If I had a dollar for every time people tell me their dogs are being dominant, my bank account would look a lot better than it does right now. If I then lost a dollar for every time that statement turned out not to be true, my bank account would look exactly like it does now. The term “dominance” has been so over used, that it really has lost it’s meaning. Unfortunately, a popular television show and those who promote it’s incorrect ideas about dominance have misled many people with dogs into thinking their dogs are trying to dominate them when it simply is not true.
In John Bradshaw’s Dog Sense, he discusses the true meaning of dominance as biologists who study animals use it. Dominance describes a relationship between two individuals at a specific moment in time with no assumptions about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future. It is not a personality trait or a prediction of how an individual will behave or relate to others in the future. It simply identifies which individual has priority access to a valued resource at a moment in time.
Dominance, then, really has no value in describing our dog’s behavior or what a specific action might mean for the future of your relationship with your dog. Let’s describe the actual behavior that is occurring and how to change problematic behaviors. What is your dog doing that you don’t like, and let’s determine what you would like your dog to do in place of the unwanted behavior.
The September/October 2011 issue of Bark magazine has two articles that also address the “dominance” issue. Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet‘s television show It’s Me or the Dog, writes on page 28 about a puppy who is thought to be dominant but is, in fact, just being a pushy puppy.
In the same Bark issue, Patricia McConnell, PhD, writes on pages 43-46 about “Action/Re-Action: The temptations of the dominance fallacy.” She discusses some of the misconceptions about dominance and why it is such an alluring topic for people.
All three are worth reading if you get the chance.