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The "D" Word: Dominance


When it comes to the issue of dominance, common ground is not easy to find. Few would dispute the need for further research, though even the most carefully designed studies may not be enough to bring agreement on this particular subject. As Bekoff has noted, “People get on this kick with dominance. They don’t pay attention to the data.”

Arguments about dominance and its relevance to dogs, their relationships with each other, and our relationships with them are sure to continue. Though I prefer resolution to conflict, I can’t help but see the wisdom in moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert’s remark: “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it."



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 71: Sep/Oct 2012

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photographs by Eric Isselée. Illustration by Tim Carpenter.

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Submitted by Kat | October 10 2012 |

Dominance, in popular parlance, has come to mean physical dominance of dogs rather than status or leadership. I live with a high status dog and I've learned a lot watching his interactions with other dogs. He is invariably greeted by other dogs with submissive behaviors, muzzle licks, genital licks, belly displays, crouches, etc. He simply accepts these as his due. He doesn't force the other dogs to show him deference he just receives it. He doesn't engage in behaviors designed to get this deference he's simply calm, confident and assumes he's in charge and the other dogs agree. In our house I have more status than he does just because I'm the human and control all the resources but I never use force or artificial behaviors such as insisting that I go through doors before him. It's just the way it is and we both accept that. I have a wonderful dog with fabulous manners. He's the envy of my friends. I can only imagine how dreadful the relationship would be if I tried to "dominate" him in the way it is generally understood by the public.

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