Unfortunately many trainers still believe in the dominance/alpha theory. This is harmful because it prevents owners from understanding what their dog is actually trying to tell them.
This “dogs are wolves” theory started in the late 1960s. The underlying meaning is that because dogs and wolves are the same species, they must behave the same way. A man by the name of David Mech trapped several wolves and put them all in a pen to observe them. He came to the conclusion that wolves “pack” and “dominate” each other, therefore dogs must do the same, right? Wrong.
As science advanced, Mech continued his research but started to observe wolves in their natural habitat. He came to a much different conclusion, the model of the wolf’s supposed “fight for dominance and alpha status” was replaced with one where parents and older siblings guide and lead the younger ones. Now, Mech has written and edited many books on this subject stating why his earlier observations were misinformed and explaining his observations of packs in the wild.
Since that time, studies of the domestic dog have also moved on. It has been well established that the social behavior of the domestic dog is not the same as a wolf. Humans have been breeding dogs for thousands of years to not only work for them, but to be companions. These adaptations have removed the need for them to operate as their wild ancestors. Although dogs do congregate in groups around resources, they do not form packs in the cohesive family way that wolves still do.
The concept of “dominance” itself has never been a quality of an individual, but the product of a relationship. In fact, the relationship of the pet dog to human, is much more complicated than to just label it as one trying to “dominate” the other. Dogs do certain things because they are getting some sort of positive reward from it. They jump on the counter because they find food, not because they are trying to show you that they are “alpha” and can do whatever they want, they bite people because they are scared and people misread or ignored their warning signs.
Dog training has come a long way scientifically and to continue to label so many issues as “dominant” and “alpha” is doing a disservice to the dog and owner. So get some treats, and start rewarding for the behavior you want and you will in turn, have a great partnership for many years to come!
Interested in leaning more? Check out this great article here!