Dominance in daily life - Havanese Forum : Havanese Forums
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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 02-18-2012, 07:35 PM Thread Starter
Camellia Camelo and Carol
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Arrow Dominance in daily life

Dave suggested a discussion on dominance, and I think that's a good idea, because there's a lot of confusion about the meaning of that word with respect to dogs - dogs and other dogs, and dogs and humans, particularly the dogs' own humans.

It's a huge topic, and I hope a whole lot of you will contribute to the discussion.

Here's how I see and observe it - little bits here, or I'd take up a forum-length post!

What I see is, with respect to humans and their dogs, that some humans believe that if their dogs pull on a leash, making the human uncomfortable, the human tends to call the dog "dominant." (That's only one example.)

But when observing dog-behavior, seems to me it works better if we disregard motivation of the dog, UNLESS its motivation we can describe in detail, and prove by meticulous observation of repeated events. In short, we need data.

Dave says he has a lot of links about dominance. I have a few, but would have to to look them up, and don't have time at this instant.

In principle, I never think about "dominance" when working with, playing with, or taking care of dogs. In my opinion, dogs don't give a hoot about rank, status, nor hierarchy. And invoking the idea of dominance immediately suggests power-plays for rank or status.

I find other explanations of dog-behavior much more salient than any notion of dominance.

Even the idea of Alpha invokes a whole theory of rank, status and hierarchy, so, why bother!

I see it this way: we humans acquire dogs - with Havanese, I believe it's likely for companionship and pleasure, so there's no use for any notion of dominance.

Between dogs: Who (which dog) runs off with the treasure, seems to me, depends on which dog cares the most for that particular treasure. Dogs work to avoid conflict - they do this by their very nature. This means any impression we might get of one dog ia a family being more dominant than another tends to vary with the situation, and with what the treasure is.

I think it's more useful for us to observe which dog wants what - say, more than the other dogs in the family, and to work with that situation.

There's a beginning - all are invited to have a shot at this! Dig in, please!
Sat, 18 Feb 2012 16:33:15 (PST)

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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 02-18-2012, 08:27 PM
Dave T
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Thanks Carol. Nice perspective. Of all the articles written debunking the Dominance Theory, I find this one by APDT precise, easy to understand as accurate. A common thread through all these articles is that this theory was adopted by a misinterpretation of wolf studies. And it was held true for a number of decades. The biggest problem today is that it has been around for so long that it has become ingrained into our dog loving society. Wolves don't use dominance to coexist and neither do dogs. But here is the APDT statement . I'll follow with a technical definition. shortly.

Association of Pet Dog Trainers Position Statement
There has been a resurgence in citing "dominance" as a factor in dog behavior and dog-human relationships. This concept is based on outdated wolf studies that have long since been disproven. Contrary to popular belief, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an "alpha wolf" who is the most aggressive pack member. Rather, wolves operate with a social structure similar to a human family and depend on each other for mutual support to ensure the group's survival.
Dogs are not wolves. The idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain the intricacies of human behavior. While wolves and dogs share some similarities in behavior, there are many more significant differences. Dog training and behavior modification strategies that rely primarily on misinterpretations of wolf behavior are therefore irrelevant, ineffective and can lead to serious negative complications.
While dominance is a valid scientific concept, the term "dominance" itself is widely misunderstood, such as when it is used to describe the temperament of a particular dog. Dominance is not a personality trait but a description of a relationship between two or more animals and is related to which animal has access to valued resources such as food, mates, etc. It should not be used in any way to support the belief that dogs are out to "dominate" us, especially as that misunderstanding causes some people to respond with force and aggression. This only serves to create an adversarial relationship filled with miscommunication and even more misunderstanding. The unfortunate result is often anxiety, stress and fear in both dogs and humans towards each other. The use of techniques such as the "alpha roll" on dogs, which is based on these mistaken beliefs about dogs and wolves, has no place in modern dog training and behavior modification. Dogs often respond to this perceived threat with increased fear and aggression, which may serve to make a behavior problem worse and ruin the dog-owner relationship.
The APDT's position is that physical or psychological intimidation hinders effective training and damages the relationship between humans and dogs. Dogs thrive in an environment that provides them with clear structure and communication regarding appropriate behaviors, and one in which their need for mental and physical stimulation is addressed. The APDT advocates training dogs with an emphasis on rewarding desired behaviors and discouraging undesirable behaviors using clear and consistent instructions and avoiding psychological and physical intimidation. Techniques that create a confrontational relationship between dogs and humans are outdated. Modern scientifically-based dog training should emphasize teamwork and a harmonious relationship between dogs and humans that fulfills both species' needs. Most of all, it should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers encourages and supports continued trainer education in order to promote gentle, effective, fast, and fun ways to train dogs using the most up-to-date information and sound, scientifically-based methods.
For more information, please see related information on our Web site at

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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 02-18-2012, 08:34 PM
Dave T
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Not saying there is no such thing as dominace because it is a real behavior. Here's a technical definition.

Dominance(Social Dominance). An ethological construct describing features of a social relationship, which addresses the management of social conflict, including (but not limited to) the allocation of limited resources, through the exertion of control and influence. This takes place in a way that minimizes the risk of overt aggression by way of the use of conventionalized ritual display behaviors. This minimization of risk involves a cost–benefit evaluation of the benefits of seeking to win a particular social conflict versus the likely associated cost (O’Heare, 2004). The term “dominance” is misused and abused to the point that it is often harmful to invoke it because it promotes adversarial relationships between dog and owner. Also often used as a label for a dog using countercontrol behaviors as a result of aversive stimulation and coercion. A counterproductive construct that distracts from the functional relationship between behavior and the environment, which actually causes and explains behaviors.

O'Heare, J. (2011). Encyclopedic glossary of terms and abbreviations in the technology and principles of behavior. Retrieved Month, day, year from http://www.associationofanimalbehavi.../glossary.html

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Ian Dunbar was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from I.P.D.T.A. Here's a picture of me accepting the award on his behalf.
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