Today many believe they must dominate their dog in order for their dog to be calm, relaxed, obedient and even happy. Some, or most, believe they or another person they know has a dominant dog when talking about the way they are towards other dogs. This post is not written so anyone should feel bad about themselves or the way they think, but only because I want to provide information that I have learned from entering a webinar (seminar on the internet using a web camera) with the Norwegian ethologist Gry Løberg on this very subject, reading different books about this and scrolling through different pages on the internet.
So what is dominance?
When speaking of ethology, dominance is something that occurs over time in a specific relationship between two individuals – dogs in this case. Dominance is something that in most cases, if not all, changes from situation to situation, and also from the value of the resource in the very same situation. For example: Dog A may have a dominant position over Dog B, Dog B may have a dominant position over Dog C, and Dog C may have a dominant position over Dog A when it comes to food, if everyone is hungry. But if Dog A isn’t hungry, he may give away his food to Dog B, and thereby recognizing Dog B as the dominant one at that moment. Are you with me so far? This is in no way harmful for Dog A’s general status or for the next meal. The same individuals may have a different status in another given situation, like the best sleeping spot.
Since dominance is something that develops over time in a relationship, it is wrong to say that «my dog is dominant», as I hear many people say when they are talking about their dog meeting a new dog. They often refer to their dog showing aggressive behavior towards the new dog. But that would be a conflict of some sort, not dominance. E.g. one, or both dogs may be insecure, stressed, aroused, experiencing pain or discomfort and so on. In many cases it may be a conflict of resources.
Dominance and aggression
It is a common mistake to believe that dominance and aggression always comes together. Sure you have aggressive dominant individuals, but this is rare. As quoted (and translated to English by me) from the book «Canine Behavior: A photo Illustrated Handbook» by Barbara Handelman:
«No normal dog will attack out of dominance»
Therefore, besides the ethical point of view, it is safe to say that physically dominating your dog and punishing him «in the name of dominance» is simply wrong, don’t you think?
To sum things up:
Dominance is something developed over time in a relationship between two individuals, and it is not something a dog simply is. This is a small basic post about a much larger subject. It will take me a while to write about types of aggression (often mistaken for dominance) and what to possibly do about this, but if you want me to, I will! Just let me know in the comment section, and I will do so!