It's Dominance, Right? Wrong! - Dog Behaviour
Updated: Jul 9
Dominance, Alpha/Pack Leader Theory, they are all debunked theories that, for some reason, have stuck around far longer than they should. Our dogs are not trying to take over the world or our lives, they are not wolves and they are not trying to control us or the dogs around them - the irony is, we are the ones that control when they eat, when they play, when they leave the house and even where they toilet!
The dominance/alpha theory for dogs came from a study in the early 1900s that studied the behaviour of captive wolves. The main problems? None of the wolves knew each other prior to the study. They were put in a false environment, and...they were wolves, not dogs. Dogs have evolved for many years, and they are no longer like wolves.
Yep! Definitely not the same!
Up to date research has proven that wolves in the wild don't behave like this. They have family groups, and they share resources co-operatively - they don't fight over food, shelter, or access to other resources. Pups will often stay in the family group until adults to learn how to behave and even help raise other offspring. They are nothing like the early studies suggest, so it's unfair to apply this to our dogs.
Why Does It Matter?
Unfortunately, it really blurs the line between what we think is happening and what is really happening. Why is important, as it allows us to apply the right training and behaviour help.
Our dog is growling and attempting to bite when we approach their food bowl (resource guarding). This is a fear based behaviour - our dog is afraid that the food may be taken from them.
Dominance/Alpha theory would tell us to 'show the dog who is boss' - I've seen all sorts of attempts at this! From sticking your hand in the food bowl or shocking the dog with a collar when they growl or even removing the bowl altogether.
What does this achieve? A dog that becomes more afraid and 'shuts down', hiding the fear or a dog that becomes more afraid and bites next time.
What should we do? Give the dog space!! How would you like it if every time you ate a meal, someone stuck their hand in it or took it away? You could even toss a tasty treat towards your dog each time you have to approach them/walk by - you become a predictor for good things. Our dog is afraid. make them feel safe. Respect their space. We want to build a trusting relationship with dog and guardian/dog, not a fearful one.
What's Really Happening?
Our dogs are trying to learn how to fit in with our social norms through training and by watching other dogs and the way they behave. They never pass the mental age of a toddler.
If they are sitting on our lap, they want to be close to us. If they are rushing out the door first, they are excited. If they are growling, they are scared!
They are just doing what dogs do, being dog - showing love, fear, and excitement!
If you need help with your dog training, get in contact today!