dominance - the definition
The ability to gain, control or maintain access to certain resources
Dominance is not about being the most “powerful” animal, it’s not synonymous with hierarchy or status, it’s about having access and control to certain resources, such as food, objects, places, breeding partners, people, etc.
Insecure and easily stressed dogs often exhibit “dominant” or “aggressive” behaviours, although these events are essentially the result of the stress hormones in their system. The less self-confident a dog is – the more he over-reacts in order to make the scary thing disappear.
As long as this confusion or misinterpretation remains engraved in our head about what is really behind the so-called “dominant” individual, we will never be able to provide the necessary security to the poor animal, who is calling for help.
It is unfortunate that people nowadays, are proud to call their dog “dominant” or even “aggressive” on the contrary to what he really is, a fearful and stressed one!
A “dominant” dog is simply a dog who can not cope with the environmental stimuli and we must understand that he has every right to feel what he feels, same as we humans do.
As soon as we accept their emotions, we will be putting an end to their suffering and start offering them a quality life.
When did all started
In 1970 the biologist Geoff Parker developed a theoretical model called “Resource Holding Potential”, a mathematical equation that predicts the probability that an animal will conflict with another, in order to obtain or maintain a resource. Dogs like wolves – if we attempt the comparison – avoid conflicts that can evoke significant injuries, thus above all they ask themselves these two vital questions:
1. How much do I want this resource?
2. What is the possibility to lose, if we fight for it?
The generality of this model is that it applies to all species of animals, including humans and is still used by scientists nowadays.
Therefore, if we want to call a dog “dominant”, we should not think of anything other than “gain, maintain or control of the resources”.
When the individual finds himself in this situation, he will be stressed due to the fear of losing the security, comfort or pleasure, that these resources represent for him!
Note that the individual who needs protecting his resources at all times, he is not self-confident, he feels threatened, so he will use any means possible, to make the “threat” go away and maintain security.
People say “my dog is dominant” or “he thinks he is the alpha” and they establish their arguments based on the behavior of their animal, such as jumping on people, on the the sofas/beds, rushing before the owner in front of the door, pulling on a leash, disobeying, barking, growling-jumping or lunging on other dogs etc.
There are many simpler explanations for these behaviors:
• he can not do better because he has not received enough education
• he sleeps on the sofa/bed because they are comfortable and he finds our smells
• he rushes to the door because the outside world is exciting
• he pulls on a leash because of his excitement to discover the world and/or because he learned it (by allowing him to do so)
• he growls-jumps or lunges on other dogs because of stress and/or fear…
23 wolf experts, from North America and Europe, contributed to the book “Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation”, edited by David Mech and Luigi Boitani, both are global authorities on wolf behavior .
In this 448-page book, the word “alpha” is mentioned six times and only to explain why this term is out of date.
Dominance has become a very attractive term to describe many problematic behaviors and it is getting to the point of losing its proper meaning.
We must not forget that most of what we humans consider as “problem”, is actually a totally natural behavior in dogs.
John Fisher – Canine Behaviorist Consultant – cited that “dogs do not look at us like other dogs, therefore they do not compete with us for status.”
“The dogs are not politicians, they are not masters of subtlety or innuendo, dogs are direct.
When dogs bark, groan, snap their teeth, pinch or bite, rather than being aggressive or dominant they are usually frightened by dominant owners.”
Dr Ian Dunbar – PhD, Bsc, BVetMed, MRCVS, CPDT – Veterinarian, Behaviorist & Instructor
Healthy social relationships exist through “dominance” (RHP – Resource Holding Potential) and deference between animals.
“There is no evidence that dogs try to dominate others or that they do not. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that dogs (like most animals) use different strategies depending on the conditions, including costs and benefits. Sometimes, they display dominant behavior, other times they display a submissive behavior, and other times they display another behavior.”
Roger Abrantes – BA in Philosophy and PhD in Evolutionary Biology
Social hierarchies exist in dogs, but they are not strict, they are constantly changing and every individual has its own priorities.
A dog can control a resource (as a resting-place, food, toys etc.) but he practically never controls them all.
If a dog has a higher status than another at some point, this is mutually understood and without controversy.
“Contrary to what traditional training ideologies and modern media would have you believe, most canine behavior problems derive from insecurity or the desire to seek and maintain safety and comfort – not to establish a higher rank and become the “alpha”.
Victoria Stillwell – Educateur Vanin
i am proposing my self for quick-inspection
not necessarily afraid of you!!!
The term "submission" will also become obsolete
The latest researches by wolf Biologists, refer to it as the “belly-up display” (exposure of the abdomen), for inspection by the con-specifics.
This is not necessarily associated to a specific emotion, such as the fear, which is often described as, but more like a mean the animal uses in order to be quickly inspected and without complications, by others.
Among wolves living in their natural environment, this is an uncommon act comparing to the “affiliation display” and it is usually observed in zoos, especially from the outcasts of a pack, a behavior presumed as an artifact of captivity and not a normal, adult behavior.
“Submission” and “domination” are rarely forced.
Disagreements arise when two dogs refuse to abandon a mutually appreciated resource.
In a situation where one of the individuals is more obstinate than the other, and finally gains access or control over this resource, we can call it “dominant” – if that pleases us – but it is more like a confident dog for that specific occasion, because the rules of the game can change at any time.
“The dominance approach creates an atmosphere of fear and competition between humans and pets, which can gradually ruin their relationship.”
Dr Sophia Yin – Veterinarian, Animal Behaviorist
Dogs have limited coping strategies, when the owner wants to show his dog who is the “master”, by abruptly depriving him of his resources, can end up with a defensive aggression.
“Maybe we humans are using punishment to win the reward of being dominant.”
Karen Pryor – Behavioral Psychology and Marine Mammal Biology, Founder of Clicker Training
According to Dr. Karen Overall, the way an animal maintains or regulates accessibility on the things he loves, it’s called “resource guarding,” and this activity has nothing to do with status or hierarchy.
“Dominance is a concept that refers to the ability of an individual to maintain or regulate access to certain resources.”
Dr Karen Overall – Veterinarian, Canine Behaviorist
Patricia McConnell – Animal Behaviorist, uses the term “status-seeking” instead of “dominant dog” but it could be more the result of a lack of confidence.
Personally, I prefer the term of John Bradshaw – Biologist, Founder & President of the Institute of Anthro-zoology of the University of Bristol – “competitive” dogs, because they very often demonstrate this behavior of competition, sometimes to the point of aggression.
There are dogs more *competitive than others and more or less *confident, than others.
These two characteristics are often confused by “trainers”, and as a consequence they mislead the dog owners.
In defense of all these dogs less competitive and confident, i assure you that they are neither weak nor coward, as the misinformed want to characterise them, but rather deferent, to what the others impose.
*Excluded the fearful dogs or shy by nature, with a genetic deficiency, a traumatic past and/or behavioural problems, which adopt a certain type of reaction for any situation.
I could cite numerous researches on the controversy of “dominance”, i would rather be brief stating that we should not treat the dog – our best friend, as our worst enemy. Believing in the myth of “dominance” and the “rank reduction program” (RRP) is hilarious, not to say inhumane, counterproductive and foremost, catastrophic for our relationship with these four-legged companions!
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