Why Dominance Won’t Die

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Before I proceed, I have to respond to the title of this post with, “I only wish I knew.” I have some ideas, but I suspect reasons vary from trainer to trainer and pet owner to pet owner.

leather clad torso with whipHowever, as someone who has done a bit more than dip my toes into the pool of information regarding dogs and their behavior, I am continually surprised by the perpetuation of certain myths and misinformation regarding dog behavior. I know I am not alone in my wonderment. Trainers, neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers also ponder the reasons and meaning of why humans cling to ideas that should have gone out of style ages ago having been shown to be based on inaccuracies, misunderstanding or outright lies.

Animal trainers know that we repeat behaviors we get rewarded for. That reward is defined by the animal. So what is it about believing that dogs are primarily concerned with establishing dominance that is so rewarding to us? What is it about the excuse this belief gives us for justifying our response to them that is so rewarding to us? What is it about our response to a dog we define as trying to be dominant that is so rewarding to us? What is it that prevents us from changing our perception of a dog’s behavior even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary regarding dogs and the idea that ‘dominance’ is so important to them?

Perhaps Tolstoy explained it best when he wrote:

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”

6 thoughts on “Why Dominance Won’t Die”

  1. Unfortunately even when I say I’m the alpha in charge of the pack, it gets construed as dominance by trainers accusing me of dominating and abusing my dogs….(on training forums, not real life, in real life they tease me about being club med for domestic animals :)…) when what I’m saying is the alpha leads which is totally different than dominating, there are people who others naturally want to follow, that is how in a herd or pack you become alpha and in charge. Sometimes the oldest mare is in charge of a herd so it’s not strength or dominance it’s the ability to lead. It has nothing to do with abuse or dominance. How do we get that the issue of semantics in dog training solved?

    • Yes Leslie, I understand exactly where you are coming from, and you are right. The word dominate, actually means to ‘take care of’ in the language that it originated from, which I believe is Hebrew, if I haven’t remembered incorrectly.
      Thank you for explaining this so well!

  2. Us humans hATe to admit we are wrong.
    We have no humility.
    It’s our problem(not the pups) and I think it goes back eons where the strongest,smartest,most conniving live the longest. After “eons” of this thought pattern, how,with no humility-can we admit it’s not so?

    Most significant (in my view) is that dogs are emotionally more sensitive/capable than many humans – they have sense/senses (see the play on words?) that humans have lost.
    The dogs I foster as future service pups are brilliant!

    Love them !


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