Dominance is defined as power and influence over others, in ecology it’s defined as a plant or animal species predominant in an area. But what does the term dominance mean when used in the same sentence as the word dog? And why should we know about it?
Having been hijacked and used with inaccuracy by an unfortunately fragmented area of the dog training world, when we have learned better, we hear the term and shudder. This is because dominance has been sold via many media outlets and their followers as the only language that dogs understand. The term is associated with all-sorts of odd ideas, ranging between dogs thinking we are wolves and if we don’t dominate them they will dominate us. None of this is accurate, and yet all of it is repeated from person to person like it’s a golden truth owned only by those in the know. When in reality, someone loosely puts a behaviour or even worse a personality down to dominance, we can be pretty secure in the idea that they are following the hype – as opposed to the facts.
Labelling a dog as dominant or a personality as dominant takes us onto dangerous ground. We end up with odd (and I would go so far as to say) cruel teachings such as physically confrontational training, threats and the idea that all behaviour is because the dog is considered to be pushing his luck in the imaginary pack. This viewpoint negates both the truth and individuality. Dogs that are scared, stressed, worried, habitual and simply trying their very best to be understood are so much more misunderstood when we incorporate a misuse of the term.
Yet not using the term in the correct way leaves the people who do believe the hype, at sea without a paddle. Imagine this, a well-meaning dog trainer goes along and tells a dog guardian that dominance doesn’t exist at all. That it’s a myth. The guardian then sees the term dominance used in the correct way, and is in the vulnerable position of trying to decipher the term - yet is given information that it does exist at the same time as all the hype that doesn’t.
It’s tempting to disregard the term dominance altogether – because of its hijack. Yet saying dominance doesn’t exist is just as untrue. If we use it with accuracy, we would rarely consider the term dominance part of our lives (with dogs or people) Yet we need to be honest about it, because not being honest takes us into the realms of untruth too.
Dominance isn’t a dirty word – it’s just been used in a dirty way.