Natural Dog Behaviour is concerned with the recent re-emergence of Dominance Theory and forcing dogs into submission as a means of preventing and correcting behavior problems. For decades, some traditional animal training has relied on dominance theory and has assumed that animals misbehave primarily because they are striving for higher rank. This idea often leads trainers to believe that force or coercion must be used to modify these undesirable behaviors.
In the last several decades, our understanding of dominance theory and of the behavior of domesticated animals and their wild counterparts has grown considerably, leading to updated views. To understand if the techniques that are being used are Dominance Theory-based, we must first understand the principles.
Definition of Dominance
Dominance is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). A dominant/submissive relationship does not exist until one individual consistently submits or defers. In such relationships, priority access exists primarily when the more dominant individual is present to guard the resource.
In our relationship with our pets, priority access to resources is not the major concern. The majority of behaviors owners want to modify, such as excessive vocalization, unruly greetings, and failure to come when called, are not related to valued resources and may not even involve aggression. Rather, these behaviours occur because they have been inadvertently rewarded and because alternate appropriate behaviours have not been trained instead. Consequently, what owners really want is not to gain dominance, but to obtain the ability to influence their pets to perform behaviors willingly —which is one accepted definition of leadership (Knowles and Saxberg 1970; Yin 2009).
Applying Dominance Theory to Human-Animal Interactions
Even in the relatively few cases where aggression is related to rank, applying animal social theory and mimicking how animals would respond can pose a problem. First, it can cause one to use punishment, which may suppress aggression without addressing the underlying cause. Because fear and anxiety are common causes of aggression and other behaviour problems, including those that mimic resource guarding, the use of punishment can directly exacerbate the problem by increasing the animal’s fear or anxiety.
Second, it fails to recognize that with wild animals, dominant-submissive relationships are reinforced through warning postures and ritualistic dominance and submissive displays. If the relationship is stable, then the submissive animal defers automatically to the dominant individual. If the relationship is less stable, the dominant individual has a more aggressive personality, or the dominant individual is less confident about its ability to maintain a higher rank, continued aggressive displays occur (Yin 2007, Yin 2009).
Natural Dog Behaviour promotes harmony between humans and companion dogs through understanding and communication based on positive interactions only. We do not use or endorse any training technique or device that uses dominance, aversion, physical punishment or harsh correction.