When I talk to dog parents, I often hear them say that their dog is the alpha and they want to assert dominance to bring their dog in control.
I would like to start off by saying that dominance in dogs is largely misunderstood. In this post, I would like to shed some light on dominance in dogs helping you to find out if you need to be the alpha to train your dog.
According to Clive Wynne, dominance exist in dogs. However, how dominance plays amongst dogs turns out to be different from how dominance plays with dogs when they live with humans.
In one study, when a single bone was given to a similarly raised pair of wolves, the subordinate wolf fed on the bone almost as much as the dominant one. When a single bone was given to a similarly raised pair of dogs, only the dominant one fed on the bone.
According to Wynne, the observed difference is because wolves being hunters look out for cooperation from the pack. Dogs, being scavengers, appear as competition when there is a scarcity of resource.
Wynne also states that humans occupy a position of super dominance controlling most of the dog’s resources including their basic needs — food, toys, bedding, humans even decide where dogs relieve. Dogs have no choice but to exhibit deference in this setting.
Before you feel bad about the fact, note that in dog — human relationships, the super dominant human almost generously shares the resources with dogs making them happy and not wanting to fight for resources. Dogs do realize that humans are higher in hierarchy and they would be happy to take a subordinate role as long as their needs are met.
Simply put, there is no such thing as the alpha dog in a dog — human relationship.
Wynne cites studies that indicate that how dogs communicate hierarchy among each other can also be observed in dog — human relationships.
In dogs, the subordinate members will often pass their head under the chin of dominant members. The subordinate members exhibit deference by licking the corners of the mouths of dominate members. These behaviors are reflected with pet households as well. However, dog parents see these as the need for petting and kisses from their pups.
The takeaway from the study is that whether we like it or not, humans are “super dominant”. We, humans, need to be responsible being a dominant individual, treat our dogs with kindness. Wynne suggests to train dogs using positive reinforcement associating desired actions with rewards.