One of the terms I often hear people use to describe the problems they are perceiving in their dogs is that their dog is displaying dominance. The question on their minds seem to be, “How do I show the dog that he is not the Alpha”. The answer is simple. You don’t. But to really understand the answer, you need to understand what being an alpha is or showing dominance is.
Dominance is a concept that was popularized in training circles in the 60s after having observed wolves in captivity. These studies suggested that wolves organised themselves in linear hierarchies, each dominating the one below. So trainers then extrapolated that if your dog was to obey you, you needed to dominate your dog. Thus started some interesting and innovative exercises in figuring out how a human would express domination over a dog.
That should help stem any further damage. While this is the picture in the western world, here in India we are still lagging behind a bit and the TV shows are becoming popular now. So plenty of education and regulation in training is still required here.
The first is that the experts realised that studying wolves in captivity shed little light on wolves in the wild. It was like studying people in prison and extrapolating that dynamic to a family. The social dynamic was just not the same. Wolves in the wild organised themselves in family packs, not in linear hierarchies. They had nurtured and cared for families and did not dominate each other. They did not eat before the pups to show who was alpha. They let pups eat first to ensure survival of the family. Just as we do.
The second thing the experts realised is that dogs and wolves are not the same. They have a common ancestor — the now extinct grey wolf. So their behaviour need not be the same. We don’t behave exactly like apes. Expecting dogs to behave like wolves would be a study flaw.
To fix these research flaws more and more, studies are now focusing on village dogs and free ranging street dog groups. The studies that are emerging are interesting. Dogs don’t create tight familial packs in cities like wolves. Theirs are more loose-knit groups based on cooperation. But these studies are in their infancy. The good news for us Indians is that we can be in the forefront of such studies. So the next time you have the opportunity to watch street dogs interact, make videos. You never know where that might come of use.