Dog Training and the “D” Word

I'll start with the bottom line. I don't use the word "dominance" when talking to people about training their dogs. There's just no profit in it. Even given that dominance is about "priority access" and "social freedom," but not about how to get it, I still see nothing but the potential for confusion and misuse. Given that in general parlance dominance means "total control," and that it is so often it is equated with force (completely inappropriately), I avoid the term as if it were toxic.  Which is exactly what I think it can be in this context. Look at all the absurd uses of the concept sent in by readers. "Expressions of dominance" include: A dog sitting with its back to you, forging in front on walks, jumping up on people, pulling washing off of a clothes line (one of my personal Read More

Dogs & “Dominance” –What’s a Person to Do?

If you've been following the bouncing ball, we've been talking about how the concept of "dominance" and social status may or may not relate to dog behavior. Now I'd like to summarize a bit and discuss how we might handle conflict between dogs within the household. After all, whether you buy into it or not in relation to dogs, the proper use of the term "dominance" is as a form of conflict resolution. First, some comments of my own in relation to your excellent additions to this inquiry: WHO CARES? A few of you mentioned that you don't care about labels, and so why waste time worrying about what to call a behavior? Why not just reinforce what you like and train out what you don't? I can see the logic here, but as a few others mentioned in the comments, I just can't leave it at that. I am Read More

The “D word” and Social Relationships in Dogs

Last week I wrote about that ever-so-controversial word, "dominance," and how it might or might not relate to dog behavior and dog training. To refresh: In animal behavior, dominance refers only to "priority access to a limited resource," has little to do with controlling the actions of another in any other context, is highly dependent on context and the distribution of resources and is maintained by species-specific displays that act to avoid conflict rather than create it. In decades past, it was assumed that classic dominance hierarchies existed in domestic dogs. After all, drop a pork chop between two hungry dogs and in short order, one of them is going to get it more often than not. Dogs greet one other in classic "dominance/submission" displays of ears up/tail up versus ears Read More

The Concept Formerly Described as “Dominance”

Ah, here I go into the fray. Picture my loins girded. In some ways I'd love to avoid this topic altogether, because as most of you know, conversations about "the D word" can sometimes turn into arguments that make the American health care debate seem like a day at the spa. (I was going to say "like a tea party," but then . . . )  But I think the issue is important, and deserves consideration. So EEEEE HAH! here we go. This post will only be a beginning, because the topic of "dominance" and social relationships is actually a big one, and I'd like to facilitate a thoughtful, meaningful discussion about it in dogs. As you all know, some people think that just about all of our problems with dogs relate to "dominance" and advise owners to "be the alpha dog." At the other end of the spectrum, Read More

Starting from the Beginning

I'm just back from participating in grant reviews for NIH (Nat'l Institute of Health), and what a process it was. 36 people, from all over the country and a vast range of fields, were charged with reviewing a large number of grant proposals for scientific merit. The proposals were administered through the Nat'l Institute of Child Health and Development and related to Human/Animal Interactions. I can't tell you anymore about the grants themselves, or they'll shoot out my kneecaps. Well, probably not, but the absolute hardest part of the process is that we all pledged to keep virtually any information about the proposals themselves completely confidential.  That means never, ever talking about them to anyone, ever, outside of our two days of meetings in Washington, D.C. As the Scientific Read More