dog playing in the park

Dominance Theory is it flawed or just misunderstood

Were the studies into the dominance theory focused on the wrong data

The early wolf studies were not flawed they were misunderstood; the wolves were held in captivity and not in studied in their natural habitats this is a fact. The wolves had been captured from different wolf packs, creating a volatile and unnatural pack structure.

The studies focused largely on hunting/feeding behaviour, a small percentage of wolf behaviour. None of these factors provided researchers with an accurate view of normal wolf behaviour.

More full in-depth studies of wolves in their natural habitats over the last 50 years has revealed that a wolf pack is made up of a family; the male and female who share leadership, and their offspring , who stay with the pack until 2-3 years of age, when they start their own pack. Eventually, almost every wolf becomes an “alpha” if they survive long enough to mate and breed. The largest recorded family unit recorded was 36 related wolves.

Dogs are not tame wolves but the domestic dog did evolve from primitive wolves approximately 14,000 years ago. Dogs exhibit behaviours that wild dogs do but do not display all the same behaviours that wolves do. This is where the controversy begins because studies indicate and show that dominant dogs are canines that are leaders.

In the wild canine groups a dominant male or female rarely has to become aggressive, rather the other submissive or subordinate dogs realize they risk injury by challenging the dominant dog. Dominance is often more of a bluff in domestic dogs with a lot of growling, pacing and raised hackles all that is needed to assert that they are the top dog with other canine and non-canine pets. However if a dominant dog is challenged either by another dog or a person they will resort to aggression, often very quickly.

Going back to the studies on wild wolves over the last 50-60 years the offspring stay with the pack until 2-3 years of age and then look to start their own pack. Eventually, almost every wolf becomes an “alpha”. In many cultures around the world today the dog still lives the type of live it has always done for thousands of years since the early domestication process began. These dogs freely interact with the humans and other dogs with the relationships between them being learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert dominance.

Unfortunately our dogs that live in our society are more than often house dogs, with some households having multiple dogs. Our dogs live more like the captive packs, we give as much exercise as we can but it is not the same as free roaming. We try to socialise as much as we can but again it is not the same as having the freedom to build relationships with other dogs and humans through time and patience. Over the last 30 years we have created more and more volatile and unnatural pack structures for our dogs. If you look back 40-50 years ago in many countries including our own dogs lived like the wild dogs. Studies carried out at the Dogs Trust show that dog that where free roaming around the centre as opposed to referral dogs were not motivated by maintaining the pecking order of their pack.

Dogs have a natural order Mother Nature dictates this; however they need to be guided by one controlling leader. Dominance is just a word it means “The want or the will to control”. Every species on this planet has dominant beings including our own so to dismiss the existence of dominance in our dogs is to dismiss Mother Nature. What we as the human companion of the dog (Canis Lupus familiaris) have to remember is that we have created the unnatural state of the dog’s behaviour today not them.