Monday, July 13, 2009

On That Note: Dominate This

I have thought about writing this post for about a bajillion years, but every time I go to write it, I think to myself, "Well, themacinator, doesn't EVERYONE know this by now? I mean, really?" And then I feel stupid. Even more stupid because who else calls themselves by their blog name? Yeah.

So, dominance theory is like so 50 years ago. Until Mr I-Can't-Say-His-Name-Makes-A-Billion-Dollars-A-Year-So-He-Can't-Really-Be-A-Dog-Trainer came around and popularized it again.

I'll start with the science. In May, Science Daily put up this short review of an article published by the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences in the Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. I mean, could it get better than that (it did- they also mentioned the TV-Trainer-Whose-Name-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned without mentioning his name!)? Short version: NLIF doesn't do much, and trying to pin everything on dominance and answer aggression with aggression is dangerous. This is why I haven't posted this before: it seems so obvious to me, but I guess it's not. (Another summary of the same article.) There's another short article by Patricia McConnell that talks about science.

Here's another explanation, a little less scientific (and a little less pleasing- the Trainer-I-Won't-Mention's name is mentioned a little more explicitly): dominance is related to pack theory, and pack theory is old fashioned. I love the part about submission vs. dominance: If you've actually seen dogs interact- just stood back and watched- you'll see how little dominating actually takes place. There's a some posturing, a lot of flirting, and even more grovelling. I'll find a video if I can some other time, but look for lip licking, play bowing, flinging onto backs, etc. I dare you to really see one dog "roll" another. Good luck! I'll buy you a beer. There are some other awesome links on that page- highly recommended by this blogger.

This position paper on the usage of dominance theory in behavior mod from the American Veterinarian Society of Animal Behavior is pretty clear cut:
"Overall, the use of dominance theory to understand human-animal interactions leads to an antagonist relationship between owners and their pets. The AVSAB emphasizes that the standard of care for veterinarians specializing in behavior is that dominance theory should not be used as a general guide for behavior modification. Instead, the AVSAB emphasizes that behavior modification and training should focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors, avoiding the reinforcement of undesirable behaviors, and striving to address the underlying emotional state and motivations, including medical and genetic factors, that are driving the undesirable behavior."

Please note the awesome myths section, and the way this brief article spells out the problems with the dominance theory and gives much better alternatives. (Please also note the lack of references to My-Least-Favorite-"Trainer".)

I can find many, many more articles about this. Every day I hear people who should be in the know describe dogs as "dominant." Sometimes this is used as a reason to sign off a dog. The dog may not be adoptable, but I really really hate putting a dog to sleep because it's dominant. Staring at a person does not make a dog dominant. Jumping on him does not make him dominant. Rudeness is not dominance. Even behavior with other dogs that includes "dominance" does not make the dog "dominant." I prefer words like "undersocialized,""low tolerance levels" "high arousal levels," etc. Most of us in the field have seen true dominance aggression once or twice. I am wracking my brain right now to remember the dog I saw last year who really made me think "Wow, is this dominance?" It was just who he was. He was very "doggy" as I remember- an unneutered male, not particularly social, and very into having all resources be his, including whatever humans were in the area. I see a lot of dogs. I don't see a lot of dominance. I don't see any need to dominate the dogs that I see.

I'm going to bed now. Mac's coming on the bed with me. If you don't hear from themacinator for awhile it's because Mac dominated me and I died. Don't call the police, call the Tv-Dog-Trainer-Who-I-Hold-Personally-Responsible-For-This-Crap.


Sarah said...


Seriously, why is it so hard to accept that a dog is behaving badly because he hasn't been taught otherwise? Why are people obsessed with finding deep, dark motives for normal dog behavior?

My favorte (not!) is when a sweet, loving, deferential dog gets labeled as dominant for sitting on a foot or putting a paw up on someone.

Deborah Flick said...

Yeah! And, I too am perplexed. Why, in the face of SO much evidence to the contrary, are so many people attracted to dominance this and alpha that. Does CM and the masterful job he has done in branding himself-- which in my opinion is all he is, a brand not a dog behaviorist or whatever he calls himself--explain this phenomenon? I'm thinking on it.

themacinator said...

i know, right sarah? as you know, mac is a foot sitter. one of the first months i had mac, he sat on someone's foot. he always sits on feet, but this someone told me he was dominant. i didn't argue- i didn't know as much 7+ years ago, but i thought long and hard, because mac's next move was to roll over and submissive pee. mac did a lot of submissive peeing for about 3 years. that's a really dominant dog.... he still sits on feet, but he doesn't pee any more. i'm guessing he must have converted to a *truly* dominant dog?

deborah- i love your blog- just subscribed! glad you found it here and liked my post!