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Post No.: 0360dominance

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Can I please take this post to debunk the misconception that dogs have a linear dominance hierarchy? I must do this for all doggykind.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

Please do. Even though dogs have been domesticated for at least 12,000 years, as the most conservative estimate – humans still hold a lot of misunderstandings about dogs, and cats. Well humans hold many misunderstandings even about their own species!

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Thanks kitten!

 

…Socially, the notion of an ‘alpha dog’ or ‘pecking order’ is outdated because dogs do not have a linear dominance hierarchy. We also know now that even wolves don’t have a strict hierarchy either – they often calmly share food with each other without a notion of ‘me first, you second’.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

This demonstrates the importance of refining our research and continuing our education even though we may think we’ve settled on firm scientifically-derived conclusions.

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Indeed.

 

When resources are plentiful, a large group of dogs won’t typically fight or try to dominate resources individually. Dogs aren’t trying to be the ‘leader of the pack’, of not only other dogs but humans. Dogs aren’t even pack animals! (Otherwise all dog owners are cruel unless they own several dogs.)

 

Therefore there’s no value in owners eating first in front of our faces or going through doors first. If such techniques seem successful, it’s not because of us thinking that you’re the ‘alpha’ of the pack but because you’ve put in place consistent and predictable rules that we’ve learnt about. It’s also pointless or cruel to ‘alpha roll’ or pin dogs down to ‘show them who’s boss’.

 

If a dog growls to defend his/her food bowl but you take it away from him/her anyway, then it only proves to them that they must defend it harder next time, hence they’ll growl even more. It’s about defending our precious resources rather than about dominating you – just like if you defend your house then it’s not about you trying to dominate your neighbourhood(!)

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

It’s important not to punish the growl of a dog or hiss of a cat otherwise it’s telling the animal that you don’t want to listen to her/his concerns hence they have no choice but to escalate the message to be understood.

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Letting your dogs go on the couch or bed is up to you as long as the rules are consistent. There might be value in not reacting so immediately to seeing them if they’ve missed you for a long time though, and waiting until they’ve calmed down first – not for the reason of reacting on your terms but to not give the impression that life is so great for your dog when you’re around that life is so terrible for them when you’re not. (It’s like when fast food dinners are hyped up to children so much that they might perceive anything else as ‘boring’ or ‘horrible’.) Post No.: 0351 looked at the socialisation stage of puppies and kittens.

 

Two dogs may compete for a scarce resource, such as food, and one dog will always back down rather than fight because one will be stronger or otherwise more forceful than the other. But dominance is not something that’s fought for but something that’s given. The dominant dog doesn’t reinforce dominance by continuously being aggressive but rather the subordinate dog does so by giving off formal appeasement signals; maybe due to learning from past experiences or not really wanting a particular resource as much as the other dog (e.g. some dogs care more about defending their food, others their bed).

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

Is it like when a gorilla runs away from a goose, it’s not about dominance and submission – it’s just that whatever’s being contested (e.g. a particular space) is more important to the goose than the gorilla in that instance?

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Yes! Or it’s just like when a human lets an argument with another human go – it’s not demonstrating a dominance hierarchy but just that winning that argument means less to one person than the other. There’s no point wasting your own time and energy over something that isn’t personally worth it.

 

So dominance isn’t a trait related to particular individuals but is something to describe particular relationships or situations. So dog A may be dominant over dog B, but dog B could be dominant over dog C, and dog C could be dominant over dog A in a ‘rock, paper, scissors-style’ cycle. And it can again depend on the particular resource being contested.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

So if I understand correctly, the notion of dog hierarchies or absolute ‘alpha dog’ dominance has been mistaken. There can be dominance between individual dog relationships on a dog-by-dog, and context-by-context (e.g. some are more protective of their favourite toy and others their food), basis – but dominance is not a trait of individual dogs and there’s no overall hierarchy amongst dog groups i.e. one dog being dominant in one relationship may not be dominant in another relationship. There’s no absolute ‘top dog’ and no innate sense of rank.

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

That’s it! There’s no evidence of the desire for dogs to be dominant in a pack, just dominant in particular relationships. Dogs aren’t after ‘top dog’ status and don’t display aggression for these reasons, thus there’s no need for humans to ‘show them who’s boss’ by using force.

 

Humping a person’s leg is not generally about dominance either – well inanimate objects often get humped too(!) Reasons include playfulness or excitement, a response to stress or anxiety, and sexual reasons. Ahem.

 

A history of deprivation or competition for scarce resources can result in problem behaviours. Aggressive behaviours mainly arise from fear or anxiety rather than the desire to dominate. For example, the fear of a precious resource such as food or a toy being taken away, or being held captive or forced into an uncomfortable situation such as during a visit to the vet or an interaction with an unpredictable child who wants to play with them.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

Young children, especially of preschool age, cannot read the signals of pets well enough so may not respect their space and may therefore cause a pet enormous distress, which might lead to the child getting attacked if the child keeps invading the animal’s space. Pets aren’t toys. So young children must never be left around a cat or dog without proper supervision. Children must be taught how to be around and interact with animals, and a cat or dog should always have a safe and private area (e.g. a cat hiding place or dog bed) that it can retreat to and not be harassed by anyone whenever it needs to.

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

This whole dominance hierarchy misunderstanding was due to an inference from flawed wolf studies – wolf studies that involved a captive bunch of random strangers and in a setting with limited resources and space. They were experiments that didn’t represent their natural life in the wild. In real-life scenarios, family packs of wolves live together, and live with much more space and freedom to establish their own territories, and so any rival packs can normally get out of each other’s spaces.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

Those experiments sound a lot like those contrived Big Brother reality show setups, where a bunch of strangers were brought in together and held essentially captive within a limited space! (Although these contestants volunteered and were typically fame-seeking types, whereas the wolves didn’t and weren’t in their experiments.)

 

Well I suppose this therefore calls into question the validity of TV reality shows for human social psychology research too?! They can reveal some insights but we must take into account the unusual and contrived contexts, the type of people who tend to apply to go on them, and understand that any conclusions we draw from them might possibly only apply to those specific types of conditions, which will often include being observed around the clock by unseen viewers, and it’s a competition too.

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

In natural, wild settings, there are no dominant supreme leaders or cowering subordinates even with wolves – they live in cohesive and cooperative family units, with the dominant ‘alphas’ simply being the parents and the subordinate followers the pups. As the pups grow, they don’t attempt to overthrow their parents – they just disperse, mate and start their own pack. No one wins their position through fighting. Even when there appear to be dominance challenge situations concerning wolves, dominance isn’t so much taken but rather submission is given by the other wolf i.e. it’s not like the ‘dominant’ wolf pins the other wolf onto its back – the ‘submissive’ wolf simply submits voluntarily.

 

Moreover, aggression is a sign of fear so there’s no such thing as a ‘dominant aggressive wolf (or dog or any other animal for that matter)’ – an aggressive wolf would be in fear of the fragility, doubt or disputed status of his/her supposedly dominant position. Aggression is often used to gain/regain dominance but you’re not dominant while being aggressive.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

That would mean that there’s no such thing as a ‘dominant aggressive human’ either – at the root of all aggression is fear, and being scared is not the behaviour of someone who’s supposedly dominant(!)

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Wolves aren’t bad – they can even cooperate with humans in a task that involves pulling ropes together to get to some food. Wolves are more likely to lead and dogs are more likely to follow though, which makes sense because dogs were originally artificially selected for traits that relate to obedience to humans as functional animals, and other generally juvenile qualities.

 

That means those old TV shows that taught people how to ‘dominate their dogs’ have taught a lot of dangerous nonsense. Any dogs who seemed to obey as a result of these punitive techniques were really expressing learned helplessness; a resignation rather than happiness and confidence. Better techniques involve understanding the body language of dogs (and not via human anthropomorphic interpretations but via dog interpretations, which require humans to learn about dogs rather than rely on human intuitions). They involve not treating them like toys or as ‘little humans’ but as dogs. And most of all they involve positive reinforcement training.

 

The ‘dominance theory’ of ‘showing one’s dog who’s boss’ by aggressively punishing undesired behaviours has been totally superseded by rewarding the behaviours you want to see more of and generally ignoring the behaviours you don’t. It’s better, especially if you love your dog rather than just want to enslave him/her, to lean far more towards reward-based (e.g. strokes and praise) instead of discipline-based (e.g. yanking leashes or pushing their faces into the dirt) training. I’m sure most dog owners want their dogs to be happy and confident rather than resigned. Woof.

 

The police and military use the ‘reward desired behaviours’ approach for their dogs simply because this technique works better to train dogs for highly critical, often life-or-death, tasks, rather than for any sentimental reasons! Dogs whom are trained in this way happily see their jobs as pleasurable games, and they perform better for it. Thus it’s better for the dogs, and for the humans who supposedly love their dogs.

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

There’s the question of whether it’s right to trick dogs and other animals into working for humans though, especially when it comes to tackling human problems like wars and crimes when the animals don’t exactly understand what they’re serving and they might get hurt despite their handler’s best efforts?

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Hmm, that is a big ethical question. For me, if I can feel the love then I most likely will be okay about it. But I can’t speak for other dogs. I suppose our readers could share their own thoughts on this dilemma by replying to the tweet linked to the Twitter comment button below?

 

Fluffystealthkitten says:

 

I’m going to take some time to think about it too… Meow.

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Woof!

 

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