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Where Did The Concepts Of Dominance Come From

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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.

Where did dominance theory come from?

There was a lot of research that was done in the 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s of wolves in the wild. The whole development of the field of ethology, of people going out and living with wolves and studying the animals in the wild and learning about pack structure and all the body language signals and dominance and submission. And then people took this idea, well dogs are descended from wolves they are closely most closely related evolutionary to wolves, and that means that they must be just like the wolves.

It was an over extension, over generalization, of fascinating information that we learned about wolves some decades ago, and it just stuck around forever.


Why did dominance training start?

The paper that is usually referred to when talking about dominance was published in Schenkel’s 1947 “Expressions Studies on Wolves.”  Then in 1978, the Monks of New Skete popularized the “Alpha-Wolf Roll-Over” (now shortened to the alpha roll). Most people (include some popular TV personalities) attribute their training to the Monk’s training philosophy. The techniques were also popular in the military setting.

Fast forward to now, we have a better understanding and the means to decode canine behavior. We now know a lot more about genetic makeup and relationship between wolves and dogs. They are not the same species and thus don’t participate in the same behaviors and hierarchies within the group. Plus we have better equipment to study wolves in a NATURAL habitat, giving a better look at why they do what they do.

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, CDBC reminds us that “We are not dogs!” therefore we should not try to act like dogs – we have built a human/dog relationship that has outlasted the test of time!