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The D-word

Ever wondered about the term Alpha Dog? Alpha Female? Has anyone ever described your dog as Dominant?


Dominance may be something that the dog does, but it is not what he is.


Behaviour is fluid and context specific. It may be true that a dog becomes more likely to exhibit behaviour that can be classified as dominant, because his learning history has shown him that these behaviours are either necessary for his “survival” and they have worked well for him either to keep something he valued or gain something he wanted. Dogs may display “dominant” behaviour towards other dogs over resources such as food, toys, affection of their caregivers and space.


Because these behaviours take place in an ever-shifting landscape it does not mean that a dog who seeks to control space in one setting will do the same in another. For example if a dog is seeking to hold the resource of a comfy bed and driving the other dogs away from it, that dominant behaviour *may* be altered or diminished by simply providing 1 comfy bed per dog.


Similarly if a dog is driving others away from food, the dogs can simply be fed separately. Dogs are opportunistic scavengers and many don't do well being fed in close proximity to others, in domestic settings.


Ethologist Dr. Marc Bekoff says that all animals form dominant relationships. But this doesn't mean they fight a lot or are aggressive. It just means that they seek to influence others in order to keep or gain things they find appetitive (something they want to gain or keep)

In his blog for Psychology Today (2019) “ Dominance In Dogs: Owners Reports are Scientifically Valid" Marc writes:


“In ethology, the word dominance is used to describe the long-term social relationships between individuals belonging to a group, which is established through force, aggression, and submission, and serves to determine priority access to resources (such as food, mates, and preferred resting places). The consistent winner is referred to as the dominant, and the loser the subordinate. Once the relationship has been established, the subordinate offers submission behaviors, such as licking the mouth of the dominant. There is typically no longer a need for the dominant to use force or aggression, and thus the potential for conflict is reduced, which is very advantageous for a group.”


We are very used to the D word being thrown around when it comes to dogs, and with horses too. With both horses and dogs, the D word is used as justification for the use of punitive training methods such as Alpha roll, choking, shocking, bonking in dogs and round penning or hobbling in horses but we very seldom hear people describe the behaviour of cats or rabbits or mice or reptiles as dominant.



Dogs and Horses both have a very clear role in terms of what we are conditioned to believe that they should be to us. Dogs are supposed to be man's best friend and biddable servant.

Both species are vechiles for our pleasure in different ways, so we don't want either of these species to “step out of line” lest they might inconvenience or harm us. Perhaps this is why we have been so ready to subscribe to these notions of dominance in our companion animals. It says more about us than it does about them! Thank goodness there is change afoot.


This group and it's admins are an important part of that change, that IS in motion in Egypt. For that we can all be grateful.




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