tends to be the 'submissive' one, is there a way we can usefully describe each dog's qualities?
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Nettle » Tue Mar 05, 2019 1:00 pm

The way I see it:

There are dogs that are comfortable in their own skins. The ones I call 'zen' dogs, for want of a better term. They either ignore other dogs or interact with politeness and restraint. Zen dogs don't force themselves on other dogs. Other dogs feel safe with a zen dog around.

There are dogs that bully. Presumably they are not comfortable in their own skins, but get a blast of feelgood hormones from intimidating other dogs. They will take the challenge to any dog except zen, though they do make the odd mistake. Other dogs (except zen) don't feel safe around them, because these dogs are flaky.

There are quiet gentle dogs which are seen as victims by the bullies. These are not submissive dogs, but bullies try to make them submit because they think they are an easy target.

I have spent a long time working with dog behaviour, especially aggression. I have never seen a dog gladly offer submission. I suspect I just have a different point of view and a different interpretation.
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Nettle » Tue Mar 05, 2019 1:49 pm

I do need to qualify that last part.

I have never seen a dog gladly offer submission. I should have said "an adult dog".

Maybe a lot of this "submission" is to do with neutering - or early neutering (either gender). Certainly a lot of bullying behaviour is, because bullying is essentially a behaviour of the underconfident.

Food for thought, yes? What do you (all) think?
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Ari_RR
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Ari_RR » Wed Mar 06, 2019 2:33 am

Somehow it feels that breed dimension is missing here...

Can a behavior, acceptable within a breed (for example large), be intimidating to another breed (for example, small/fluffy) without necessarily meaning the large dog being a flaky bully?

Still thinking :)
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Nettle » Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:00 am

IMO (which means I could very well be mistaken!) dogs don't realise the size they are until something happens that shows them. I know any number of feisty small dogs ready to take on the world at the drop of a hat, or (in the case of working terriers) the mere mention of a hat. Once they have been scared by a larger dog, they tend to generalise for that type of dog e.g. black dogs, specific breeds etc. After several attacks, they begin to fear all dog/dog interaction unless desensitising is done by the owner.

Except for working terriers of course :lol: they usually fear nothing and nobody.
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by JudyN » Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:10 am

I think... I need to look at more dog interactions through different lenses. What you say doesn't quite tie in with what I have seen and how I have interpreted it. Obviously you have a whole lot more exerience and knowledge than I do, not that I'm one to simply accept what an expert says if it doesn't quite line up with my thoughts :lol: And of course I may be a little biased and want to see J as a little more socially skilled than he is :wink:

I think when his behaviour consists of a paw on the back and a hard stare, the other dog is - let's say accepting rather than submitting - and J then says 'Right, now we've got that sorted let's go do some sniffing,' it doesn't seem like bullying (or he'd continue to show his strength) nor like social ineptitude (or he'd pick on the wrong dog, or make more of a meal of it). But it's certainly not Zen, and it's certainly born of insecurity when faced with a dog he views as a bit cocky.

But I dare say if someone comments on how J is a dominant dog I'd rather reply 'No, he's an insecure bully' than perpetuate the old pack hierarchy idea.

Ari, that's a good point. J really doesn't like it if a larger dog gets playful with him - he looks as if he finds the sheer physical size is intimidating. It's particularly noticeable with a couple of deerhounds he's known where he wants to be friends because they're sighthounds but boy are those legs long and paws heavy.

I can also trust him with a JRT whereas not necessarily with a shih tzu - he's not going to mess with a JRT :lol:

(I make it sound like he spends his whole walk picking on other dogs, which is a long way from the truth. He's perfect with other dogs 99.9% of the time nowadays and goes back on lead whenever I get a gut feeling about a dog we're approaching so I lose track of just how far he's come.)
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Ari_RR » Wed Mar 06, 2019 9:06 am

I am sure there are those who derive pleasure from intimidating others. Ok, flaky bullies.

But how about this:
BIG BOUNCY DOG: I want to play, chase each other, jump on each other, bite each other's ears, let's play!!!
SMALL SHY DOG: No, I would rather just sniff grass...
BIG BOUNCY DOG: Let's play!!! Let's play!!! I'll chase you first!!!
SMALL SHY DOG: aaaaaaaahhhhhh... I am scared......

There is a perpetrator and a victim, but more of bad manners or immaturity.. and can we equate bad mannered or immature dogs with flaky bullies?

May be I am too tolerant to immaturity and bad manners, but I think just classification options of "zen" and "flaky bullies" are limited, there are ones who are neither but at times get dumped into "flaky bully" bucket....
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by JudyN » Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:47 am

Ari_RR wrote:
Wed Mar 06, 2019 9:06 am
May be I am too tolerant to immaturity and bad manners, but I think just classification options of "zen" and "flaky bullies" are limited, there are ones who are neither but at times get dumped into "flaky bully" bucket....
I'm wondering about 'got a chip on his shoulder'. Because J IS zen most of the time with other dogs, but if there's a whiff of testosterone or the dog struts as if he thinks he has a sizeable pair, that's when J has to tell him that his are bigger, he's just not sure where they are...
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by jacksdad » Thu Mar 07, 2019 2:33 am

There is absolutely something real that is trying to be described by various scientific fields that use the term dominance/social dominance. it's a real thing. And while my understanding has grown a bit since posted the comments Judy linked, the basics in those comments are unfortunately still true. People in the dog world are still basically throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks and calling it dominance.

The BIG, BIG problem with discussing dominance is often we think we are all on the same page, but when you dive a bit deeper we are anything but. The word dominance is what I have come to call a "box word". Meaning it is one of those words that does not truly have a fixed definition. And because of that people put into the box what they feel belongs there. If someone starts talking about dominance you cannot assume to know what they mean unless you ask them to "unpack the box" aka supply their definition. Carlos Drews, of the Department of Zoology Cambridge in 1999 tried to address the issue of definitions being all over the map. His paper is one of the best resources I know of for building a understanding of what dominance really is about.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4535117 . you can read it for free at the URL or buy it.

Two other resources that are inexpensive and their information also doesn't require a PhD to understand are.

The book Dog Sense by John Bradshaw, ISBN # 9780465053742 . In the UK I believe it is known as In Defense of Dogs, going by memory so don't hold me to that. I just remember it having a different title in the UK.

The Dangers of Dominance by Animal Behavior Associates. http://www.animalbehaviorassociates.com ... inance.htm
Animal Behavior Associates is run by two CAABs http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/we ... cation.php that I have learned a lot from.

What scientists are trying to describe with dominance really has very little to do with the day to day behaviors we see with our dogs and their dob buddies or random dogs they encounter. Dominance/Social Dominance is determined after prolonged observation of a social group, and when a individual is labeled dominant, it is backed by data. Who is dominate over who changes with time, age, the specific resource, and many other factors. It isn't a fixed relationship between individuals.

The social behaviors we see between our dogs, their buddies, or new found acquaintances when greeting, at play etc, are not best labeled, described or explained through the concepts of dominance/social dominance. These behaviors we see maybe working out social statuses, but they are not fixed states and they are not dominance. They are also often explained/understand much better by concepts/ideas such as what Nettles shared.

Here is an example. client dog, mastiff mix, 100 pounds, male, about 2.5 years old, not overly confident. used to see dogs and look like he wanted to kill them. we were doing some careful work at the dog park (LOTS of info about how we got to this point that I am leaving out, please don't make any assumptions. we can talk about it in another thread if you are interested) when he started interacting with a 9month old female husky.

male mastiff was doing some of the behaviors people often label as dominate. head over back for example. the female husky was displaying a lot of what gets called "submissive" behaviors. the husky's owner was standing next to me and making exasperated/disappointed comments about his "submissive" dog. Most people would have labeled the mastiff as the dominate dog of the two.

Now as much as I LOVE that mastiff (he and I still get to hang out occasionally) this poor boy is anything BUT "dominant" as typically used in the dog world. rather he is very socially awkward at this stage in his life. I started watching them interacting. it turned out, as used in the dog world the female husky was the "dominate" one. she was using "submissive" behaviors to relieve tension. AND she would air snap very subtly at the mastiff when he would get out of line combined with moving just out of his ability to interact with her...then should come back. if he behaved himself, she hung around, played with him..when he would go into social awkward...she would move way.... it was if she had read "don't shoot the dog" :lol:

Behavior is complex. it can turn into a messy flow chart from hell, and we don't often have good labels and explanations for everything we see. But I have yet to read anything, or observe anything that that to me suggests "dominance" is a helpful concept (or label) for the behaviors I typically see/deal with with my client dogs. For example, the humping being "social dominance".... the dogs I typically see engage in that behavior fall into either very tired, over excited dogs in need of a break. Or an anxious dog trying to deal with the world around them. Both those descriptions provide much more useful information and are based on observation of behavior, not what a dog is "thinking".

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Re: Social dominance?

Post by JudyN » Thu Mar 07, 2019 3:26 am

That makes a lot of sense, JD, and highlights why I really want to avoid the D word. But you do say:
jacksdad wrote:
Thu Mar 07, 2019 2:33 am
These behaviors we see maybe working out social statuses, but they are not fixed states and they are not dominance.
...so there is an element of status involved, even if it's not fixed. However, as your example of the mastiff shows, it is very easy to get things completely wrong when focusing on a concept of 'status'. Maybe it's a hangover from the old 'dominance' concept, maybe it's an ego thing (people like the idea that their dog is 'high-ranking'), but I'm sure there's a tendency to observe behaviour and try to put it in boxes, in simple terms, to 'rank' the dogs, and once you've done that, you see all interactions through that filter. Even as I read your post I was thinking that maybe the easy-going young dogs who brushed off J's paw on the back and glare were the ones in control all along, but that's still trying to 'rank' them. It's very seductive...

Twice, I've seen interactions where J has introduced himself to a female, the male who lives with a female has come over and said 'Oi mate, that's MY girlfriend,' and then J and the males have had an attack of the handbags. But again, I've tried to put my observations neatly in a box that makes sense to me and the reality could be quite different and a whole lot more complex.

I think my best response when someone says that J is dominant is 'No he's not, he's just a bit of a git.'

I'll have a read of the links later - though really I'm more interested in just what the behaviour I see is, rather than focus simply on the terminological reasons why it shouldn't be labelled 'dominance'.
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Re: Social dominance?

Post by Nettle » Thu Mar 07, 2019 4:08 am

Thank you jacksdad for that analysis, and Ari I am falling short in my explanation with 'zen' and 'bully' for which I apologise. There are always degrees and increments of each, and in trying to keep things simple I sometimes don't explain enough. I must make it clear that I too am learning every day, and every time I learn something more, I realise not only how far I have come but how far there is still to go.

One of the difficulties with any explanation are poisoned words such as 'dominance' which, like 'prey drive' have been hijacked and morphed into incorrect ideas of concepts which which are not readily understood.

The other issue is that we can only deduce so much from words - if we could only see the interactions between each dog pair or group, freeze-frame them and discuss them, well - that would be SO useful, and each of us would see something another might miss (but would never miss again).

I am interested in bullying because I see so much of it, so I ought to define what I mean, because sometimes it is very subtle. And it is easy to mistake which dog is being tolerant, which dog is underconfident, and so on. In an awkward social situation, dogs just want to change it and move on, and some use one way, some another. Sometimes the moving on goes wrong too - just like with human social interaction.
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