Dominance theory has been around for a while, mainly since the mid-1930’s when Schjelderup-Ebbe studied the hierarchical order of domestic chickens; although it gained notoriety after studies in the 1940’s to the 1970’s with captive wolves. This meant that dogs’ behaviours tended to be interpreted in a hierarchical way for a very long time.
It was therefore believed that aggressive behaviours simply meant that dogs were trying to be dominant and climb the social structure of their pack. However, this theory has since proven problematic and outdated in regards to its ideas – meaning it’s a theory that can ultimately be damaging to your dog.
Why Dominance Theory Shouldn’t Be Applied
Seeing human-dog relationships in terms of social dominance implies this relationship is adversarial. It means that cooperation between the two is difficult and even incompatible with their natures – the effective bond that is known to occur between puppies and their owners is, according to this theory, tricky, which clearly isn’t true in real-life cases. In reality, it’s dominance theory that can be harmful to the bond between a human and his dog.
The theory is also a rather simplistic view of these complex animals, and it doesn’t do them justice, especially because it doesn’t take into consideration what aggression in dogs really means. Dogs tend to act this way not because they want to show their dominance over other animals or even over their owner, but because they feel frustrated, confused, scared, anxious and much more. The list of emotions that can be attributed to a puppy’s aggressive behaviour is vast, and can’t be condensed and placed under the banner of ‘seeking social status’.
How Dominance Theory Can be Detrimental
At best, this theory is unhelpful and, at worst, prejudicial, because relying on dominance principles can lead to a failure in regards to training. It prevents owners from understanding their dogs’ behaviours too, such as why your dog loves to lick you, which results in unhappiness between the two.
A simple behavioural issue can become a serious hurdle, and opting to follow this theory can’t help you get to the core of why your dog does the things he does. Behaviour tends to be driven by positive reinforcers, not by getting distracted by notions of dominance and submission.
Dominance theory has been carried out by many trainers around the world, and despite how well-meaning they are they’re still perpetuating unhelpful ideas. If you want to learn more about training your puppy, you can talk to us and we’ll do our best to answer any questions you might have.
We ensure that our training lessons are led by positive interactions that promote healthy and happy behaviours in your dog, so that the relationship between the two of you flourishes.