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."
Bekoff, M. “Social Dominance Is Not a Myth: Wolves, Dogs, and Other Animals,” Animal Emotions (blog), Psychology Today, 2/15/2012. Bradshaw, J.W.S., and H.M.R. Nott. 1995. “Social and Communication Behaviour of Companion Dogs,” in The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People, ed. J. Serpell (New York: Cambridge University Press), 115–130.
Cafazzo, S., et al. 2010. Dominance in relation to age, sex, and competitive contexts in a group of free-ranging domestic dogs. Behavioral Ecology 21 (3): 443–455.
Drews, C. 1993. The concept and definition of dominance in animal behaviour. Behaviour 125 (3/4): 283–313.
Herron, M.E., et al. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117 (1/2): 47–54.
Kelley, L. C., “Deconstructing the Concept of Dom-inance: Should We Revive the Concept of Dominance in Dogs?” My Puppy, My Self (blog), Psychology Today, 2/8/2012, emended 2/20/12.
O’Heare, J. 2007. Social dominance: Useful construct or quagmire? J. of Applied Companion Animal Behavior 1 (1): 56–83.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.
Photographs by Eric Isselée. Illustration by Tim Carpenter.