Using 'dominance' to explain dog behavior is old hat

May 21, 2009
Using 'dominance' to explain dog behavior is old hat

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study shows how the behaviour of dogs has been misunderstood for generations: in fact using misplaced ideas about dog behaviour and training is likely to cause rather than cure unwanted behaviour. The findings challenge many of the dominance related interpretations of behaviour and training techniques suggested by current TV dog trainers.

Contrary to popular belief, aggressive dogs are NOT trying to assert their dominance over their canine or human "pack", according to research published by academics at the University of Bristol's Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Clinical Applications and Research.

The researchers spent six months studying freely interacting at a Dogs Trust rehoming centre, and reanalysing data from studies of feral dogs, before concluding that individual relationships between dogs are learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert "dominance".

The paper "Dominance in domestic dogs - useful construct or ?" reveals that dogs are not motivated by maintaining their place in the pecking order of their pack, as many well-known dog trainers preach.

Far from being helpful, the academics say, training approaches aimed at "dominance reduction" vary from being worthless in treatment to being actually dangerous and likely to make behaviours worse.

Instructing owners to eat before their dog or go through doors first will not influence the dog's overall perception of the relationship - merely teach them what to expect in these specific situations. Much worse, techniques such as pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing jowls, or blasting hooters at dogs will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression.

Dr Rachel Casey, Senior Lecturer in Companion and Welfare at Bristol University, said: "The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous. It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs. It also leads to the use of coercive training techniques, which compromise welfare, and actually cause problem behaviours.

"In our referral clinic we very often see dogs which have learnt to show aggression to avoid anticipated punishment. Owners are often horrified when we explain that their dog is terrified of them, and is showing aggression because of the techniques they have used - but its not their fault when they have been advised to do so, or watched unqualified 'behaviourists' recommending such techniques on TV."

At Dogs Trust, the UK's largest dog welfare charity, rehoming centre staff see the results of misguided dog training all the time. Veterinary Director Chris Laurence MBE, added: "We can tell when a dog comes in to us which has been subjected to the 'dominance reduction technique' so beloved of TV dog trainers. They can be very fearful, which can lead to aggression towards people.

"Sadly, many techniques used to teach a dog that his owner is leader of the pack is counter-productive; you won't get a better behaved dog, but you will either end up with a dog so fearful it has suppressed all its natural behaviours and will just do nothing, or one so aggressive it's dangerous to be around."

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/15587878

Source: University of Bristol (news : web)

Explore further: Study shows sharks have personalities

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

If you're aggressive, your dog will be too, study

Feb 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a new, year-long University of Pennsylvania survey of dog owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to train aggressive pets, veterinary researchers have found that most of these animals will ...

Computer savvy canines

Nov 28, 2007

Like us, our canine friends are able to form abstract concepts. Friederike Range and colleagues from the University of Vienna in Austria have shown for the first time that dogs can classify complex color photographs and ...

Penn State studies storm-phobic canines

Dec 15, 2005

Penn State University researchers have determined pet owners can't resolve storm phobia in their dogs, but having a multi-dog home may reduce stress.

Dog 'laugh' silences other dogs

Dec 05, 2005

Washington state researchers report discovering what might be the sound of dog laughter. The scientists say the long, loud pant they recorded has a calming or soothing effect on the behavior of other dogs, ABC News reported.

Dogs are aggressive if they are trained badly

Apr 24, 2009

Many dogs are put down or abandoned due to their violent nature, but contrary to popular belief, breed has little to do with a dog's aggressive behaviour compared to all the owner-dependant factors. This is ...

Recommended for you

Study shows sharks have personalities

12 hours ago

Some sharks are 'gregarious' and have strong social connections, whilst others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous, according to a new study which is the first to show that the notorious ...

Genetic secrets of the monarch butterfly revealed

18 hours ago

The monarch butterfly is one of the most iconic insects in the world, best known for its distinct orange and black wings and a spectacular annual mass migration across North America. However, little has been ...

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jonnyboy
1.6 / 5 (8) May 21, 2009
Obviously none of these researchers bothered to even watch an episode of Dog Whisperer before they published this ridiculous study.

Pretty clearly these guys saw what they wanted to see not what was happening.
vika_Tae
3.7 / 5 (3) May 21, 2009
Its been my experience that dog whisperer experts are largely useless.
MenaceSan
4.3 / 5 (6) May 21, 2009
I didn't actually hear any useful advice here. I only heard "everything you know is wrong". ok. so now what ?
spacester
4.3 / 5 (3) May 21, 2009
Of course not every dog wants to dominate - who ever said that?

What every dog wants, among many other things, is to know their place in the pack: the security of a sense of belonging and value.

Placing a dog's behavior in the context of pack dynamics is what I've always heard from dog experts as being effective.

Actually, what dogs REALLY want is to talk like we can.

There are no bad dogs, just bad owners.
Nan2
5 / 5 (3) May 22, 2009
The relationships between humans and dogs have changed dramatically over the last 150 years, beginning in the Victorian Era when breeding dogs became faddish among the elite. Dogs and humans have very complex relationships, some which are not well understood and affect well being of both the animal and the human. Breeding techniques are more likely to blame for some overly aggressive canine behaviors in my opinion. Also to blame is lack of respect for the different needs of this animal over our own.

What dogs need and want is a trusting relationship with their humans as well as a sense of purpose within its family. Mostly, dogs just wanna play! This world would be joyless without these nonjudgmental companions for those of us who have developed a relationship based on trust.

What humans could learn from dogs is how to wag more and bark less! ;-)
komone
1 / 5 (2) May 22, 2009
I can only assume that Chris Laurence is a better "dog whisperer" than Cesar Millan -- maybe he should have a TV series and set the record straight (or, more likely, get bitten on film because he's full of bs).
Doggonit
not rated yet May 22, 2009
It is about time we debunked the old dominant dog behavior theories and the training methods based on them. It is just BS.

In stead of using Cesar Millan and his bastardization of the "whisperer" idea why not use some training methods based more on science? You know science, the study of facts. Try the approach of people like Ian Dunbar, Karen Pryor and Jean Donladson. You and your dog will be much better off.
komone
not rated yet May 22, 2009
Hmm, doggonit! Science is about evidence not facts - it's not possible to prove something as an absolute fact but it is possible to bring sufficient evidence to be confident that your current model of the world is the best to believe at the present time (until you find a better model that fits the evidence better).
Doggonit
not rated yet Jun 03, 2009
kormone, Not so! Science is about studying objective reality. Evidence is merely a building block in the methodology. You are confusing process with purpose.

In-any-case what is your argument at is relates to this article?