Vanessa Thomas and Martin Thomas challenge accepted. Apologies for the long post and referencing but in the Dog Training world your question is basically like "What came first the chicken or the egg?" Lol. So it may take you a while to read. But it's all heavily researched and based on Scientific fact hence taking me a few days to write it lol.... you can just scroll to the bottom where ive written in conclusion....... so here goes......
This is an extremely long post, in Myth busting at the request of Vanessa Thomas, her question was Myth or truth? Dogs only respond to one owner who they see as ‘head of the pack’?
Now this is one of the most heated arguments in the Dog Training world and to address this properly and professionally, removing all name calling, accusations etc, I have answered this in the most neutral way possible, using facts as always to back myself up and cited too. So you can either skip through or completely ignore lol. Your choice. But the myth busting sessions are educational resources. First of all there is no quick way to answer this so we have to look at
1. Pack Theory and Structure, where the definition came from, how it should be properly used and what it actually means.
2. We have to look at Dominance Theory
3. We have to look at how the media is impacting people's views
Pack structure first of all is an old term coined which means in its most basic form and the military use the specific term “Wolf Pack Structure” too. Exert taken from Dictionary.com noun
a group of submarines operating together in hunting down and attacking enemy convoys.
a group of wolves hunting together.
Pack structure is an old view on understanding Dogs both psychologically and how they work together. It can be proven that pack structure was an old understanding of dogs being similar to Wolves and something that dog trainers ran with to help owners to understand how to educate their dogs and how to live harmoniously with them whilst also understanding humans were always above dogs, rather than humans and dogs living together with more of a companionship relationship as we see today with owners and dogs rather than a wild animal that lives in the house with a human family.
Unfortunately, during a period of unrest and I would rather not get into politics there was a guy in the 1940s who worked for a certain sect and if your up to date with the war you know what I am referring to. Rudolph Schenkel never actually met wolves in the wild but decided to write about them and pack structure and dominance theory and due to book burnings, this is the mythology we hear today and heard since, he applied his misguided theory to Dogs and Dog training. Throughout his paper, Schenkel also draws frequent parallels between wolves and domestic dogs, often following his conclusions with anecdotes about our household canines. The implication is clear: wolves live in packs in which individual members vie for dominance and dogs, their domestic brethren, must be very similar indeed.
A key problem with Schenkel's wolf studies is that, while they represented the first close study of wolves, they didn't involve any study of wolves in the wild. Schenkel studied two packs of wolves living in captivity, but his studies remained the primary resource on wolf behavior for decades. Later researchers, would perform their own studies on captive wolves, and published similar findings on dominance-subordinance and leader-follower relationships within captive wolf packs. We then had Mech in the late 90’s challenging and putting the actual studies of Wolves right. "The concept of the alpha wolf as a "top dog" ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots," Mech writes in the 1999 paper, "is particularly misleading." Mech notes that earlier papers, such as M.W. Fox's "Socio-ecological implications of individual differences in wolf litters: a developmental and evolutionary perspective," published in Behaviour in 1971, examined the potential of individual cubs to become alphas, implying that the wolves would someday live in packs in which some would become alphas and others would be subordinate pack members. However, Mech explains, his studies of wild wolves have found that wolves live in families: two parents along with their younger cubs. Wolves do not have an innate sense of rank; they are not born leaders or born followers. The "alphas" are simply what we would call in any other social group "parents." The offspring follow the parents as naturally as they would in any other species. No one has "won" a role as leader of the pack; the parents may assert dominance over the offspring by virtue of being the parents.
While the captive wolf studies saw unrelated adults living together in captivity, related, rather than unrelated, wolves travel together in the wild. Younger wolves do not overthrow the "alpha" to become the leader of the pack; as wolf pups grow older, they are dispersed from their parents' packs, pair off with other dispersed wolves, have pups, and thus form packs of their owns.
Just as, more than six decades ago, Schenkel extrapolated his wolf studies and applied them to domestic dogs, so too have many carried the notion of the "alpha wolf" over to dog training. Certainly, just as parent wolves hold dominance over their cubs and human parents hold dominance over their children, owners hold dominance over their dogs. Until my pup gets himself a credit card and a pair of opposable thumbs (and stops dissolving into delighted wiggles every time I tell him what a good little man he is), I'm pretty much the boss in our relationship. But some trainers take the idea of pack rank to the extreme; dog owners are given a laundry list of rules of how to maintain alpha status in all aspects of their relationship: Don't let your dog walk through the door before you do. Don't let her win a game of tug. Don't let him eat before you do. Some (famous) trainers even encourage acts of physical dominance that can be dangerous for lay people to execute. Much of this is a legacy of those old wolf studies, suggesting that we're in constant competition with our dogs for that pack leader position.
But, you might ask, mightn't domestic dogs behave much like wolves in captivity? Despite being members of the same species, wolves (even human-reared wolves) are behaviorally distinct from domestic dogs, especially when it comes to human beings. Take the famous experiment in which human-socialized wolves and domestic dogs are both presented with a cage with food inside. The food is placed inside a cage in a way that makes it impossible for either wolf or dog to retrieve it. The wolves will inevitably keep working at the cage, trying to puzzle out a way to remove the food. The dogs, after a few seconds of struggle, will look to a human as if to say, "Hey, buddy, a little help here?" Even if the hierarchical ranks were some innate part of lupine psychology, dogs have behaviors all their own. Lauren Davis
The authors who have researched and written about this have found that wolves live a very different lifestyle to Dogs. For example the pack structure of wolves themselves is ever changing according to how plentiful food is at the time. There also seems to be a universal understanding that within a wolf pack they only need a breeding female and her mate and that if the food is scarce then wolf packs will reduce in numbers, whereas if the food is plentiful then the pack can seem to be increased. It also seems through studies that it is more important for the breeding female, the male and the cubs to consume first in order for the natural selection process of wolves to continue and it has also been found that if a female wolf has 20 or so cubs through her lifetime that perhaps only a handful will survive. To ensure the survival of the wolfpack but not all the cubs and it is not necessary naturally for all the cubs to survive.
Wild dogs that were studied did not pack together they were seen to be in social groups but this could change between one to two dogs or more depending on how many dogs were in the area and they would then scavenge together. unlike the Wolves if a male dog got a female dog pregnant the male dog would not stay to help her to raise the puppies as a male wolf would with a female wolf. A wolf pack will remain the same and within the same family unit where is a dog group will form together with no relation to each other and it will be ever changing whereas a wolfpack tends to be related to one another.
Even wolf packs do not seem to dominate one and other or control one another but rather it is the breeding pair that leads a pack for the survival of the Wolfpack and then it is been seen in the wild that cubs will leave to form their own pack when the time is right, but it is a fantasy that wolves fight or kill each other to be top ranking wolf as researchers have shown that wolves stay together as a nuclear family unit for the survival of the fittest mostly based around hunting and food rather than the idea that wolves fight to be top ranking.
“Research indicates that packing behaviour is a developmental response to a particular habitat. Wolves don't always pack, some populations never pack.” Coppinger and Coppinger 2001, pg. 23, Barry Eaton.
“Dominance in Wolves is defined largely as the drive directed towards elimination of competition for a mate” Roger Abrantes 1997, pg. 5 Barry Eaton. Dogs do not do this as dogs have been found that they do not mate for life but mating for dogs is more of an opportunistic behaviour or forced by humans for selective breeding.
This can further be seen by people advertising for stud Dogs, or strays, male dogs do not mate for life they have intercourse and then move on, dogs are not a monogamous animal as the wolf is. Nor do male Dogs raise their puppies or stay with the bitch to raise their puppies as the Wolf does. So many people say to me, that the male Dog is terrified of the puppies. “Yes because the male Dog has no idea that he is the father nor does he have paternal instincts, once again this is fantasy, mostly coined by 101 Dalmatians by Disney for example.
The Monks of New Skete also believe in the Wolfpack theory and in their teachings they use the alpha wolf as an example. They used the following as a way of training “ a piercing glance can often stop a fight from developing and settled disagreements. A kind glance can signify acceptance, we emphasize eye contact in this book because we feel it is an integral part of the way the dog and the owner should relate. It can prevent behaviour problems from developing and stop them if they do, assuming no behaviour problems exist eye contact between dog and Owner can help to deepen their relationship since it helps a dog to feel accepted and increases its trust in the owner. By eye contact used positively we mean gentle looks not threatening stares. Use negative eye contact should be hard penetrating and sustained so that the dog can read your eyes. It must look up to you, the techniques in this book is for the dog to look up so that eye contact can be made whether it is in a positive or negative way.”
Monks of New Skete, How to be your Dog’s Best Friend Pp, 12-13, Monks of New Skete 1978
They also discuss in helping an owner to decide whether or not to get their dog company about the prohibition of ownership of dogs they said “that dogs will continue to be ostracized and isolated as long as a pet population soars and owners act responsibly with their dogs. What all this adds up to from the dog's point of view is more isolation for boredom and more loneliness this in an animal that is genetically a pack animal.” Monks of New Skete, How to be your Dog’s Best Friend Pg 74, Monks of New Skete 1978
Throughout the book the Monks based most of their training ideologies based on dogs being related directly to Wolves such as referring to an alpha roll to dominate and control the dog if they believe that the dogs crime fitted the punishment of an alpha roll. Today we understand that dogs are not related to wolves and scientists have been proving this as well as the research that of alpha rolls are cruel to dogs and can ultimately make a dog think that they are being attacked to be killed. This type of book has no place in modern dog training or in positive dog training as the teachings and the methodologies are cruel and based on ideologies that have now been proven as myth and not fact. The monks also believed from the above paragraph that dogs are in need of companionship where as today's thinking is that although dogs are social animals they may not necessarily enjoy the company of other Dogs. This can be found through various writings of researchers that found that village dogs would sometimes be seen in a group or they could also be sighted alone.
Recently genetic evidence using DNA probes has established not only that man was sharing geographic and ecological niches for many tens of thousands of years but that these proto dogs now have become genetically isolated from wild wolves very early on far earlier than archaeological data 14000 years ago were suggest long before they came to change physically in a way that would be some evidence in the forms of fossilized bone. Wolves became dogs nevertheless.”
The Truth About Dogs, Stephen Budiansky, Pg 20, 2000.
Alexandra Semyonova States “that the wolf didn't exist yet when the dog began to split up into a new species the grey wolf as he is today her jective I'll just as a domestic dog did. What you need to imagine is a somewhat smaller animal, that would already have split off from the Wolf line some 200 to 500 thousand years ago. This ancestor wasn't a specialised hunter like the Wolf is but rather what biologist call a generalist, an animal that is not limited to one special food source or environment but that can adopt to varying situations. This smaller ancestor probably looks somewhat like the dingo or other primitive dogs who still live in the wild today. It may not have been a pack animal. In fact that pack living is rare among canids. So like most of the generalist canids we see toda, the dogs ancestor probably lived in pairs and temporary family groups able to deal both of being together and with being alone.” Semyonova goes onto agree with the ideology that the group that split off from the Wolf cousins, began to adapt to eating from dump sites and tolerating other species, humans. That they had less fear than wolves and began to develop Dog characteristics but still could not be identified as a domestic Dog is today.
The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, Pg 13, 2009, Alexandra Semyonova
Barry Eaton references to the book; Wolves, Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation edited by David L. Mack and Luigi Boitani 2003 both of whom are world authorities on wolf behaviour. He said that it “was noteworthy that in this entire 448 page to Broad alpha is only mentioned 6 times and only to explain why the term is outdated. “Mecca asserts that it is not really one of semantics of political correctness it is one of biological correctness such that the term we use for breeding Wolves accurately captures the biological and social role of the animals.” Mech, 2008
Generally a stable wolf pack consists of a breeding pair and their immediate offspring - essentially a family unit - a fact not generally known until recently. This is known as a nuclear family. However packs can sometimes consist of an extended family which includes siblings and their offspring a disruptive family where one or both of the parents are missing or a step family which has accepted a wolf from another pack (Packard 2003).
For a long time there was a commonly held belief that the Wolf Pack was held in check by a strict pecking order enforced through violent encounters between the alpha wolves and subordinates it is now clear that this belief is incorrect, due primarily to the many studies of wolf behaviour that were carried out on wolves in captivity. Clearly an artificial environment. According to Mech 1999, “in a natural wolf pack dominance is not manifested as a pecking order and seems to have less significance in the results of studies of captive packs had implied.”
Research indicates that packing behaviour is a developmental response to a particular habitat. wolves don't always pack; some populations never pack. Coppinger and Coppinger 2001. Packing behaviours are emergent. They emerge during the critical socialisation period. Which is much shorter than the dogs critical socialisation period and depend on social interaction with siblings and older wolves, and the environment in which they are brought up. Different species of wolves around the world will be brought up in different environments and will therefore have different packing behaviours. Coppinger and Coppinger 2007.
Coppinger and Coppingers research 2001 has shown that even feral dogs do not need to form packs in order to survive. If all the vital elements of survival are available, food water and shelter they are happy to live independently or harmoniously in small groups.
Coppinger and Coppinger 2001 state “I don't see much in dogs that indicates they have the fundamental behaviours that would have allowed through wolf like packing.” According to Dr Ian Dunbar 1979 “in the majority of instances pack formation in domestic dogs would seem to be an exception rather than the rule, the notion of hierarchy has been overplayed. For the most part dogs seem to live in relative harmony with each member of the group my emphasis, each generally going about his business with an apparent disinterest in the affairs of others.”
Dominance in Dogs, Fact or Fiction? Pp,20-25, Barry Eaton, 2008, 2010
Wolf biologist Erich Ziman in Germany found that when he attempted to socialise his captive wolf pups after they had reached about 19 days he never succeeded compare that with a dog which still has the ability to be socialised with humans at 10 weeks of age. Dogs, Coppinger and Coppinger, Pg 42, 2001
“The village dog is not a pack animal in the same sense a wolf is. perhaps packing behaviour has even been selected against in the village Dog. Although dogs are individually territorial, inhabiting a solitary space, they are obviously not asocial they have all their own adaptations to feeding in the village small head teeth and brains and their feeding behaviour is specialised to their scavenger niche that means they search or wait for food alone, not cooperatively and they are aware that humans are sort of that food, they focus on human activity rather than trying to avoid human activity. Research indicates that packing behaviour is a development response to a specific habitat, wolves don't always pack some populations never pack, Coyotes which aren’t thought to be a packing species often do pack especially in places where they are not disturbed by wolves or people. It is doubtful that Pemba has any of the environmental signals that elicit packing behaviour. I don't see much in dogs that indicates they have the fundamental behaviours that would allow true wolf like packing ; or example unlike wolves male dogs do not as a rule take care of or regurgitate food to Pups other behaviours of dogs indicate that they are not disposed the kind of social organisation that adult wolves have. In fact it is doubtful female Village dogs regurgitate consistently enough for pup survival. Parental behaviour in dogs relies on the dump being there for pups to forage in. Dogs are adapted to a very different niche than wolves and their social behaviour has likewise evolved so that it is appropriate to that niche.” Dogs, Coppinger and Coppinger, Pg 81, 2001
Pack behaviours, like all behaviour are epigenetic- above the genes. They are a result of behaviours learned during the critical period, there is no sense in trying to simulate pack leadership after that social window closes. Pack behaviours are much more complicated than just hierarchies of social status. They are learned through social play and care- soliciting behaviours during the juvenile period. A trainer who pretends to be the alpha leader of a wolf pack - say, by turning the dog over onto its back and getting down and growling at its throat- is intimidating the dog, no doubt. But to a dog, the message is not what the Trainer thinks it is. Teaching and learning are seldom facilitated by intimidation. A dog doesn't learn how to sit from a trainer who intimidates it, simply because the coercion diverts the dogs attention away from the task and toward its social status. An alpha wolf is not trying to teach a pack member anything, especially to sit. The fact that so many believe the wolf- pack homology and use it in training a dog, is really a testament to how little is understood about canine behavioural development. Dogs, Coppinger and Coppinger, Pg 110, 2001
From all the books I have read, pack structure seems to be something that was used initially to describe a behaviour from dogs that people did not understand. Because dogs appeared to be like wolves it seemed that it was easier to latch onto the idea that the dog descended from the wolf. it seems that over the years until recently namely down to researchers such as Coppinger and Coppinger is that the idea of dogs being a pack structure is now becoming something more of a myth. Wolf packs are not the true sense of the word pack as they group together more for survival than they do as books and films have us believe if we have not already studied this behaviour. It now also seems nonsensical about the alpha wolf and the dominating behaviour understood by people when the word alpha is used and then they apply it to dogs. I myself have not seen dogs pack together, on social walks I have seen some dogs group together and then the group fluctuates and changes without any common pattern. It could have been over a ball or a toy that was being thrown for the dogs or one of the dogs was particularly interested in a smell and then the dogs will come and see what was so interesting but again this group changed and some of the dogs we're not interested so there was literally no pattern to saying that this group of dogs were all firm friends or that they were a family or that they were even a pack. Pack structure seems to be something that we understand more now now that more that more research has done and now we have a thermal understand of wolf behaviour as well as dog behaviour.
Dominance seems to be a term coined to identify a behaviour which humans see as pushy or over powering from a dog towards another dog or a person. Even people who do not own dogs who I know personally describe dogs as dominant. But what people do not seem to understand or recognise is that the dog is not dominant but confused as to what behaviour is expected from them by their owner. I have had this conversation with people many times that there dog is not being dominant by barking at them, they are asking for attention. One man I visited pulled his dog off the sofa as he was sat on the floor and said “I’m not having her dominate me by being above me.” I had to explain to him that it did not work like that and explain she was being playful and that it is a myth that dogs see themselves as the boss all through being seated higher than a human. That this is a changing situation too as the dog will not be permanently seated in that position as the human wont be. I explained to him that just because his son was sat above him did not mean his son was now the boss of the household but that it was a seating situation.
Dominance also seems to have been adopted and ran with by Cesar Millan, as well as his famous montage of “Pack Leader” and dogs need to know who the pack leader is. My personal belief is that dominance is a myth and that a dog is a member of the family and they have to be guided to deliver behaviours that we want from them for our routines and living situations. If a dog is pushy it does not make them dominant, it is a form of communication for me that they may want something. For example, in the morning once I have picked up the keys Diesel will bark in excitement and fetch his ball as he knows our routine is he goes out and plays fetch for half an hour before my working day begins, Koda jumps up and pushes, I do not see his barking behaviour or retrieving the ball to me before we leave as a dominant behaviour nor Kodas jumping up as a display of “I am Pack Leader” but a condition behaviour I have encouraged in my dogs by having a set routine with them.
It is also becoming a well-known and recognised theory that Dogs are not dominant but rather resource guarding over items that they favour. So if a dog is appearing to be bossing another dog this is not necessarily mean dominance it just means that the dog has successfully resource guarded the item that they favour over the other Dog, this behaviour is also temporary depending on which dog has won the item as when the dog gets bored or disinterested in the item than the other dog or dogs can then try to take possession of the favoured item which end does not necessarily mean that this Dog is in charge it just means that this dog at this time has the favoured item. So to base Dogs on a pack structure would be incorrect as the dogs ranking is ever changing based on resource guarding.
If a Dog pushes my hand for fuss or sits on me I do not see this as dominance as they are often encouraged to sit with me, but again I do not see this as a dominance behaviour a behaviour I once again have encouraged as he also knows when I ask them to “off” they will.
“Domestication has not completely nullified in the domestic dog this desire to lead or be led. The problem comes when an individual dog does not receive proper guidance, through training, and fancies itself to be the leader, or alpha figure in its life- you are. The owner must act as the leader, not because the owner wants to boss around a subordinate creature, but because the dog is looking for direction and it is the dogs just due. “ Monks of New Skete, How to be your Dog's Best Friend Pp, 13, Monks of New Skete 1978
I agree with the Monks that the dog does not receive proper guidance but I do not see this as a dominance behaviour, nor that a human is an alpha. The human is the owner and the provider of food, shelter and toys. There is no reason to dominate the dog or believe that they are dominating us based on a misunderstanding of wolf pack behaviour and the descendancy of dogs.
“Dogs are pack animals. They simply don’t expect equality. Their minds are not wired up in that configuration. The dogs natural genetic predisposition is to find his place in the pecking order, the dominance hierarchy. For some dogs this means adding notches to his gun, trying to be top dog. Dominance aggression according to Victoria Vouth is a problem that is usually shown by male dogs between two and two and a half years of age. The curious fact is that most dogs reach puberty much earlier. Their testosterone surge occurs at between six months and a year of age yet the apparently sudden, unprovoked aggressive attacks of dominance aggression, usually against members of the immediate family, frequently does not occur for another one or two years. The onset of those attacks coincides with the time of puberty in wolves. Selective breeding has made dogs precariously sexually mature at an early age but emotional maturity takes longer. Dominance aggression can be provoked in a myriad of ways and is a pack problem.” Victoria Vouth, The Dogs Mind, Bruce Fogle, Pg 112
I don't think it is fair to assume that a dog does not expect equality, I do not think that dogs expect harsh corrections for their behaviours or wish to be pushed around by other dogs or expect this behaviour from people or other dogs. I firmly believe it is in the way that the dog is raised. My dog helps me to work with reactive dogs, he keeps his distance and does not retaliate to their behaviours, but he also does not lay in a submissive position or lick their lips to show submissiveness, so I do not believe that dogs do not see themselves as equals. My dog knows I have his back around reactive dogs and as we continue to work together than he will more than happily play with the other dog when he knows that it is safe to do so and reciprocated by the other dog. This to me is not either dog being dominant or submissive but instead my dog working with another dog, to help show them that not all dogs want to challenge them or be reactive to them in return for their own behaviour.
“We will see later that the alpha wolf is not dictator of a pack, but a benevolent leader, and domestic dogs are not dictatorial and are unlikely to try to raise their status to rule over other dogs in a pack environment.” Dominance in Dogs, Fact or Fiction? pg. 3, Barry Eaton 2010
“Unfortunately, people are often guilty of applying human values to a dog when analyzing his behaviour. Applying such human values raises questions as to a dogs cognitive capabilities. It suggests that a dog has a “theory of mind” or the “ability to adopt the perspective of others. Dogs develop strategies “based on the greatest chance of reinforcement.”(Udell, Wynne, 2008) Therefore the very human definition of ‘dominance’ would not apply to dogs. Dominance in Dogs, Fact or Fiction? pg. 5, Barry Eaton 2010
This paragraph by Barry Eaton further strengthens what I have described or you have seen with Diesel and Koda working with reactive dogs, not that my dogs understands why the other dogs are exhibiting the behaviour it is or that it is being dominant to them, but through being quiet and respectful of the other dog he has learnt over time eventually the other dog will play with him, but not because my dogs have been dominant to them or that they are a dominant dog, but through reinforcement.
Dr. Karen Overall (1997) cites Hinde (1967, 1970), Landau (1951), Rowell (1974) and Archer (1988) in defining dominance in this way; “Dominance is a concept found in traditional ethology that pertains to an individual's ability to maintain or regulate access to some resources. It is not to be confused with status.” The way a dog can “maintain or regulate” access to the things he values is what is termed as “resource guarding”. Resource guarding is when a dog acts to maintain or gain control of something he prizes and may show aggressive behaviour to keep possession of it. Dominance in Dogs, Fact or Fiction? pg. 7, Barry Eaton 2010
A lot of people claim that dogs are trying to be dominant over an item or food, this is not the case, it can be in that moment the dog values what they have. I have seen many dogs tease one another, and one is showing great interest in an item I have seen the other dog show great interest in an item to coax the dog away and then go and retrieve the item that was originally the favoured object. For some dogs they can just want to eat in peace or may not have food regularly accessible so they may favour food when food is offered, where as my dog for example would favour a ball over food and he can resource guard his ball if he thinks another dog may take it from him and this is because he has one ball at a time as he has a tendency to rip the material off, where as he is not particular food orientated as he will happily leave his treats lying around for days at a time.
Overall (1997) has a discrete definition of dominance aggression as the “Intensification of any aggressive response from the dog with any passive or active correction or interruption of the dogs behaviour or access to the behaviour.” Dominance in Dogs, Fact or Fiction? pg. 8, Barry Eaton 2010
Steve Lindsay(2000) states; “Many aggressive displays that are currently diagnosed as dominance aggression are aimed at avoiding some perceived aversive outcome rather than establishing or maintaining the offending dogs social status.” And Overall (2003) states that even dogs who are what you might term pushy show “no eveidnce that they are anything other than a variant of a normal dog, and there is no association with any kind of artificial rank hierarchy… and there is no evidence that pushy dogs develop any form of pathological aggression. Rather than being aggressive through some desire to be dominant. Alexandra Semyonova (2006), who has studied a group of dogs, through their natural lifetime and in their natural environment claims that “ In many cases, the inflexibility of human behaviour leads to interaction involving aggression. In the first instance, the human is the attacker.” Dominance in Dogs, Fact or Fiction? Pp. 9-10, Barry Eaton 2010
Humans can create an unfounded need to resource guard, I particularly saw this when Cesar Millan did the episode with Holly the labrador, where he was trying to “dominate” her over her food bowl and got bitten or Victoria Stilwell, encouraging owners to take bowls from their dogs to show them who was boss. As was shown in the episode with Holly this was reckless and very dangerous as he was bitten quite badly. For me it is not dominance to take a dog's meal from them but bullying. I often say to people “What would you do if someone took your meal from you” most invariably answer with some sort of physical reaction and I always reply with “well there you go then.” Because it is not an act of dominance from the dog, to me they simply want to enjoy their meal in peace.
I personally don’t like seeing submissive dogs, I like to see playful dogs that are confident, a little bit cheeky and obedient when needed. For me the term to “dominate a dog” transcribes as to bully a dog, which I totally agree with Coppinger and Coppingers, statement below.
“I don’t want my sled dogs rolling on their backs and urinating in the air like some subordinate wolf every time I show up. I dont think a Dog knows what people are talking about when they exhibit this “alpha wolf” behaviour. Dogs do not understand such behaviours because the village dogs didnt have a pack structure; they were semi solitary animals. Such behaviour by humans confuses them.” Dogs, Coppinger and Coppinger, Pg 67, 2001
Benjamin Hart points out that really the only time such “interactive” punishment as hitting or grabbing the dog by the collar is effective is when the issue on the table is dominance and dominance alone: when a dog growls or threatens or bites its owner in an unmistakable attempt to claim higher status. As such times physical force gets the message across very powerfully.” The Truth About Dogs, Stephen Budiansky, Pg 142, 2000. To me this is cruel and unnecessary, again it is not dominating the dog but bullying them and abusing them. A dog can learn a wanted behaviour by reconditioning and reinforcement in a positive way from an owner without any need for physical abuse and calling it dominance.
“Many owners of problem dogs don’t realise that a dog that jumps up and puts his paws or head on your shoulder is not hugging you with an affectionate embrace; he is asserting his dominance, and owners take it as a sign of affection have just lost a dominance encounter.”
“Dominant dogs are perfectly content to be with, and get along with, the rest of the members of the pack, as long as they get their own way. Many dominant dogs are extremely demanding of attention and will come up and nose their owners to be petted; the owners are mystified why a dog that so obviously likes them should start growling and biting at odd times.” The Truth About Dogs, Stephen Budiansky, Pp 193- 194, 2000.
I disagree with Budiansky, for me if the dog is jumping up or pushing for attention it is a behaviour which has been reinforced by owners and other people the dog has interacted with. I do not see it as dominance. I often describe to people that when a puppy is picked up and encouraged to be kissed and lick a humans face, as the dog grows they see this jumping up behaviour as the wanted behaviour they experienced as a puppy from humans, so the humans are to blame for encouraging an unwanted behaviour from a fully grown dog. As they couldn’t help themselves as the puppy was cute, so I do not see this as dominance but a human failing for the dog. I also disagree that dogs bite people because their owners are wimps, I believe that a dog is pushed into a situation it is not comfortable with and then bites when the dogs warnings have been ignored, this is reinforced by the latest posters on social media which say “Don’t punish the growl as this is bite prevention.” I do not see a dog biting as dominance or even full aggression a dog can bite due to fear or having their warnings and communication ignored.
“Thanks to Dr. L. David Mech it is now known that wolves do not live in a dominance hierarchy, and to base your behaviour towards others on who has which rank, you have to be able to do quite a bit of abstract thinking. You’d have to map out the social structure in your head, in which you are comparing various ranks with each other and assigning these ranks to yourself and others. Neither the wolf nor the dog has large frontal lobes in that the brain which would enable them to think in abstract terms. A dominance hierarchy also requires a stable group. They live semi solitary lives, which are enriched by fleeting friendships. The dominance hierarchy is an anthropomorphism that has its roots in a very specific time and place in our history. It is also one of the most tragic things for animals that ‘science’ has ever produced, because the idea of a dominance hierarchy is commonly used to justify all kinds of strange and cruel practices towards dogs. It is the justification in seeing rebellion in everything a dog does, and for creully crushing that rebellion. Its okay to beat him, kick him, shock him, strangle him, because this will teach him rank, Then once he knows his rank, he will automatically obey and do everything we want him to do. The cruelty this idea has generated will no longer surprise you once you have absorbed the following, the idea of a strict dominance hierarchy came from a Nazi Konrad Lorenz. The idea of dogs is a dominance hierarchy with an absolute Alpha leader at the top of its origins is Nazi ideology rather than the real behaviour of dogs.” The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, Pp 40-43, 2009, Alexandra Semyonova
For me this is the same analogy for people who say that dogs are dominant, that this gives them some sort of self assured confidence that they are doing the right thing by dominating their dog. Rather than seeing the dog has feelings and emotions and that the dog needs teaching and guiding into wanted behaviours from their families rather than constant punishment for a misunderstanding of their ancestry and genetics, their biological processes as well as the depth and the complexity of the dogs brain.
So in conclusion, Dogs are not Pack Animals, even wolves are not strictly a pack, Dogs are no relation to wolves, Dogs are all related to Greyhounds. Dogs do not want to dominate us. Dogs do not see themselves as Alpha or Pack Leader, they are opportunists and will repeat a behaviour which is reinforced, whether it is reinforced by human or self reward, such as running off during recall and saying “Hi” to a new Dog. Forget everything you see on TV, Social Media and the papers. With all due respect to the TV trainer in question here as Vanessa did cite him in name, he had his place, he delivers information regurgitated from the Monks of New Skete, he is a form of entertainment for TV ratings and should be treated as such. Please stop referring to your Dogs as packs, Alphas or wanting to be Alphas, or the Pack Leader as this is factually inaccurate :)
Also a side note as this comes into it with the Monks of New Skete, not even the German Shepherd (and I’ll throw this is in for good measure too, not even the Husky, Malamute, Akita Pomeranian, Shepsky, Saarloos Wolfdog, Northern Inuit etc are related to wolves, not one) the German Shepherd was originally a German Sheepdog mongrel, put with another German Sheepdog Mongrel to make a really good standard of a breed, in the late 1800’s by the cross breeding of working sheep dogs from rural Germany by an ex cavalry officer called Max von Stephanitz whose aim was to create a working dog for herding which could trot for long periods. A breed standard was drawn up and the first breed show took place in 1899 following which the GSD became firmly established across Germany. In 1906 the first dogs were exported to the USA . Many people in the UK still call these dogs Alsatians which may partly be due to the fact that when they were first bred, the Alsace region of France was part of Germany where these dogs were very popular. In part it may also be due to the first and second world wars that the name Alsatian stuck as the word 'German' had a negative connotation. I still get people who think that Alsatians are the traditional short coat black and tan dogs and that German Shepherds are the long coated dogs that have become popular, but they have no separation it is even long haired or short haired German SHepherd or Czech German Shepherd. So again and lets make this clear, they are absolutely no, zero, zilch relation to the Wolf.
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