Dominance: often believed, rarely true
No term is so often misunderstood and wrongly used than dominance. As soon as a dog growl, asserts itself or does not put up with everything, than he is labelled as dominant. But what does this word actually mean?
In linguistic usage, dominant is often used as dominating, outstanding, possessive or superior. In dog training, dogs are wrongly described as dominant if they assert themselves or show behaviour that does not suit humans.
The opposite would be submissiveness. This would mean subordinating oneself to the will of another. This word is also often used in a wrong way to describe a dog. What many people call submissive behaviour is usually insecurity, fear or appeasement to de-escalate a situation.
But what does it really mean?
Dominance is always a status relationship between two inner-species living beings, an individual on his own cannot be dominant.
The rules of precedence, which are unfortunately still aroundt us, such as: man must eat first, go through the door first, always walk in front of the dog, win every game, never make himself smaller than the dog or even have to subdue the dog, are thus obsolete. Above all the alpha throw (aversive training method) puts the dog in mortal fear, ruins the bond to humans and leaves humans as weak and incapable, since they must use force, in order to become generally accepted.
When observing captive wolves, the theory arose that there is an alpha wolf that leads the pack as the leader. So the dominance-hierarchy and alpha-theory still persist even with our domestic dogs. In reality they are social family associations. A pack is mostly formed by the parents, the yearlings (one-year-old wolves, teenagers) and the puppies.
Dominant towards humans?
As it is well known that humans are not dogs, a dog cannot be dominant towards us and certainly does not want to oppress us or take over world domination. Dominance is not something innate, but is acquired in repeated social contact with other dogs of the same species. Therefore, even with dogs unknown to themselves, no dominance relationships occur. Dogs do not live in strictly hierarchical structures. Such relationships only occur in dogs living together (close and frequent contact), which have too few resources at their disposal. If unknown dogs meet on the meadow, there is no knowledge of each other’s preferences or competence. The reasons for behaviour described as dominant originate elsewhere.
In a dog encounter, the animals must come closer to each other in order to be able to assess each other. Depending on their character, experiences and situation, this can take place in a reserved or intrusive manner. Especially brash dogs are wrongly called dominant. Mostly this behaviour is due to insecurity and learning experiences (e.g. if I do not go forward, I am overrun or not taken seriously).
Leadership done right
Of course, your dog should not dance on your nose and in dangerous situations it is important that you keep an overview. But this has nothing to do with who is the boss , alpha, leader or anything else. Your dog should simply trust you. Trust that you are there for him in dangerous situations. The best thing is to have a confident, calm charisma and give your darling security when he needs it. After all, an uneducated child does not think that he or she has a higher rank than his or her parents, but has learned to get what he or she wants with his or her behaviour.
A dog will always show the behaviour which pays off in his eyes. If he shows a behaviour which is undesirable for you, this was probably confirmed by you, himself or the environment. Example barking: Your dog wants to go outside, but you ignore him. He barks once and you look immediately, perhaps even say “stop” or go to him and the dog has what he wants: your attention. So in the future he will bark more often when he wants something from you.
Show your darling an alternative behaviour, because otherwise it can come to frustration. Whoever is scolded, never praised and does not know what is wanted from you, is frustrated. Instead of barking, you could pay attention to your dog if he is quiet or let him take something in his mouth as an alternative behaviour and have it brought to you (this way it barks hard).
What is important:
- Good socialization is the cornerstone of a confident adult dog
- Basic obedience, reward based and motivational training
- Basic needs met
- Be fair and have patience
- Learn body language to avoid misunderstandings
- Always meet your dog the way you want him to meet you: with respect
In very rare cases, dominance is the cause of behaviour. If your dog is pushy, stormy or even rude, you should train with him, investigate the causes and not label him as dominant. Because this is neither an excuse for “bad behaviour” nor the correct way to express yourself. Dogs don’t want world domination, but a peaceful, harmonious and happy life together with you and the other family members. They want to cooperate, not dominate.