Dominance: Dog V Human - taking over the world?

Valuable training articles posted by Victoria and other Positively members.

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emmabeth
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Dominance: Dog V Human - taking over the world?

Post by emmabeth » Wed Jul 18, 2007 8:27 pm

Some of my thoughts on dominance, which is a term and a word often used to describe or give a reason to, certain doggy problems or dog behaviours.

To prevent any confusion, I am ONLY talking about dominance relative to people, not dominance between dogs.

One of the big problems with people using the term 'dominant' to describe or give reason to a dogs actions is that they are frequently misusing the term.

Usually, what a trainer means when they tell you a dog is dominant, for instance 'Ben pulls on the lead because he is dominant', is 'attempting to become' dominant.

After all, if Ben was dominant over his owner, he wouldnt need to pull on the lead, his owner would respect Bens desire to get to the park faster, and would run.

(Because if Ben was dominant, then his owner would not be.... and Bens wishes would be respected by the submissive or lower ranking person, the owner....).

This can be applied to most situations where someone describes a dog as being dominant where the dog is using certain behaviours... pulling on the lead, growling at people, not obeying commands....



So, when someone says a dog is being dominant, really they mean he is attempting to be dominant.... is that right?

Well no its not, because that presumes that dogs wish to become dominant over us humans. And they dont.

The reason some people came to that assumption, was because they thought that dogs view humans as their 'pack', as if humans are other dogs.

In fact dogs dont do this, but what they do do, is attempt to communicate with us in their own language, not because they are stupid and think we are dogs too, but because they only have 'dog' to speak in.

We do exactly the same thing when we go abroad to a country where we dont speak the native language, its not that we think Russian people are English, its just we cant speak Russian, so we have to use English.

Dogs are well aware we are not dogs, we walk on two legs, we dont run very fast, we dont smell like dogs...... they can after all identify sheep, hare, rabbit, fox, badger, deer (I know working lurchers who can tell the difference between Muntjac and Fallow!), cat, cow, horse...... its quite silly really to think that they would be dim enough to think we are dogs!

Going back to the pack thing.

We have erroneously in the past decided that dogs, as they are related to wolves, will behave like wolves.

To a certain extent that is true, but then we also made the error of believing that captive wolf packs behave like wild wolf packs. And surprise surprise - they dont.

One of our biggest mistakes was to believe that wolves (and thus dogs) have a very rigid heirarchy, that there is one 'alpha' and all others defer to him/her at all times. So for instance, the alpha will always eat first, always pass through narrow gaps first, will pin down and 'dominate' subordinate pack members....

All these things are wrong however. The alpha in a pack has to make decisions for the benefit of the whole pack, so he doesnt always eat first, if there are puppies or lactating bitches, or bitches in the latter stages of pregnancy, who need the better food more than he does, then THEY will eat first.
Young pups can and do climb all over the alpha male and steal food from his jaws and go unreprimanded for this.

Even the 'omega', the lowest ranking pack member will take a chance and steal food whilst the alpha is eating.

The alpha wolf would never pass through a narrow gap first because its entirely possible there may be some dangerous predator on the other side - so to ensure his safety and thus the survival of the pack, he would force the subordinate wolf through that gap - if he gets eaten, its not safe!

The alpha wolf will only pin down an animal he is about to kill, and he only does THAT when the subordinate animal has thrown himself to the ground and rolled over, in an attempt to appease the alpha. If he doesnt want to kill he would just stand over the other animal, and thats the most usual outcome.

If he does, and that would be rare except as the end of a fight for the alpha role, and even then the subordinate would normally choose to run away, and would normally be given that option, then he just kills it.

No alpha male EVER forces a subordinate down to the ground with his teeth and then holds it there physically, this is not something wolves do, nor dogs.

Yet we humans decided these things happen, we decided that dogs desire to become dominant over us and to prevent that happening, we must dominate them first.

So some people advise pinning a dog down physically, eating first, going through doorways first.

As the late John Fisher said, it all means diddly squat to your dog though - although if you 'alpha roll' your dog you may find he decides to bite your face and given you have just threatened to kill him, id say he would be well within his rights to do so!

So going back to the dog Ben who pulls on the lead, supposedly because according to the trainer, he wants to become dominant.

We know that he doesnt think you are a dog, and in any case, dogs dont have the greatest abilities for forward planning (lets face it, over throwing a leader takes a concerted effort to undermine him at every opportunity, and that takes a human brain.... not a dog brain).

The simple answer is, Ben finds pulling gets him to the park quicker, its rewarding and so as its rewarded each time, he repeats the behaviour each time.
If the trainer who advised that Ben is dominant noted that on the way HOME from the park Ben doesnt pull, would he have advised something different?

Now, all this is not to say that dogs cannot dominate their owners, for sure they can.

But the question is, do they want to? And I have yet to see a dog who is happy when he is growling at his owners, keeping them off the bed or the sofa, biting the owners partner for sitting down, etc.

This is a dog who has been rewarded for doing such things, inadvertently by the owner. When he growls at the owners husband, as a pup (because he was small and the husband is tall and deep voiced and scary), the owner laughed and picked him up and cuddled him.

This little dog found that very rewarding and so repeated it - and one day the owner wasnt there to remove him, and the husband bent down to pick him up, and pushed the little dog further.... so he bit him!

This isnt a dominant dog, as much as his behaviour may dominate the lives of the people he lives with. He is growling and biting because he feels scared, hes not sure of the rules and not sure of peoples intentions towards him and so feels he must defend himself all the time.

Clearly, not a happy animal at all!

The other problem that comes with the use of the words dominance, dominant, dominate...... is this.

We humans tend to translate the word 'dominate' as being unpleasant, pushy and nasty, aggressive, quite hard...

So if we are lead to believe our dog is, or wants to be dominant over us, and we must dominate the dog.... that leads to the use of unpleasant physical even aggressive treatment of the dog.

Frequently the alpha roll is advised as being a good way to 'teach your dog who is boss'... however your dog reads this as a threat to kill, and whilst some dogs who are bred to be very biddable will 'take' this treatment (although they will often then become shut down, depressed and cowed), other dogs such as terriers, bred to survive at all costs and to be willing to take on attackers several times their own size, will not, and these will often fight back, if not to the person who intially threatened them, then to someone whose actions they misinterpret. This is often the little dog who leaps at a childs face as he bends over the dog to pet it...

Ive also heard the word dominant used to describe puppy behaviour,a nd quite honestly this appalls me.

Puppies need to know their boundaries and to do this, they must test them. No different to small children in this respect, they put things in their mouths, they bite, they yell they run around. They must learn from their mistakes, and I was horrified to read on another forum recently, someone advised to hit their 10 week old Golden Retreiver hard with a rolled up newspaper, because he was being 'dominant' in biting the owner.

In fact he was being a puppy and he was seeing what he could do and when, what would result in a game and what wouldnt.

As a result though, he became very frightened of his owner and took to hiding, and when she tried to drag him out from under the table (because hiding under there was also 'dominant' according to the trainer), he bit her hand right down to the bone.

Fortunately this puppy is now fine and the owner is horrified at what she did, but it was a situation that could have ended so very differently.


So, next time you hear someone say a dogs behaviour is due to dominance, or you think that 'ooh my dog is being dominant', stop and think on it for a while.

Dogs repeat the behaviours that they find rewarding, no more and no less. They are not hell bent on world domination, this is a human trait, not a canine one.

If your dog is behaving in a way you dont want, dont leap to the dominance conclusion, but look and see where the reward in the behaviour is, it can lie in the strangest of places at times, but i can guarantee you, it will be there!

Em

Linda Logan
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living with a puppy

Post by Linda Logan » Thu Jul 19, 2007 5:16 am

Hi,

I learnt something from you article about dominance.

We have a 13 week old Choc labrador puppy who is at times I think very agressive. Like jumping up with snapping teeth while we are sitting on the couch, relaxing watching TV. So she ends up back in her crate or play pen.
We have played and walked her during the day.

I think there is a gap in the dog / puppy training industry. For example, I have not seen Victoria Stilwell give advice to new puppy owners or train a new puppy from 2 to 6 months of age.
Perhaps this would go a long way to preventing problems in older dogs.
Lyn

Calin
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Re: living with a puppy

Post by Calin » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:18 am

Linda Logan wrote: I think there is a gap in the dog / puppy training industry. For example, I have not seen Victoria Stilwell give advice to new puppy owners or train a new puppy from 2 to 6 months of age.
Perhaps this would go a long way to preventing problems in older dogs.
Lyn
I agree. I would totally love to see a puppy show! The problem is, I don't think people bother seeking help until the situation is already out of control. Some people just can't see the big picture at all.

My puppy is 9 weeks old and already I'm thinking about seeing a professional. Not because she is particularly unruly, mind you. She's just a bit slow to react to my commands sometimes and I'd like tips on how to improve her. Right now, if 'It's Me or the Dog' did a puppy show, it would be a lifesaver!

emmabeth
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Post by emmabeth » Thu Jul 19, 2007 8:05 am

I agree with you both, people dont see a problem until its massive, or alternatively, misdiagnose the problem as dominance or aggression when its just a pup testing boundaries.

Linda, your pup is seeking attention, and she knows she can get it because puppy teeth applied to human skin flipping hurts! Her litter mates would have yelped very loudly if she did this to them, and would then have walked away from her. Her mother or other adult dogs would ignore her, give her no eye contact adn probably eventually roar really loudly right in her face and snap at her, scaring the daylights out of her.

Some people would label this as an inherently aggressive dog but really shes just finding out what works and just as with kids, some pups are more pushy and willing to push those boundaries further than others.

Calin - the simplest answer for your pup is probably that she doesnt quite understand the command and that following it will be rewarded.
Its easy for us to think that a dog understands a command, but if they gain nothing from ignoring it (ie there are no distractions) and are rewarded well for complying then they will do what they are asked, if they dont then the most obvious answer is they dont understand.

Have you tried clicker training?

Both your dogs could and would be described as dominant by *some* trainers/behaviourists, and the methods they may prescribe to solve the 'problem' could well make the problems worse, a prime example being the poster Merlin's pup in their post about puppy biting the face.

Em

Calin
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Post by Calin » Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:55 am

emmabeth wrote:
Calin - the simplest answer for your pup is probably that she doesnt quite understand the command and that following it will be rewarded.
Its easy for us to think that a dog understands a command, but if they gain nothing from ignoring it (ie there are no distractions) and are rewarded well for complying then they will do what they are asked, if they dont then the most obvious answer is they dont understand.

Have you tried clicker training?
I have not...mainly because I can't find a clicker! I've been to 3 stores looking for one to no avail. Where do you get them?

Right now, she only knows 'Come,' 'Sit,' 'Down,' and 'Leave it.' I started teaching her 'roll over' last night, but today I'm wondering if that command would even be useful for her to learn?

I noticed her listening skills get a little sketchy if she's tired or excited. Otherwise, she's does all 4 pretty instantly.

If she's tired, she'll just lay down and stare at me. Sometimes, she even closes her eyes like she needs a nap. Usually, at this point, I give up and let her sleep.

About twice a day, she'll get all riled up and then I notice it's hard to get her to respond to commands.....especially 'down.' When she's jumping around my feet all happy-like, she REALLY doesn't want to do it. Sometimes, she'll even try to give me a 'Fake down' where she only gets about halfway down and then hops back up real quick. 'Leave it' can be easy if it's something that she doesn't particularly want, but it's harder if it's something tempting. Also, it's really hard to get her to listen to that one if there is no treat reward involved. 'Come' and 'sit' are the easiest for her so far and she will listen to them almost 90% of the time. But, like I said, if she's overly excited or tired, I might as well be commanding a rock for all the response I'll get out of her.

Training a puppy is hard work! It's especially difficult to gauge whether or not your puppy is on track with his age or if he's behind. A puppy episode would be nice, if for no other reason than to compare your puppies progress with another pup.

You're right about people labeling pups as 'dominant' for the slightest infraction, emmabeth. I've been reading training books out the wazoo and a lot of them warn against every little playful nip or growl. Yeah, sure, my pup mouths me a little when we're playing a game.....but she's also super quick to roll over for a tummy rub. She crawls to my cats on her belly with her head bowed. She almost instantly drops to the floor if I correct her verbally in a deep voice. She hasn't even ATTEMPTED snatching food out of my hand or jumping up on my couch. Behavior like that doesn't sound very dominant to me!

The more I read, the more I get the sneaky suspicion that some of these 'dog trainers/behaviorists' don't know what they're are talking about!

lulu4422
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Post by lulu4422 » Thu Jul 19, 2007 1:33 pm

I completely agree with what you've said about dominance, Emmabeth. Another thing I think is interesting about the way people tend to think about dog behavior is the way people rely on their limited knowledge of wolf behavior to explain dog behavior. You mentioned this and I've been thinking about it and it really makes no sense. Domesticated dogs have been around for at least 12,000 years. Dogs evolved from their wolf ancestors due to their ability to work for and get along with humans in order to satisfy their need for food and shelter. So why on earth would a dog want to "dominate" its human owner? They benefit from being submissive towards humans - working for humans is what dogs have been bred for for thousands of years!

I've never seen cesar millan's show, but I was talking about it with a friend of mine and I really think he and other so-called "dog experts" just make things up as they go along. Apparently, on one show, he advised his viewers to pin a dog down until it stopped moving in order to show "dominance" because this is how a wolf would show dominance in the wild. In another show, he apparently held a dog up by its collar, basically strangling the poor animal, until it calmed down. I guess because dominant wolves in the wild put collars on their submissive counterparts and strangle them when they disobey?

People, including myself, although I think I have a bit more common sense than some, really have very little understanding of animal behavior. I think it's far more beneficial to simply admit a lack of understanding than to assume that using words like "dominance" and "pack" means you know what you're talking about. Interestingly, although many wild cats live in groups and also exhibit dominance hierarchies, no one that I know has ever said that my cat is trying to dominate me when she bites me to tell me to stop petting her. I guess it's just not popular to think on those terms with cats at the moment.

emmabeth
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Post by emmabeth » Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:50 pm

Heeehee....

Yes, i can see the wolves queuing up now, probably at Cesar Millans store to buy nice thin slip leashes to choke one another into submission....

I best shuttup about Mr Millan, im sure hes a lovely guy, but Im also sure I dont want to get sued by him.... :lol:

Common sense is sorely lacking these days. People ask me a whole range of things, and whilst there is no such thing as a silly question, its just something you dont know the answer too....

I wonder how many really get into their dogs head and try to think like they do.

One great one is this, why do little dogs jump up, and why do they often become nippy.... certainly in the UK a lot of small breeds are nicknamed 'ankle biters'.


Im sure there are whole rooms full of people yelling that little dogs are inherently nasty and that they are dominant...

What I say is this though. Imagine you are a really fiesty person, you are determined not to let the world grind you down, you are a survivor.

Now imagine you are also only 15" inches tall. What does the world look like to you? Get down on the floor if you have to, and look at the world around you from there (note if you do this in a public place i suggest you pretend to have dropped a contact lense.... or you will look slightly insane).

The world from 15" off the ground is a world full of feet and ankles and knees. Peoples faces are faaaaar farrrrrrr away, and when they do get nearer, they tower over you wtih big bulky bodies and loud deep voices (men) or high squeakier voices (women).

If there are children about their feet and ankles and knees are smaller and nearer, but they move erratically and when they bend down and lean over you, they do so with grabby hands, unpredictable fast movements.

You go for a walk, along the pavement... again strange feet and ankles come towards you fast, traffic passes by but all you see is a towering, giant shiny thing with huge whoosy wheels, sending gusts of disgusting smelling air at you, and loud engines with odd high pitched noises humans cant hear, and sending strange vibrations through the ground to your feet.
Everything is very loud, much much louder to your sensitive ears than it is to a humans ears, and all the smells are far far stronger to your nose.

When you see a small child bending over you, you want to back away so you can see her better and avoid the grabby hands, she smells of cake and biscuits and milk, buts shes also moving fast and you dont know what shes going to do. You cant back away, peoples legs are behind you, and you want to see this girls face so you jump up at her face as it comes down towards you.... oops your teeth got her in the face and no someone is hitting you hard....

Can you see from this, ok its probably quite romanticised and of course i cannot guarantee that this is how a small Jack Russell Terrier percieves his world..... but does it give you a bit of an insight into why a little dog would jump up at people (because they keep their faces far far away), and why a small dog would quickly learn to bite at ankles and faces coming down towards him to keep himself safe?

Im glad im not 15" tall i can say!

Em

Carrie
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Post by Carrie » Sun Mar 30, 2008 11:01 am

Emmabeth and Lulu....excellent posts. I totally agree. It is very odd to me that the idea of comparing dogs to wolves' pack behavior (which is so much looser than formerly thought anyhow) still flourishes so. Sure, dogs descended from wolves. But, there is a lot of evidence that there was more than one domestication event and in fact, that wolves evolved into semi-solitary village dogs before becoming domestic. These were scavenging opportunists living on the margins of human villages when humans went from hunter-gatherers to agriculturists. These dogs didn't have to hunt to thrive. Pack behavior is mainly in place for hunting large game, breeding and raising young.

It's been a long time since dogs were wolves. So, applying pack behavior too strongly to domestic dogs, (even though some of those instincts are present) I think is a mistake and gets people side tracked from what has really been demonstrated that works.....learning theory, behaviorism. Pack theory is a lot of guess work and knowing and understanding how their hierarchy works has never been proven. Basing training off of something that is not known positively is illogical and unscientific.

Living with and among humans has long been the niche domestic dogs have thrived in. They depend on us. Why on earth would they want to stage a corporate take-over of the very source and essence that provides their livelihood? Yes, misbehavior is a matter of training, not dominance.
Training with my mind, not my hands.

DawnStorm
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Post by DawnStorm » Sun Apr 20, 2008 5:48 pm

Carrie wrote:E

It's been a long time since dogs were wolves. So, applying pack behavior too strongly to domestic dogs, (even though some of those instincts are present) I think is a mistake and gets people side tracked from what has really been demonstrated that works.....learning theory, behaviorism. Pack theory is a lot of guess work and knowing and understanding how their hierarchy works has never been proven. Basing training off of something that is not known positively is illogical and unscientific.

L.

This was a big trend over here (US) during the early 80s, as was some kind of 'temperament test' which involved, among other things, rolling the pup on his back and holding him like that for a few seconds. If he submitted, that was a good sign, if he fought, that was considered a sign that the dog would be a handful. (IIRC) :roll:
That trend--to the best of my knowledge--is long gone though.
My current crew:
Bruce the Albino Dobe; Flanders the Belgian Malinut; Leela, Scuttlebutt, and Felix, da kitties.
All much-loved but not spoiled!

agilitypassion92
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great advice

Post by agilitypassion92 » Sun May 18, 2008 12:57 pm

i just read the whole issue on the dominance dominate and dominant part that was written and really learned i have concluded that many times not i have misinterpreted certain situations and really thought on a few issues that ive gone through personally with friend's dogs and see that it is not always a dominance issue but can many times be because the dog is not being rewarded for the right thing maybe this will make things a bit easier to help out people that i know are having a rough time but this surely helped out me as well even though my dog is very good in most aspects this helps me understand her much more thanks a lot =)

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