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The Dominance Theory And Dogs

Understanding The Dominance Theory. Wolves, Dogs and Families

Mechs’ Theory Is spot On With Forced Wolf Packs. This Theory For Naturally Occurring Family Packs was Debunked.

There has been a big shift in perception when training our dogs.  Gone are the terms ‘dominance’, ‘alpha’, ‘hierarchy’, ‘aggression’, and probably other, now unmentionable, words as well.  Use any of these words and wait for the ‘dogworld’ sky to fall on you!

All well and good, and arrived at in the main by David Mech retracting his theories on the composition of the wolf pack – but should we be throwing the baby out with the bath water?

dog in snow

Wolves live in family packs

Certainly the realisation that wolves live in family packs. No hierarchy other than the mother and father leading the way. No battle for supremacy in sight, is spot on. That however is not the norm for our family dogs – nor are our family dogs exactly like wolves.

The reason (in my opinion) that there is no conflict in these family packs is because they have a choice.  When the pups reach maturity they can leave, find a mate and form family packs of their own. Or stay within the pack and take whatever role best suits them.

Our family dogs do not have a choice who they live with.

Dogs are put together as unrelated adults or puppies. One or two may stay with their parents and grow up within a family group.

If it is the latter then all should be natural, and therefore well ….. shouldn’t it?

Actually, no.

What happens if you have a male puppy which desperately wants to form his own family? Or a female who wants the same?  They cannot do this, they cannot follow the natural course to leave the family group.

What happens when dogs natural instincts are denied them?

Well, I can tell you because this happened to me.

I had a kind and gentle male dog, a feisty and ‘in charge’ female dog – and they were very happy and uncomplicated. The female took the lead role. The male was happy for her to do so.

They had puppies. We kept a male and a female.  During the puppies’ ‘childhood’ they were like the Waltons – mum stayed in charge. Dad was happy with this, and the puppies were … well, just puppies.  No conflict at all.

The puppy matured

The male pup was born to head a family of his own.He would have been off and running as soon as he was old enough in a natural environment.  This was not an option he could take. The female would have stayed and taken a role within the family group. S adored her father and they were both totally uninterested in power games.

The male adolescent took the lead role from his mother.  This, fortunately, was a bloodless coup, the mother gave way and all was well. He then decided that there was only room for one male in the family.

No room for two male dog in this household

This adolescent never missed an opportunity to threaten his father and attack him if my vigilance slipped.  His father did nothing to warrant this. For the happiness of both dogs, when a perfect home presented itself I was forced to rehome one. It had to be the father as the son was not an easy boy.

This young dog never showed or has shown, aggression toward any other dog. He is extremely tolerant and gentle unless his father was in his sights. Nothing I could do would change his mind.  Physically I could keep his father safe 99% of the time, but emotionally he must have been a mess.  With his father gone, the son settled down to be pretty much the perfect family dog – with mother and sister.

Your dogs needs are more important than your wants

His father settled into his new home with a loving female black Labrador and lived until he was 15 – as happy and content as a dog could be.  He was able to be what he always should have been, not the nervous wreck he had started to become.

A natural family does not always work unless a natural environment is also in the offing.

One without the other can create a very dangerous imbalance.

In an unnatural setting, (and almost all of our ‘forced packs’ of unrelated family dogs DO live in an unnatural setting), dominance, alpha status, hierarchy DOES exist (in my opinion). To pretend it does not or to ignore what is playing out before your eyes. Not address this simply because we have been told that this is a ‘discreory’. Is to be purposely blind – and can create a very dangerous situation.

We certainly should not try to dominate our dogs

I absolutely agree that we humans should not try to dominate, assume ‘alpha status’ in the way perceived from watching a well know TV celebrity’s take on this, and ‘aggression’ is hugely misunderstood, but be aware that dogs placed in an unnatural situation, are not privy to the latest scientific discoveries and will act as they see fit. We are still a million miles away from fully understanding what this may be, and what form it will take.

Keep an open mind and don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Mech report was debunked re dominance within an unrelated wolf pack. But not as far as debunking dominance within a forced pack, and very limited time and study has been put to this, however, this is a very interesting and informative study done in 2015 to quantify the very insightful blog post above by Lesley Harris

Lesley Harris Co Author “Parenting Your New Puppy”


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One response to “The Dominance Theory And Dogs

  1. Interesting observations. Of course we all know that one observation of one small group of dogs isn’t a statistically significant study. There are a lot of opinions/hypotheses about hierarchies among groups of dogs who know one another well (we see this in homes, dog parks, daycares, and such). There’s little evidence that “dominance” is the right term for these hierarchies since that term is usually reserved for the winner of prized resources at a particular moment (knowing that the outcome might very well be different the next time as the current winner or “dominant” dog might not be as motivated the next time to win that particular resource). I’ll continue to avoid the use of the word “dominance” because it now carries such negative connotations and is unfortunately used to justify mistreatment of dogs who are being blamed for trying to intentionally take over the household.

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