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More a discussion, not a question. I'm actually fascinated by animal behaviour and it drives me nuts when people say 'there's no such thing as dominance' and 'dominance debunked' usually in conjunction with 'science says', when science says no such thing. I love science, or the scientific method, properly done, exploratory.
There is some fascinating studies in dominance (and not particularly useful for training, but for study, for nerds like me).
Found this one, Dominance in dogs as rated by owner I don't have multiple dogs, so I can't rate mine, but if you have multiple dogs, a good read, would love to hear your thoughts and observations.
Apologies in advance for my nerd-out, but yep, I'm a dog nerd, a sponge for any nerdilicious info I can find.
Mods, I did my best to drop this in the right forum, maybe chitchat, current affairs, behaviour? would have been better? Please swoosh if appropriate, I couldn't decide.
 

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Just you and me today,lol!Everyone is off doing holiday things I guess.I've had multiple dogs for the past twenty years and what I've seen is it depends on the situation/ activity on which dog takes charge.They each have specialties so it's always been rather fluid.We did have a blue heeler for a few years that was a wannabe,very pushy and perpetually tried to bully the others.The other dogs and me refused to allow it but the little rascal persisted.Ended up rehoming him to a couple with a small farm where he was an only dog.So I really have no experience with a dominant dog.
 

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I just glanced at the article and it looked like it was focused on disagreement as to what dominance is. True genetically dominate dogs are not that common and the concept of the alpha dog is largely a myth. Most issues of dominance arise with handlers who don't know how to raise and train a dog. Dominance is more about social interaction than aggression and is not automatically aggression. It is an urge to prove superiority and status/rank. In households where there is no leadership, many dogs will take on the role of the leader. This is learned dominance and different from genetic dominance. Both can lead to aggression because the dog wants to keep his rank. So,many dogs that show dominance in dysfunctional households would never show dominant behaviors if raised in a proper environment, whereas a genetically dominant dog will be dominant regardless or his environment. In the right hands with the right amount of dominance, the trait can bring power to bite work for police dogs or dogs in protection sports. In the wrong hands, it can and will become a major problem. In working breeds like GSDs, a genetically dominant dog that is too dominant is very challenging to train, no fun and a potential liability.
 

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I studied animal behaviour in university, and I can state with absolute confidence that any animals that live in a group have a well-defined 'pecking order' or dominance structure. Those that say there's no such thing as dominance in dogs are spouting B.S.

I remember watching a TV special about dogs, and it tried to debunk the dominance theory by showing a young pup humping a much older dog. The narrator said that if the dominance theory were true, the older dog wouldn't allow this.

What any dog owner who REALLY knows dogs would have told the narrator is a) puppies get a puppy pass until they are about a year old, and then the more mature dogs will start putting them in their place for this sort of behavior, and b) If you'd looked at the body language of the older dog, it was not at ALL submissive. He was standing very stiff, with his tail raised. You could almost read his thoughts: "Okay, you're just a pup, so I'm putting up with this!"

Edit: Chip makes an excellent point, which I should have mentioned. Many people equate aggression with dominance. That just isn't true. A dog's efforts to dominate another CAN lead to aggression and fighting, but often dominance is asserted in much more subtle ways, for example, the stiff posture of the older male dog that was being humped by the puppy. As he says, it's more about social interaction and determining rank, and truly dominant dogs are a rarity.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
OOOhhhh, talk nerdy to me... thank you.
The article is actually outlining a study of having owners rank their dogs, I'll have a reread tonight though. And, yes, it does acknowledge the very real confusion over definitions of dominance (which I think gets perpetuated through simplistic memes and slogans and trainer wars, and on).
Meanwhile, in real science, they study these things.
Not sure if it's in the article, or I read it elsewhere, but in dogs, assessing dominance through which animal submits the most frequently, which I find interesting.
I'll see if over days I can pull up more stuff. I've read (and forgotten where) dog studies of feral dog populations, very interesting, very nerdy.
Love reading your interpretations here, too. Awesome, Thankyou. I'm mondogamous so nothing from me. Just me and Sonic, and since I control all the goodies, including the car keys (powerful amulet that), it's very clear between me and he.
 

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@Sunsilver does all the 'sciencey' stuff frustrate you too? Because it drives me nuts. Science is awesome, but not when it's turned into dogma and avenues of inquiry get shut down. (sorry dogma username).
 

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There was a study done on feral packs of dogs a few years ago. The findings were that there was no "dominant" dog leading the pack. Social status was fluid. Any dog that was a bully was avoided and ostracized.

As far as my opinion and my understanding of "dominance" and a "dominant" dog, it's the same as Chip's so no sense repeating. I'll just add that a genetically dominant dog is a noun. it's in the dog. It's not a trait. It's not a behavior. It's the dog itself. They do not need humans and do not view humans as above them on the food chain. I have a female who is hard. I see her show traits of dominance in new places where there are other dogs but her interaction with our other dog is fluid and she does not show dominance towards us. If anything, she is very sensitive to my actions and tone.
 

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One thing I know...when people bring me a dog to board and tell me it's "dominant" ...what they really mean is it's aggressive or a bully.

And here is another thing that pops into my head--- we talk about dominance in "dogs" as if "dogs" were all basically one thing like other species but because of our influence over specific breeds, they are all so different! That has to be factored in. My lab is so different from my shepherds. I board goldens who run up to every kennel gate and go belly up in an attempt to be submissive friends with every other dog in the joint. So I really feel like breed influences behavior and it's hard to make straight up blanket statements about "dogs"

Social dynamics are fascinating. This is something I got from a guy at a seminar but he said that dogs adapt themselves to the "culture" of their household or greater group they are a part of. So people who believe in and enforce strict dominance hierarchies amongst their dogs may be actually seeing that partly because they have created it. And people who don't believe in any such thing will see a different "culture" in their own dogs depending on how they govern them so to speak. Very loosely paraphrased it was a couple years ago and I don't remember exactly what he said but I though it was very interesting. I totally believe it's possible.

In my experience, dogs have wildly varying degrees of
- confidence in any situation including greeting other dogs.
-skill in communicating with their own kind
-desire to associate or play with other dogs, appease or be peaceable with other dogs,
-sex hormones that influence behavior and posturing

and a whole host of other factors including how pent up they regularly are-- which influence how they act with a new dog, and most of it is heavily influenced by the people...so what does THAT say about the dog?

Interestingly to me especially b ecause of breed one of the dogs I board who I do feel is kind of "Dominant" is a female lab. Failed from a guide dog program for too much ball drive, she is very confident, mostly very aloof with other dogs, and my spidey sense tells me she could really throw down if it every came to it though she has never showed aggression or been in any scrap with any other dog here. I don't put dogs like that out with other same sex of same type, and dogs who are hot for balls like that I don't put out with any other dog who wants a toy that bad because I feel they are more likely to fight over something. The goldens tend to be submissive, the labs not so much more happy go lucky party kids-- but a few of the labs will really scrap if you pair them wrong and I think it goes against the breed standard to be scrappy.
 

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Can I throw leadership into the equation?

Dominance definition - power and influence over others
Leadership definition - the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. ... He or she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills that makes others want to follow his or her direction.
 

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@Sunsilver does all the 'sciencey' stuff frustrate you too? Because it drives me nuts. Science is awesome, but not when it's turned into dogma and avenues of inquiry get shut down. (sorry dogma username).
Islanddog, I'm trained in biological science, and taught it at the high school level, but yup, I am nodding my head here! Shutting down inquiry is COMPLETELY against the whole role of science, which is to ask questions about this world we live in!

Too many people turn the scientific method on its head: they try to tailor the facts to fit their pet theories, where real scientists try to develop theories to explain the facts!

Hierarchy in feral dogs may be fluid, but they do have territories. I remember an article about a guy who befriended a feral dog, and managed to persuade it to follow him out of its usual territory. The poor dog took a terrible beating from the dogs that had laid claim to the adjacent section of the city, and came close to being killed.
 

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Can I throw leadership into the equation?

Dominance definition - power and influence over others
Leadership definition - the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. ... He or she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills that makes others want to follow his or her direction.
This is a really interesting point. I've seen dogs wade into the dog park like they own the place and all dogs will automatically defer to them. This involves no posturing of any kind, no growling, no bullying. They just walk in there and boom, they're the leader for the next hour or so. If any dogs get too rowdy, they just walk over and the rowdiness dies down. It's pretty amazing.
 

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Sorry, I haven't read the article yet. But are you seeing people truly saying that there is no such thing as dominance? Because what I've seen is more about debunking the idea that every behavior issue is related to dominance, a la Cesar Milan. Dog doesn't obey? Dominant! Dog walks ahead of you instead of next to or behind you? Dominant! Your dog wants to lay on the furniture? Dominant!

Never mind that a dog that hasn't been properly trained or generalized in a variety of situations, including increased distractions, may not always obey because they don't fully understand what you expect. Never mind that a dog who hasn't been taught to walk on a loose leash is likely to pull ahead. Never mind that the couch is more comfortable than the floor, and also closer to his/her people.

Halo was a walk into everywhere like she owns the joint, and everything here is mine type of dog. But she wasn't a snot about it, and Keefer deferred to her more often than not without any fuss, even when she was 1/4 of his size. What was funny was when she was clearly humoring him. If she were human she'd be sporting a smirk, lol. Was she a dominant dog? I don't really think so. She was assertive and opinionated, but she also had great social skills. She never started anything with another dog but she wouldn't take any crap either.
 

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Here's one more thought. What is a "dog" without human influence. I know there are feral populations but is that even the "natural" state of a dog considering what a dog is is a domesticated k9

So the natural state of a dog is to live with humans.

Here is one thing though, I have seen intact males just do nothing but posturing at each other and rough play that is close to fighting and whether its rank or dominance or breeding rights they think they are competing for, I have gotten the sense from those interactions that its a contest of sorts.
 

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I think there is dominance. Most of it is between dogs though and not the dogs to people. Unfortunately, there is a LOT of dominance from people to dogs, or more, the crushing of supposed dominance in dogs by people.

I am not an animal behaviorist, but I have spent decades studying GSDs. If we think about dog packs or wolf packs in the wild, we consider the litter size of 4-7 puppies, and some of them die. Evenso, I try to take a common sense approach to how many dogs would be truly dominant.

There are dogs that are stuck being dominant. The other dog in the household is a total marshmallow, like an English Setter, and like it or not, the GSD takes the dominant dog position that is up for grabs. But in reality the dog is a middle of the road dog, and not a dominant dog at all. Back to the wolf pack. The dominant male and female are not fighting all the time. They need to maintain order, so that the pack is fit and healthy and can run down game. They do this by walking around like they are royalty, and a challenge to that is usually put down by a mere stare. It helps that the pack is generally derived by the sire and dam and half-grown pups. The next year, you have some older pups and baby pups. The following year, the oldest of the pups are either staying within the pack or they will build their own pack. In the natural order of things, a pack needs middle of the road dogs who will help in the hunt, and these will be the majority of the litter. Then you have the omega dogs, the ones left behind to babysit when everyone else goes hunting. They critters have a position in the pack, they are lowest on the totem pole, but they serve a purpose. Then you have the crazy ones, the wanna be alphas or beta dogs. These are the ones that are fighting each other, jockeying for position, and probably being banished or killed. These are the worst ones to have as a pet, I think. The true alpha doesn't show up all that often. I had one. One out of 30 some dogs in the past 15 years. An alpha bitch. She was wonderful. But she wasn't alpha to me at all. I'm a different species, and dogs know that.

Some crazy dogs try to push themselves over humans, maybe over the children in the family or over the wife. I don't think that is good character. Maybe with working dogs, you need or want a dog that refuses to be led by someone without a certain stature when it comes to power. These may be the dogs that are most likely to fight a truly threatening, combative human. I'll not comment on that.

For show line dogs though, I think people are way more likely to misdiagnose dominance in dogs and because of that handle the dogs poorly. Like the stubborn or defiant puppy -- dominant. Uh, no. Generally, the stubborn pup is unsure of what you want for them to do, poor communication, and is not confident enough to do anything that might be wrong. So they stop. And the more we treat them like a stubborn child, the more they are likely to be more confused, more "stubborn." Having realistic expectations for puppies and being in tune with them, the more you don't have symptoms of stubbornness. I don't have any stubborn dogs. But someone can take a dog of mine home, and find it to be stubborn. I have had trainers say that one of the bitch pups I sold a lady was stubborn and dominant. I got her back, and I found her to be easy to train, a people pleaser, and not wanting to do the wrong thing. Not dominant. If you tell people that 1% or .1% of dogs, one in a thousand dogs is a dominant dogs, they will believe that theirs is a dominant dog.
 

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I have always found dog on dog dominance to be a situational and fluid thing. My dog is one who will approach other dogs (in or out of a dog park) with that regal, in-command type posture, head and tail held high, shoulders hackled, forward posture.

She doesn't bully other dogs, but she doesn't do any appeasing behaviors with most dogs either. And aggression from another dog is usually met head on. But, I wouldn't call her a dominant dog.

What I have always thought of as dominance in a dog can be seen in ALL interactions with dogs or humans. A truly, genetically dominant dog will fight you for real if/when a human or another dog tries to "make" them do anything they don't agree with! They are not good pack mates, they cooperate only when THEY want to, which is probably why they don't occur frequently. In all my life I've only seen 2 that were IMHO truly dominant dogs.

The study cited by the OP here talks about dominance in the dog on dog relationship within a multidog household. Not really dominance (in my view, or my vocabulary) at all...
 

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Check out this video. Anywhere from 800 to 1200 dogs living, eating and playing together in relative harmony in what has become the largest, no-kill, dog sanctuary in the world.


Now that would be a great place to really study dominance, or the lack thereof...
 

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Discussion Starter #17
@Cassidy's Mom Yes, I used to belong to a number of force free training groups & forums, and yes, there was a pack mentality with a lot of 'dominance debunked!' posts, I'm sure most people parroting this had no clue what they were talking about, just repeating what they have heard. And pretty much a guaranteed pile-on if someone used the word pack (as in 'group of dogs')

I'm loving everyone's conversation here. I am noticing a focus on agonistic/aggressive/undesirable or disruptive dominance, with the more subtle peaceful positive leadership styles being listed as other than. Still need to find more studies, but who follows whom, who defers to whom, who yields more often, who copies the other. I noticed in the study I posted that they were seeing some correlations between dogs that looked to humans to copy the human behaviour, and dogs that looked to other dogs for guidance.

I'm more interested in the exploration aspect of the topic, than whether or not it informs some training choices, although, that too could be an interesting avenue to explore, but yes, I was/am always annoyed by science getting dumbed down to meme or statement.

PS. I gave up on those groups, may rejoin if I feel something new comes down the force free training pipe.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Age-grade Dominance Hierarchies
Some good stuff here, I will close read later, but a quick scrolls reveals,

Below is a paragraph that refers to was trying to refer (in my ham-fisted way) above, (and I have some long form nerdy reading to do later)

So, although a portion of the existing literature emphasizes the role of dominance in competitive interactions, it is now clear that dominance can be expressed also in the context of social bonding (de Waal 1986). For instance, it has been argued that some highly social primates and carnivores have evolved so-called “formal submissive gestures” that communicate unambiguously the acceptance of subordinate status, thus facilitating the development of an affiliative relationship between dominant and subordinate individuals and reducing damaging aggression during conflicts (de Waal 1986; van Hooff and Wensing 1987; East and Hofer 2010; Cafazzo et al. 2010; Trisko and Smuts 2015). To be regarded as a formal indicator of social status, a submissive behavior should be nearly unidirectional within a given dyad (being expressed almost always by the same dyad member) and expressed also in affiliative contexts such as greeting; moreover, its directionality should be both independent of the social context and correlated with that of submissive gestures expressed in agonistic contexts (de Waal and Luttrell 1985; de Waal 1986; Preuschoft 1999). Species exhibiting formalized dominance relationships can still differ with respect to their “dominance style”, which is related to the degree of social tolerance displayed by dominant animals towards subordinates, that is, the degree to which dominant animals withhold punishment when subordinates exert a dominant attitude (Flack and de Waal 2004; Cooper and Bernstein 2008). For example, in primates with a “despotic dominance style” hierarchies are enforced through severe aggression and dominance reversals (e.g., aggression directed by subordinates to dominants) are very rare, whereas in primates with a “tolerant dominance style” aggression is mild, dominance reversals are more frequent, relationships are more often unresolved (i.e., in some dyads no clear dominant individual emerges), and levels of affiliation and cooperation are higher. In primates with a “relaxed” and “egalitarian style” social tolerance is even higher and most social relationships are unresolved (Sterck et al. 1997; Flack and de Waal 2004; Thierry 2008; Thierry et al. 2008; Balasubramaniam et al. 2012). More generally, in behavioral ecology, a despotic dominance style has been also associated with a stronger fitness bias in favor of the dominant members of a social group (Vehrencamp 1983). However, up to now few studies have tested the correlation between behavioral measures of despotism/tolerance and degree of reproductive skew, despite the fact that measures of hierarchy steepness have been designed for this specific purpose (e.g., de Vries et al. 2006).
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Check out this video. Anywhere from 800 to 1200 dogs living, eating and playing together in relative harmony in what has become the largest, no-kill, dog sanctuary in the world.
Now that would be a great place to really study dominance, or the lack thereof...
Video from a santuary like that would be a goldmine of dog behaviour. Love it. Also, I now own a dog from a free-range dog population, and am extra extra fascinated by such dogs and how they interact. Thank you.
From my own dog (and watching video's of the rescue--they have a group intake compound where all the dogs run together) feral & free-range dogs are MUCH more subtle in communication than your average leashed dog walking down the street.
Most people won't even see the signals that dogs give and receive peacefully. An actual aggressive display is tip of the iceberg stuff, a failure of dog dog communication, and a failure of conflict resolution. Much can be accomplished by a sniff, a slight movement in face muscles, slight movement in body.
So, thanks for the video link.
 

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Just some observations from my pack, all intact. I like to watch with minimal interference. I consider my oldest male to be a dominant dog, not an alpha dominant, but definitely an inherent trait of who he is. Not sure if some of this stuff is dominance related or something entirely different but people might find it interesting.

He doesn't really care to perform for me but thrives on working with me as a partner. He has no problem in letting it be known that he is not going to take an unfair correction. He is social on his terms but is what I perceive to be a socially aggressive dog.

And then there is his harem! Little, blushing school girls vying for his attention. Subservient, appeasing, thrilled at being in his presence. The one bitch is super possessive and I have to watch her for serious dog fights when out with the other males, but not with him. He can have anything he wants from her. Not that he takes it but she offers to share all with him. I don't breed so when the girls come into heat, they only have eyes for him and reject all other males until the tail end of their fertile cycle then they will seek out and flirt with the other males.

The big male is not one for nuisance barking. When he barks, it warrants checking out. When he barks his serious bark, the other dogs remain silent.

Then you have the puppies. When he barks, the puppies that retreat (not run) tend to grow up softer. The puppies that carry on with what they were doing or pause to look up from what they are doing tend to be on the more dominant end of the spectrum as adults. Lastly, are the Mal pups. When the big dog barks, they rush up and join in the barking. Their barking is part excitement but has serious undertones. They become very intense. I am watching to see how this develops.
 
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