The Dominance Panacea

Excerpt from Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

One model that has been put forth as a quasi-justification for the use of aversives in training is pack theory. Ever since the linear hierarchy was postulated in wolves, dog people have gone cuckoo in their efforts to explain every conceivable dog behavior and human-dog interaction in terms of “dominance.” We really latched onto that one. It is a great example of a successful meme. Dogs misbehave or are disobedient because they haven’t been shown who’s boss. You must be the “alpha” in your “pack.” Aside from amounting to yet another justification for aversives-oriented training methods – the dog is supposedly staying up nights thinking up ways to stage a coup so you’d better keep him in his pace with plenty of coercion – dominance has provided a panacea-like explanation for dog-behaviors.

For the owner, this simple explanation makes unnecessary the work of boning up on a myriad of other topics, like how animals learn. Notions like dogs rushing through doors ahead of their owners or pulling on a leash to exert dominance over their owners are too stupid for words. Some poor people have it so backwards that they view appeasement behaviors such as jumping up to lick or pawing as dominance displays and thus fair game for aversive training. The dominance panacea is, once again, a case of leaping to a conclusion before ruling out more obvious explanations. Dogs chew furniture because what else could furniture possibly be for? They are disobedient because they have no idea what is being asked of them, are undermotivated to comply, or something else has won the behavioral gambit at that moment in time, like a fleeing squirrel. Rank is not likely on their minds.

From Jean Donaldson’s thought-provoking book, Culture Clash, dog owners will learn and get a better understanding of the relationship between dogs and humans. Purchase Culture Clash from Whole Dog Journal today.