The Truth About Dominance Theory

Dominant behaviour is a quantitative and quantifiable behaviour displayed by an individual with the function of gaining or maintaining temporary access to a particular resource on a particular occasion, versus a particular opponent, without either party incurring injury. If any of the parties incur injury, then the behaviour is aggressive and not dominant. Its quantitative characteristics range from slightly self-confident to overtly assertive. It is now argued that the concept of a dominance hierarchy where dogs have a strict ‘pecking order’ is in fact a human construct and does not actually occur. In dogs the hierarchy is not a simple fixed linear structure or a collection of dyads but is influenced by the ongoing social interactions in the group. So although dogs are social animals and live in a group their ranking within the group is not linear. Ranking is not absolute but fluid and varies with the needs of the group at a particular time. It is also influenced by a dog’s experiences or learning from previous encounters. It is now also recognised that these hierarchies are not fixed and depend on any number of changing factors such as age, gender body size, previous experience in an encounter and intelligence etc. 

Consider this example: There is a puppy that has never been allowed inside the house. It is an outside puppy. Out of nowhere this puppy is given the opportunity to come inside. Upon entering the house the puppy is so excited as it is now in the house and does happy laps throughout the whole house and picks up a pillow in excitement to play with. As the puppy is over the top with excitement, the owner is now annoyed and angry at the puppy as all they wanted was the puppy to come in quietly and sit on a mat. The owner perceives this as the puppy being disrespectful and that the puppy is taking advantage and does not know where it is in the ‘pack’. In reality, the puppy is just very excited because it has been allowed somewhere where previously it has been restricted from. It has also not been trained, nor does it know how it is expected to behave inside the house as the puppy has never been shown or had the correct behaviour reinforced. Rather than the puppy ‘ruling/running the house’, the puppy is seeing this new opportunity as a fun new game and adventure.