Is Your Dog's Behavior Really About Dominance?Feb 06, 2023
The dominance theory, also known as the "alpha dog" theory, is the idea that dogs are constantly trying to assert dominance over their owners and that owners must establish themselves as the "alpha" in order to have a well-behaved dog. However, this theory has been widely debunked by modern scientific research for more than 30 years.
Here are some of the reasons why the dominance theory has been debunked:
- Dominance is not a personality trait: Dominance is not a personality trait, but rather a behavior that occurs in specific social situations. This means that a dog may display dominant behavior in one situation, but not in another. The motivation for this behavior is never an overarching display to control. It is often much more nuanced and subtle.
- Dogs are not wolves: The dominance theory is based on the idea that dogs are similar to wolves and that they have a hierarchical pack structure. However, studies have shown that dogs have evolved to live with humans and have a different social structure than wolves. Additionally, the dominance theory got it's start in wolves living in captivity which does not reflect how wolves interact in the wild.
- Positive reinforcement is more effective: The dominance theory suggests that punishment and physical force are necessary to train a dog, but modern research has shown that positive reinforcement is a more effective and humane training method.
- Dogs don't see humans as pack leaders: dogs don't see humans as pack leaders, but as individuals who provide them with food, shelter and companionship. They understand that we are different from them, and not members of the same species.
- Fearful and aggressive behavior is not caused by dominance: The dominance theory suggests that fearful and aggressive behavior is caused by a dog trying to assert dominance, but in reality, these behaviors are often caused by fear, anxiety, or a lack of proper socialization.
- Dogs don't seek to be in charge: dogs don't seek to be in charge, they seek predictability, security and affection.
In conclusion, the dominance theory has been widely debunked by modern scientific research. It is not accurate to view dogs as constantly trying to assert dominance over their owners and it is not necessary to establish ourselves as the "alpha" in order to have a well-behaved dog. Instead, it is more effective and humane to use positive reinforcement methods and understand that all dogs individuals and should be treated as such.
-Rachel Laurie Harris CPDT-KA, owner A Good Feeling Dog Training
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