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What Role Does Dominance Play In Our Dogs

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Dr. James C. Ha, Ph.D., CAAB is a professor of applied animal behavior at the University of WA and a certified applied animal behavior with over 30 years of experience in animal behavior teaching, research, consulting, and expert witness services.

What role does dominance play in our dogs?

Dominance applies to domesticated dogs because virtually all species of animals have to have some way to manage limited resources. The first thing to remember is that dominance is only going to happen when there is a limited resource.  So in domestic dogs, in our pets, there are very rarely limited resources. They have plenty of food; they have plenty of attention, they have plenty of resources of resources that they need. So there is no need for dominance.

Do dogs show dominance?

Many dogs who are diagnosed as being dominant, are just untrained and unruly. The problem with assigning dominance to every training case is that you could be missing out on a bigger issue like anxiety, illness or just inappropriate behavior.

Here is a fantastic example from Dr. Sophia Yin “…there’s the case of my naughty Jack Russell Terrier, Jonesy. When I first got him at eight months of age and introduced him to my parent’s Scottie Maggie and my Australian Cattle Dog Zoe, he immediately tried to mount them. … If Jonesy, who was already neutered, were trying to establish high dominance rank, then when the others snapped at him to go away, he would have fought back. What he did instead was to bounce around and play bow. His mounting behavior was inappropriate to play behavior. … So the trait he was exhibiting was that he was socially inept.”

Many behaviors that in the past have been diagnosed as dominant behaviors, (walking ahead, getting on furniture, and mouthing) we now know have nothing to do with your dog trying to dominate you.