Dominance Theory Debunked


Moonridge Animal Park, Big Bear

I recently had a client tell me how they had a Chow Chow who was dog aggressive.  She would growl at the other dogs in the home and occasionally get into fights with them causing deep puncture wounds.  She told me that she read online to stop the behavior she needed to perform the “Alpha Roll Over”.  So she pinned her Chow down on a number of occasions and flipped the dog onto her back and held her down forcibly.  When the aggression became worse towards her dogs she went one step further and did the “Alpha Roll Over” with a bite. She pinned her Chow down and bit her on the neck.  When I asked how this went she replied that the dog then bit her in the face and had to be euthanized.  She felt she was not doing it correctly because wolves use it and it works.

Thankfully with the recent stand by the Veterinary Association and the ASPCA against utilizing these training methods which were introduced by a very popular TV trainer the public is becoming aware that dogs do not learn this way and aggression met with aggression will always produce more aggression.  Also, it has been proven that wolves do not utilize these methods with those in their pack.  Wolf positions shift based on the needs of the pack, Alpha implies the breeding animal not dominance. This concept is further explained below in a piece of the article “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs” by L. David Mech:  To read the full article click here.

Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none. Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so “alpha” adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother? Such a designation emphasizes not the animal’s dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information. The one use we may still want to reserve for “alpha” is in the relatively few large wolf packs comprised of multiple litters. Although the genetic relationships of the mothers in such packs remain unknown, probably the mothers include the original matriarch and one or more daughters, and the fathers are probably the patriarch and unrelated adoptees (Mech et al. 1998). In such cases the older breeders are probably dominant to the younger breeders and perhaps can more appropriately be called the alphas. Evidence for such a contention would be an older breeder consistently dominating food disposition or the travels of the pack. The point here is not so much the terminology but what the terminology falsely implies: a rigid, force-based dominance hierarchy. The degree to which these arguments apply to other species no doubt varies considerably and is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is notable that similar arguments might be made for African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus), which ecologically are similar to wolves (Mech 1975). Whereas some workers observed no rank-order behavior in this species (Kuhme 1965; Estes and Goddard 1967), others liberally write of “alpha” animals (Creel and Creel 1996).

To read the full article click here.

Furthermore the Chow Chow above upon further talking to my client had fear issues, which presented themselves as aggression, which is very common when all warning signals have been ignored.  The Chow Chow also had no bite inhibition because as a puppy she was punished for play biting, so she never learned the difference between a soft bite and a hard bite.  All of these elements together combined with the training method utilized led to her ultimate demise.

Cases like these sadden me greatly. I always advise clients to do extensive research and do what they feel is right for their dog.  I advise them to also dig deep within to see what makes sense.  I have dogs because I enjoy their company and I want them to trust me.  Trust is based on respect for all living things.  Trust is not based on fear.  In my opinion treating a dog cruelly will get you the end result for a short period of time just as Domestic Violence gets the victim to comply until she gets out, lashes back or dies.  A healthy trusting relationship gets compliance too but because the dog wants to please you not because they are fearful of you.  I want my dogs to obey out of trust and not fear and that is why I only utilize positive training methods with my dogs and my client’s dogs and I hope you will to.


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