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.
Why is the dominance theory so popular?
One of the reasons that I think the concept of dominance in dogs and being dominant over your dog and so on is very popular and very persistent is that we are primates. And in primate societies, the whole social position and the social hierarchies are very important. And as humans, you know about the corporate hierarchies and the whole pass the buck down the line. That is social structure. That is dominance and submission. We use those concepts in our lives, and therefore we try to extend it to our dogs, and it is not appropriate.
Do we participate in social hierarchies and dominance behaviors?
Dominance theories make sense to us because of we, as human beings, engage in them ourselves. We have hierarchies in families and work situations. We all answer to a boss, who then answers to his boss, and so it goes. Even in our relationships, we have the more dominant partner who makes most of the last decisions.
I think that because this is how we are, we project that on our dogs. The real concern isn’t “does my dog try to dominate me?” but ” I need to be in charge at all times!” Those are two different things and should not be confused. If you have the need to be the “pack leader” do not take that out on your dog in ways like rolling your dog over or pinching him. Instead, form some rules or do agility where you tell your dog what to do.