Dominant Dog or Compassionate Person – Who are you?

I don’t believe in the “pack theory”, the “alpha theory” or the “dominance theory”. I make it quite clear too that I don’t. But I am not always very articulate when it comes to expressing why I just don’t buy this theory. Of late there are more and more articles appearing that explain the flaws in this theory and this is one of the good article. It’s written by Winkie Spires, a behaviourist from England and the Chairman of PDTE. This is an excerpt from her article in the PDTE Newsletter.

Firstly, what does “Dominant” mean? Controlling, commanding, prevailing over all others, very important, powerful, successful. For years, the word “dominant” has been used to describe dog behaviour. It seems to be used as a nice tidy blanket term to diagnose a large number of behaviours or actions that are deemed to be undesirable to the human. Once a “dominant” diagnosis has been made, it can, in some cases, lead to justification for harsh, inappropriate, cruel, ignorant, dangerous, painful and confusing training techniques being practiced on the dog. 

I really believe that dogs are wrongly diagnosed as dominant and that more needs to be done by professionals and owners to understand the true motivation for the unwanted behaviour. The only truly dominant behaviour seems to be practised by humans and unfortunately for animals and the planet no-one has come up with a dominance reduction plan for us!!

Who originally came up with this term “dominant”? It may have orginated with studies done on wolf packs which may not be hugely relevant when we are actually dealing with domesticated dogs who have undergone 10-15,000 years of selective breeding.  Although dogs share many characteristics with wolves we will only really learn about domesticated dogs if we observe and learn about domesticated dogs. 

The fact is that many dogs now live in social isolation from their own kind and their humans, often for long periods of time, which will obviously have a bearing on their behaviours. 

This theory of hierarchy was popularized by David Mech. It was based on observing wolves in captivity and then extrapolating that behavior to dogs in our homes. That would be like observing apes in a concentration camp and generalizing that humans in normal lives behave the same way. Now finally after years of pushing the alpha theory, David Mech himself questions his own theory. It takes a lot of evidence, not to mention immense humility to debunk ones own theory.
But there it is…that theory is out dated. We really need to get past it, put it behind us and start looking deeper. Look for the real issues and not just shroud everything under the “be the alpha” approach. Pretending to be a furless 2-legged overbearing dog is not going to fix all of our problems. In fact it’s not going to fix any. Instead of trying to be a dominant dog, perhaps being a compassionate human being, might just start fixing a few things. Wny not give that approach a try?

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