Wednesday, 10 April 2013

DOMINANCE: TRUE OR FALSE?






Miya – My Northern Inuit.


For more than 14’000 years dogs have been living with man. For the most part it has been a harmonious coexistence. In fact it has been the most successful multi species integration of any other type. From even those early encounters when wolves first ventured into the camp fires of men, we have struggled to fully understand and communicate with them. We still dont really know what they are thinking. We have however made some assumptions of what they are communicating through their behaviours. This study looks at how those assumptions have gone through an incarnation of understanding what really motivates the wolf in our living room.

I work for what is now a small to medium sized manufacturing company as the Operations Manager. I have been with the company now for approxiamtely five years. The company has been in existence for more than 60 years and in its heyday employed something like 2000 people. Now the company employs just over 50. Of those 50 people, around 30 of them have been with the company for around 25 years or more, mostly on the shop floor. When I came into the company I learned that the culture and the way we did things was very much steeped in the past. The way it was when the company was 2000 members strong. But times have changed, methods of work has changed and attitudes to work have changed. Part of my job then was to challenge the culture and practises that were going on in the company to see if they were still applicable to todays market and environment. In most cases I found it wasn’t, and embarked on a process of bringing upto date the skills and attitudes of the workforce to more modern thinking. It wasn’t an easy task taking the people concerned with me. Prof. Ray Coppingher says “Learning is best done by challenging the old methodoligies”.
When I started out training  my first dog (More than 10 years ago), I went to the local training school and there I learned how to train my dog in the ‘traditional’ way. It was there and then I learned how to ‘dominate’ my dog and show him ‘who was pack leader’. I was taught how to grab him either side of his head about the neck and give him a ‘good shake’, and say ‘NO’ in a really stern and loud voice if he dared break his stay. Which by the way was only the second time I had asked him to perform such a behaviour. The very first time I was told how to make him sit went something like this. “Ok, give your dog the command ‘sit’, then place your left hand on top of the dogs back side and shove him down into the sit position”. “Then tell him he’s a good boy”.  Seemed reasonable to me at the time. Little did I know then. This method of ‘shaking’ him and forcing into either a sit or lie position was, I was told, how to “show the dog who was boss”. Unfortunately it took me six years to learn that this ‘dominance’ theory was not what it was cracked up to be, and actually there was a different more kind way to teach my dog. More importantly this ‘new’ method of training was based around how the dog thinks and reacts to its environment and its basic needs, which surely has to be a more productive method of training. Thankfully my dog, Ben, was very forgiving and did not hold a grudge and we now have a very happy outlook to training, and he shows real excitment when i bring out the clicker. Today there are still clubs out there that train the traditional domince theory methods of training. But why do these clubs still insist on training this way and where does this notion of dominance come from?

According to Barry Eaton in his book “Dominance in Dogs”, Dominance theory comes about from the following steps.

1.      Wolf social structure is entirely explained by a linear dominace hierarchy in which there is a constant battle to be alpha dog and dominate the rest of the pack.
2.      Domestic dogs are descended from wolves so the same must apply to them.
3.      Domestic dogs are trying to dominate us.
4.      We should issue a preemptive strike and dominate dogs by enforcing strict rules harshly.

Lets look at number one from the list above. This idea of a linear hierarchy producing the ‘Alpha wolf’ came from studies published by Rudolph Schenkel a prominent Swiss Biologist and Behaviourist. These studies were based on a population of captive wolves in the 1930’s and 1940’s. What Schenkel observed was wolves fighting for dominance and position. The studies were published in a paper entitled ‘Expression Studies On Wolves’. Captivity Observations by R. Schenkel. The observation took place in the Basle Zoological Gardens in Switzerland. Beginning in 1934 and completing in 1942. Schenkel did recognise the impact on the wolves behaviour from being held captive and extended the studies in length of time and other venues and different canine species to try to make some sort of comaprison. However the studies were later pronounced to be flawed in that they were studying wolves in a captive situation and not in their natural environment. The studies involved watching wolves that had been caught from diferent areas and put together in a Zoo environment. There wete a number of males and females and different ages. Male wolves were observed fighting to be top dog to give them the right to mate with the top female. This coming together took part at the same time once every year. It was thought from this that indeed wolves did fight for ‘Apha’ position and that presumably this occurred in the wild. Schenkel did state in his paper that observations of wild wolf packs were not yet available to confirm these findings. It was therefore safe to surmise that since, as was thought then, domestic dogs were descended from wolves that the dogs behaviour if left unchecked would reflect what the captive wolves behaviour showed i.e. this dominance behaviour to be top dog. The theory goes on in that it was resonable to hypothesise that since most domestic dogs came into the house as a single dog then it formed a pack with its human members of the house. This is because both humans and dogs are typically social species. So now that a pack was formed, which included a dog, then the ‘fight’ for top dog or ‘Alpha’ was inevitable. How the dog would try to dominate us was similar to how the Alpha pair expressed their dominance in the captive wolf pack. The captive wolf pack would eat the kill first, leaving the scraps for the rest of the pack. The Alpha would lead the way when moving about the area leading the pack deciding on where and when to go. The best spot in the den, high up over the rest of the den would be were the alpha pair lay, lording over the rest of the pack. This ‘theory’ was the basis of early training in obedience with many dog trainiers and indeed it is still the preferred training method for many trainers. Traditional methods of training tell us that we must dominate our dogs before they dominate us. For example, in the text above the captive wolves had some dominant traits like eating first before the rest of the pack. As human alpha leaders traditional training tells us that we should show the dog whos the alpha by eating first. So when we are putting out their food, and if we are not ready for ours quite yet, we should at least get a biscuit and stand over the dogs bowl and eat the biscuit simulating that we are eating out the dogs bowl. Once finished the biscuit we can put the bowl done and the dog gets ‘leftovers’. If we take this to its logical conclusion then the rest of the human pack should be higher up the rankings than the dog, therefore everytime we feed fido all of the family members need to be present to ‘eat a biscuit’ over the bowl before the dog gets his. In the captive pack the alpha always led the way. So in the domestic pack the alpha also has to lead the way. That means going through doors first. When walking on the lead the dog needs to walk behind the alpha human. Its also importnat according to traditional training methods that the dog is not allowed up on furniture including chairs, sofa, or beds. He is also not allowed to lie at the top of the stairs or across doorways. This is clearly a strategy for raising its status in the human pack. Traditional training methods of obedience is very much a hands on method. Teaching the dog to sit involves giving the dog the sit command and then placing your hand on top of the dogs rear hind quarters and gently pushing their back end down untill the dog is in a sit position. Similarly with the down command the dog would start off in a sit as directed above and then the down command would be given. The handler would then place a hand between the shoulder blades of the dig and push the dog down into a down position. After which you tell the dog good dog. Whilst in the down position it might also be useful to roll the dog onto its back into the Alpha roll position, exposing the dogs neck and underbelly. This is because that is what the wolves do in the wild to a subordinate, once again cementing your place as the alpha leader. This method of teaching and behaviour modification still happens today.
David Mech is a Senior Scientist with the Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. He has studied wolves and their prey since 1958, as well as several other species of wildlife. http://www.davemech.org/index.html Mech is also the co-founder of the Internation Wolf Centre in Ely, Minnesotta U.S. The IWC is situated in the middle of one of the worlds largest populations of wolves living in the wild in the U.S. He has argued and campaiged against the concept of alpha. His reasoning is that Wolves in captivity are different species than wolves in the wild and as such act differently in terms of age structure and lifestyles. It is Mech’s studies of wolves actually living in the wild that have thrown up new information which contradict what Schenkler had observed with the captive pack. Studies of the wild wolf pack concluded that first and foremost a pack was no more than a family. In actual fact the pack consisted of a male and female adult and usually one or two generations of pups. The first generation was about 1 or 2 years old and then the second generation were pups. As this ‘pack’ was a family then there was no struggle for status. Nature does not let fathers mate with daughters or sons mate with mothers. So there was no competition. In fact when the mother came into season once a year the daughters never came into season, whilst they lived with the family pack. They would when they left to form their own pack. The first generation young wolves would up and leave the family when they were 2 or 3 years of age, in search of other young wolves to mate and form their own families. Mech also observed that it wasnt always the alpha male or female that fed first. Mech observed on many occassions the entire family feasting on a kill if it was big enough altogether. It was often the case that when the prey was small and scarce it would be brought back to the den and the pups were given it. This makes sense in that if at times of few prey only the alphas ate then the pups would quickly die and their existance as a species would end. So assuming this is true and that dogs are descended from wolves then it makes no sense to stand over the dogs bowl eating a biscuit, because it doesnt happen like that in the wild. I recently attended a seminar at the Kennel Club’s Accredited Instructors Career Zone at Crufts 2013. The seminar was in two parts Dominance part one and part two. Dominance part one was given by Professor Peter Neville a Companion Animal Behaviour Therapist who has been in practise for over 20 years.  He has been a Clinical Professor at the Department of Veterinary Medicine, Faculty of Agriculture, Miyazaki University, Japan since April 2008, and was appointed Adjunct Professor at the Dept of Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University, USA in May 2009. He established the first companion animal behavior referral clinic at a UK veterinary school at the Dept of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bristol in 1990. Professor Neville agreed with Mech in that he said “When we watch wildlife documentaries on wolves, do we see two wolves lying eating a kill, whilst an orderly queue forms behind them in ranking order waiting their turn”. He went onto make the comparison, “When carrying out behavioral studies on people, do we study prisoners in a jail”?
If the domestic dog is a direct descendant from the wolf then surely the domestic dog is already ‘hard wired’ with all the wolf traits mentioned above and if left to fend for themselves would quickly revert back to being wolves. Early research suggested that dogs evolved from wolves through a process of early humans capturiing wolf cubs and through selective breeding of the best temprements of successive generations of captive bred wolves we got the domestic dog. This was over some 15’000 years. Professor Neville suggests that in fact “Knowing about wolf behavior is relevant to knowing about dog behavior, however if dogs were to be let to roam free and fend for themselves they wouldnt revert back to being wolves. Dogs and wolves share a common ancestory but dogs are more likely to resemble the village wild dogs which evolved from the smaller brown eurasian wolves rather than the more recognised northern wolf that we know best”.


Ray Coppingher has a different theory. His theory in summary suggests that when man switched from being hunter gatherers to farmers and crop planters they began to stay in the one place and create settlements, which in turn became villages, towns and ultimately cities. Having settled in one place they created a lot of waste which they ‘dumped’ just outside the village. Coppingher’s theory surmises that within all wolves and off course dogs there is a flight reaction. That is, when something comes along that they are unsure about they flee. He goes onto to suggest that a dogs flight response can be measured by how far they run away and for how long they stay away. The theory goes on that wolves with a low flight response i.e. those that dont run away so far or stay away for long gradually become less afraid of humans and more inclined to stay around the dumps scavenging for food. More and more they become willing to be near the humans and less and less afraid. Over the centuries these less afraid wolves evolved in size, shape and colour to look like the village dogs that roam about the villages in europe, living of the waste food that humans discard. It is these Canids that eventually become what we know today as dogs.  Wolves changed into dogs when they moved into villages to suit their environment, they changed their diets, their roles and their behaviours.
Professor Neville suggests that the behaviour of the domestic dog cannot be likened to that of the behaviour of the wolf, in fact he says they are two different species much the same as man is a different species to apes. If man were to lose everything house, family, work, any and all technology, he wouldnt revert to becoming an ape.
So if we believe what Mech, Neville, Coppingher et al say that our dogs are not infact trying to gain a higher status in the human pack by displaying dominance behaviour then what can be the explanation for some of their behaviours. There is no doubt my dogs will jump up on the sofa at the least opportunity they get. They always try to get out the door first, if I were to let them. And there are many reports of dogs taking an aggressive stance when someone approaches them whilst the dog is eating it’s dinner or a bone or even chewing or holding a toy. If not dominat behaviour then what?

TOUGH LOVE is described as a film about “A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs”. It is produced by Anchorhold films and Tower Hill Films Production. The film charts the ‘Historical Perspective’ of the alpha dog, It explores the differences between the science and the popular practice of dog behaviour. The film has many notable contributors like Karen Pryor, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Nicole Wilde, Dr. Alexander Horowitz, Paul Owens and many more including Dr. Sophia Yin.

Dr. Sophia Yin is an internationally renowned Veterinarian and Animal Behviourist.

There are two approaches to behavioral training.
*      Dogs have to be put in their place, You have to set them to fail in order to correct them. They are basically always trying to gain a higher rank status than their human handler. They misbehave because of that desire to obtain the higher rank.
*      The other approach says that dogs misbehave, probably because on some level they have been previously rewarded for that behavior.

Dogs learn by Operant Conditioning: trial and error learning. If they perform a behavior that works then they will repeat it. If it doesn’t work then they will stop doing it and try something else. What this suggests is that a dog’s misbehavior is down to the fact that it has learned that this behavior is rewarding. The film also goes onto suggest that displays of aggression may not be status related but more resource related. A Resource Holding Potential model was developed by biologist Geff Parker in the 1970's which predicted the likelihood of an animal engaging in conflict with another over a resource.

Wolves and indeed dogs will compete for resources. They will compete with each other and in the case of the dog it will compete with the human. For example a wolf will make for the best spot in the den. If another wolf comes over to try to take this spot, then the wolf already there may snarl, now if the wolf wanting the spot backs down then the first wolf has learned that this behaviour works, at least with this wolf and will repeat it everytime this situation occurs. Now if we look at the dog, a dog may go up on the couch, it does so because its warm and comfy, not because its higher up and increases its status. When the human goes to make it come down the dog may show teeth or even growl. If at this point the human backs away, the dog learns that this behaviour worked. It had the desired effect of making the human go away and leave it on the couch. This is not status driven just a desire to be left on the nice comfy couch, which is a resource the dog desires. The same example could be used for toy possession or food guarding. Both of which are resources that the dog may show an unwillingness to share. If allowed to keep these resources unchallenged then the dog learns from the reactions of the owner/human if they move away and leave the dog. This is called Operant conditioning. Which Dr. Sophia Yin describes as ‘trial and error’ learning. The dog will try the behaviour, the growl or teeth showing, and if the handler backs off then the dog learns that this behavior will get it what it wants. The other thing to consider is this, dogs do not always display dominant aggression in every situation. I have five dogs and I would say that Miya the Northern Inuit is the most dominant. She has attacked three of the rest of the ‘Pack’ shortly after coming into the house. However, star is the oungest member of the household and the last dog to join us. She is very clearly toy dominant and will take a toy from Miya who may be holding it in her mouth at the time. And Miya will give it up eventually.
Contemporary training methods use Operant conditioning to eliminate unwanted behaviours in dogs and replace them with more desired behaviours. In the case of the dog up on the couch that is showing resistance clearly trying to take the dog by the collar, assuming its wearing one in the house, is going to be problematic. For that reason I would reccommend a house lead is worn by the dog until the dog has been taught to come off the couch on command. Taking the house lead and gently easing the dog off the couch and then rewarding the fact that the dog is now off. If an individual wishes they can then at a later time invite the dog back up on the couch, but the difference is that this time the dog is invited. By repeating this behaviour modification the dog will learn that it can get up on the couch if it asks. They do this by coming and laying their heads on your knee or by standing in front of you staring intently. I know this from experience, my Black Lab does this after tea at night. When we settle down to watch a bit of telly he comes over and asks to get up. He also goes up himself when we are out the room, but if I ask him to get off he does. Miya, in the photo above, is a rescue dog and when she first came to the house she very quickly went up on the couch. We saw this as a security position. The couch provides unsure dogs with a place of security. They can see all infront of them and they are covered on both sides and the back by the couch. When I first went to get Miya off she showed me the same resistance albeit no teeth or curled lip. But her head snapped round when I went to take her collar. As soon as I snapped a lead on her and guided her off she completely relaxed and come off no problem. The reason I say its a place of security is because Miya is not a fan of the heat and needs to keep herself cool all the time. Even now when I invite her up on the couch she barely stays there for more than ten minutes then goes down herself because its too hot for her with the close body heat.
If we now believe that rather than dogs trying to dominate us they are merely competing for resources, and we now have a way of turning that around on them and using it to train them positively, then questions remain as to why we still use dominance theory in training today. If dogs are a different species and I am certainly not a dog then why would they want to be my pack leader? We also know that wolves form packs to survive and continue their existance. They need each other to have puppies, bring down prey, protect each other against predators. Dogs dont need any of that. We provide their food, security and exercise. And quite a lot are neutered so there is no need for finding a mate. Things like eating a biscuit before feeding the dog does not teach the dog anything other than he has to wait another five minutes before he gets his dinner. It doesn’t tell him we are higher up the family rankings than him. Lying on the top stairs is merely the best place to watch us come and go and per chance if we make a move for the front door he is perfectly placed to run down and remind us to take him. A desire to get out the door first is just that a desire to go for a walk because its nice and they enjoy it and the sooner they get out there the better for them. When we rush out the office door at 5 o’clock at night are we dominating our boss because we are out the door first. No, we want to get home and play with the dog because its fun, more fun than working (unless your lucky enough to be working with dogs).

In summary then this study has hopefully shown that dogs are not wolves, they are different, as man is different to apes. I have also shown that even wolves dont have dominance confrontations to establish the alpha pair. What I have shown is an alternative reason why our dogs behave the way they do and by using Operant conditioning and shaping techniques we can re-educate our dogs to give us the behaviours that are much more socially acceptable. This does not that mean we dont provide rules and boundaries? I believe dominance has a place in our relationship with our dogs. In the second seminar on dominace held in the Kennel Club Accredited Instructors Career Zone during Crufts 2013, the guest speaker was Rob Elaine of among other things Dog Borstal fame. Which was my favourite dog training program of them all. Rob raised the question of dominance and suggested that there was room for dominace in contemporary training. However what he suggested was that rather than trying to Dominate your dog we should try to BE dominant with our dog. What he means is that we should make sure we give the dog rules and boundaries. Let them know what is acceptable and what is not. Its ok to tell your dog ‘No’. Its ok to tell your dog ‘leave it’. And if you have to change your tone when giving the command then so be it. That doesnt mean rolling up a newspaper and smacking them on the nose with it, nor does it mean taking them by the collar and rubbing their noses in what ever mess they have made. No, a simple ‘no, or ‘leave it’ can be very effective in certain situations. Especially in an emergency situation where the dog is about to come to some harm like running out on the road or about to pick up something potentially harmful to them. Any of these commands in a short sharp tone if taught can be very effective and potentially life saving.
Traditional training methods were the way things were done particularly after the last war when ex police or military people were the main trainers of domestic dogs in the country. As science continues to evolve so does our ability to create new technologies. These technologies are used to enhance our lives on a daily basis. It is true also that the science of Psychology and Behavioour has similarly evolved and has resulted in new ways to communicate with the different species with which we share the planet. None more so than dogs. We therefore owe it to them to make sure that our training methods are as up to date as possible using the information that science has provided us with. Why then are we still using outdated methods of training? As I said in my introduction, getting people to change to something new, when they have been using tried and trusted methods for years is very difficult. The only way this can be done is through communication and education. We need more of both if we are to put an end to some of the more disturbing newspaper headlines that are becoming all to familiar on the subject of dogs showing unaccpetable and sometime dangerous behaviours. The UK has a large population of dogs. According to a PDSA report compiled and issued in 2012, some intersting statistics were thrown up.

53 % of UK households have pets including dogs.
23% of UK households have dogs as pets. Thats 8.3 million dogs.
Around 5.3 million dogs have never attended training classes.
The actual lifetime cost of owning a dog can be between £16k – £31k depending upon size.

5.3 million dogs have never attended training classes, which means the chances of them being socialised properly are slim. Given the cost associated with keeping these dogs we owe it to ourselves to bring them up and train them properly. Only by prevention will we eliminate the bad behaviours our dogs show. The first step to that is understanding what makes them misbehave.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes said – “It is a truism to say that the dog is largely what his master makes of him: he can be savage and dangerous, untrustworthy, cringing and fearful; or he can be faithful and loyal, courageous and the best of companions and allies”. Quoted by APDT on FaceBook 29/3/2013

Today 9th April 2013 the Governemt has issued an amendment to the Dangerous Dog Act stipulating that it is now an ofence for a dog to be dangerously out of control in any place including private property.
Peter Jones, President of the British Veterinary Association, said
“The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill is a welcome move that will ensure owners take responsibility for their dogs’ behavior in all situations. Too many postal workers, nurses, social workers, and family members have been injured on private property with no protection under the law.
Whilst this is a positive move it still is only a reactionary policy. Prevention has to be the way to ensure another child doesn’t end up on the receiving end of an attack from a dog competing for a resource like a meat pie.