There are few phrases more likely to cause divides in the world of canine professionals than that of the dominant dog. The words ‘dominant dog’ are often linked alongside ‘alpha’ and ‘pack leader’ in certain circles of the dog training and behaviour world including, unfortunately, some particularly prominent and well-known names.
This alpha theory of the dominant dog goes back originally to papers published in the 1940s on studies that had taken place on wolves in a zoo in Switzerland. Due to the close genetic relationship between the modern grey wolf and the domestic dog, assumptions were made regarding the similarities of wolf and dog behaviour. There are two problems with this theory. Number one – the wolves in the zoo were not a natural pack as would live in the wild, made up of animals unfamiliar to each other rather than a family unit, and kept in an enclosure that meant they were forced to be closer than wolves would wish to be to strangers. Number two – while domestic dogs and modern wolves evolved from a common ancestor, thousands of years developing to live alongside humans means we cannot draw parallels between wolf and canine behaviour that easily.
Many canine behaviours exist that some sectors of the canine professional world will say are signs of a dominant dog. These ‘problems’ can apparently be fixed by refusing to let your dog on the furniture, taking their food away from them, or insisting on eating first in front of the dog to ‘let them know who’s boss’ and ensure that you are in charge of your pack. None of these behaviours or the so-called ‘solutions’ have anything to do with a dominant dog. Most of them are completely innocuous and innocent on the part of the dog.
The dog that gets on the sofa to sleep just wants to sleep somewhere comfortable near his people. If for some reason you do not want dogs on the furniture, provide a comfortable bed so the dog can sleep near you. Do not mess with the dog’s food bowl. Give them their food and leave them to eat in peace. We humans would not like anyone messing with our food when we just want to eat, so why do we expect our dogs to feel any different? None of these behaviours, including those where the dog is showing aggressive looking responses, has anything to do with them being a dominant dog. They are showing, however, that there is a communication issue to one extent or another, which is why we often recommend that pet guardians take some time to learn about canine communication and body language, to understand better if their dogs are happy or stressed.
If your dog is showing behaviours that make your life together difficult and stressful, it is nothing to do with them being a dominant dog. Whatever the difficulty is, finding an ethical, science based force free professional canine coach or behaviour professional will help identify what is going on and help formulate a plan to return the human/canine relationship to a harmonious one.
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