The Dominance Myth: Fearfulness, Reactivity & Aggression in Dogs - German Shepherd Dog Forums

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Old 09-06-2013, 05:45 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Dominance Myth: Fearfulness, Reactivity & Aggression in Dogs

Not exactly GSD related, but since I train, work with dogs for a living AND have a new puppy, I am really excited to be attending this seminar tomorrow downtown:

The Dominance Myth: Fearfulness, Reactivity & Aggression in Dogs
with Dr. Ian Dunbar

This seminar offers an insight into the development of social hierarchies (debunking the “Dominance” myth) from the most comprehensive, long-term (30 years) dog behavior research study (Yale/Berkeley). We originally embarked on the study searching for physical “dominance” … but didn’t find it. Certainly, puppies spend a good proportion of their time play-fighting and fighting with each other to determine, establish and maintain their relative rank, but we saw no cases of adult dogs physically dominating puppies and we observed very few dogfights between adult dogs during the ten years of the study. On the contrary, we observed many instances of adult dogs spending long periods of time actually “tutoring” puppies and young adolescents to slow down, chill, sit, lie down and otherwise “show respect”. The puppies developed stable hierarchical relationships while growing up which served to prevent the need for fighting as adults.

We found that dogs growing up and living together (without human intervention) develop extremely complex and sophisticated social structures. The social behavior of dogs is utterly fascinating — special friendships, preferences and allegiances, as well as special animosities. But by and large, when left to their own devices, dogs get along quite amicably. It is surprising, therefore, that so many dogs living with people become dog-dog reactive and fearful and aggressive towards people. Certainly, with a better understanding of how dogs develop stable social relationships, we can move beyond unfounded notions of “dominance” and the provocation of physical punishment and prevent or resolve fearfulness, reactivity and aggression towards other dogs and people.

Our research findings taught us many things that had an enormous impact on reshaping pet dog husbandry and training during the late 70s and early 80s, namely: the extreme and long-lasting effects of early Socialization (or lack thereof); the notion that temperament may be modified; the overwhelming importance of Puppy Play, Bite Inhibition and developing Social Savvy as puppies, i.e., before adolescence and adulthood; the essential importance of variable-age socialization groups for building confidence, and resolving fearfulness and bullying; and a workable understanding of why dogs fight and bite, especially the notion of Multiple Subliminal Bite Stimuli, which made dog bite cases predictable, preventable and resolvable.

Perhaps most enlightening, the socialization process appears to follow a pretty predictable, albeit deceptive, timetable. Predictable, because without ongoing socialization and extensive Classical Conditioning throughout puppyhood, whether friendly or not, 5-8 month old adolescents will naturally start to show incipient signs of wariness, standoffishness, fearfulness and eventually, reactivity and aggression. We must never forget that it is normal development for fears (and hence, reactivity and aggression) to develop during adolescence. Early socialization prevents these fears from developing. Deceptive, because two-, three- and four-month-old puppies appear to be super-friendly social butterflies and so most owners slack off from the intensive socialization program. Many people fail to adequately socialize their pup. They don’t see the point, because their pup is friendly. Of course the puppy is friendly and sociable, it’s a puppy. Unfortunately, by the time owners realize that their dog is becoming fearful and reactive, the impressionable Critical Period of Socialization is long gone. Whether or not puppies appear to be super-friendly, heavy-duty socialization and classical conditioning must continue until dogs have weathered adolescence and reached social maturity (at about three years of age), otherwise adolescent dogs will predictably become fearful and aggressive.

Rehabilitation techniques are pretty much the same as preventative measures, except that treatment takes much longer (MUCH longer) and often the techniques are difficult and not without danger. For example, whereas fearfulness and bullying may be resolved in a single class session with three-month-old puppies, similar problems in a five-month-old puppy would take several months to resolve. Moreover, it may take a couple of years to rehabilitate a fearful eight-month-old dog and the dog will unlikely be what he could have been. Instead far too many dogs that missed out on early socialization suffer a reduced quality of life for life.
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Old 09-06-2013, 11:25 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Sounds interesting. I hope you fill us in on what you learn! I would be curious to hear more about the topic.

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Old 09-07-2013, 12:59 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Fill us in! Can you link to the original study report? Methods and such?
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:51 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Suka this is an important piece of canine behavior that people often do not accept and there is no better teacher for this than someone who has done in depth, objective research in the subject. I attended this seminar a few months ago and I would recommend it,
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Old 09-09-2013, 05:24 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I had a great time and it was a very supportive seminar. Here is an informative radio show he did during our lunch break:

Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dog Trainer | WGN Radio

Here is link with some references to the study for erfunhouse:

http://www.dogtalk.com/Alpha%20This%20Alpha%20That.pdf
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Old 09-09-2013, 05:44 PM   #6 (permalink)
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That is really interesting. Thanks for posting

Regarding the Alpha roll
Quote:
If you observe closely with wolves or domesticated dogs, it is actually an appeasement ritual instigated by the SUBORDINATE wolf or dog
.
The subordinate offers his muzzle, and when the higher ranking wolf "pins" it, the lower ranking wolf voluntarily rolls and presents his belly. There is NO force. It is voluntary


I think they are making assumptions as well though. After saying the original Alpha theory was an assumption.

I have seen the alpha roll used by dogs in an aggressive way. For them to say there is no force in a alpha roll is wrong. There can be. As always there can be many reasons for these behaviors and this is why it is hard to make assumptions. Sometimes dogs just practice prey behaviors by chasing each other and pinning to the ground. Other times it is dominance and other times it is play. It really depends on the dogs and the situation.

One thing I think people fail to realize with the alpha roll is the position the dog ends up in, is the same position as when a pup feeds off it's mother and so this can be a relaxing position. It is like the recovery position for humans.



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Old 02-05-2014, 01:51 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Very interesting approach. I have always been skeptical of dominance theory. It seems that behavior seen in a specific sub species of grey wolf that were in large artificial packs gave birth to the dominance movement. In truth gray wolves are an extremely varied species and many sub species of the gray wolf have little to no heirarchy structure but function more akin to human families- Mom and Dad at the top and kids growing up and moving out of the 'home' when they find a partner.
I think in regards to training, some methods of dominance theory can be effective, but not for the reasons people may think. I don't think letting my dog walk ahead of me on the leash or eat first or lay on the bed will convince her she is the boss; but laying down consistent rules and boundaries to establish safe and polite dog behavior is always important. What I don't like is alpha rolling and the such and would never incorporate that in training. All in all operant conditioning seems to be the key.
Dogs recognize other dogs and recognize us as different. I think the dynamic that exists between human and dog is due to the fact that dogs are intelligent social predators and exhibit a degree of behavioral neonaty thus making them crave leadership and security; as well as a desire to please to maintain a good standing with their leader. That being said, dogs are smart complex animals capable of all kinds of mischievous behavior. Also, operant conditioning used incorrectly can reinforce negative behaviors.
Whats often labeled as dominant behavior is actually fear based, especially in aggression. Contrary to what you might think, wolves (hunting aside) are not particularly brave creatures. A coyote will walk up to you with all the cockiness in the world and demand your wallet and car keys. Wolves on the other hand seem to avoid unfamiliar things. I think dogs descend from a braver more curious subspecies of wolf and breeding has further eliminated some of that inherent cautiousness seen in wild wolves but poor breeding seems to in same cases produce weak nerved fearful dogs more akin to their wild counterparts.
Too me its all very complex and their is no unified theory on dog behavior. The history of dog domestication is still very murky and we dont know exactly what those first protodogs were like. (probably very similar to dingos) and how their social groups were organized. Also, there are certainly cases where a dog will really think he is the boss of the household which seems to suggest dominance can play somewhat into human dog dynamics
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Old 02-05-2014, 02:02 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MadLab View Post
That is really interesting. Thanks for posting

Regarding the Alpha roll


I think they are making assumptions as well though. After saying the original Alpha theory was an assumption.

I have seen the alpha roll used by dogs in an aggressive way. For them to say there is no force in a alpha roll is wrong. There can be. As always there can be many reasons for these behaviors and this is why it is hard to make assumptions. Sometimes dogs just practice prey behaviors by chasing each other and pinning to the ground. Other times it is dominance and other times it is play. It really depends on the dogs and the situation.

One thing I think people fail to realize with the alpha roll is the position the dog ends up in, is the same position as when a pup feeds off it's mother and so this can be a relaxing position. It is like the recovery position for humans.



[/FONT]
Ive seen the play counterpart to the roll between dogs and it seems very arbitrary as far as who is roller versus rollee and it doesnt have an impact of inter-dog dynamics. Its just play. I am sure that you are correct that at times it is one dog putting another 'in check' so to speak. I think dog behavior is a lot more complicated and static than people think. Among us humans, you will see a dad let his son pretend to beat up on him with closed fists, you will see two college buddies spar and shadow box, you will also see a drunk guy at a bar clock someone in the face for insulting him. So you can't make a blanket statement like "a human hitting another human with a closed fist is a sign of aggression and dominance" There are many reasons, some playful and some serious and sometimes even in between, as to why one human will hit another. I think the same is true with alpha rolls and such.

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Old 02-05-2014, 02:11 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MadLab View Post
That is really interesting. Thanks for posting

Regarding the Alpha roll


I think they are making assumptions as well though. After saying the original Alpha theory was an assumption.

I have seen the alpha roll used by dogs in an aggressive way. For them to say there is no force in a alpha roll is wrong. There can be. As always there can be many reasons for these behaviors and this is why it is hard to make assumptions. Sometimes dogs just practice prey behaviors by chasing each other and pinning to the ground. Other times it is dominance and other times it is play. It really depends on the dogs and the situation.

One thing I think people fail to realize with the alpha roll is the position the dog ends up in, is the same position as when a pup feeds off it's mother and so this can be a relaxing position. It is like the recovery position for humans.



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Ive seen it done forcefully too. Definitely not always an optional thing
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