What does a dominant dog look like?

Discussion in 'Behavioural science and dog training philosophy' started by snowbunny, Oct 7, 2017.

  1. Chococheer

    Chococheer Registered Users

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    Personally I'd define "dominance" by the person expressing the term. In other words, my interpretation of "dominant" used by a large tattooed and leather cloaked man with a snarling Pit Bull at the end of leash would be very different to that of a little old lady with a small fluffy thing at the end of her leash using the same term to describe her dog.

    It may be a cliché, but it's an honest answer to your query.
     
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  2. lucky_dog

    lucky_dog Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    Well, I think people either mean a dog which is physically pushy with other dogs or with people - I think Denise Fenzi calls this "high power".

    Or they just mean a dog that has some sort of unwanted behaviour, and say it's because the dog is dominant and the training solution is to show the dog that it isn't dominant.

    But, behaviourally speaking, dominance does exist - it's about access to resources! If I remember right, to work out a dominance heirarchy you have to monitor interactions between all individuals within a group. An interaction would be, there is a resource (e.g. food) and two individuals, the dominant individual is the one who gets access - either because they use aggression or because the less dominant individual lets them have the resource. Then, over time, you can build up a picture of a dominance heirarchy - in some species, I only really know about primates, the dominance heirarchy can be very strict - and even inherited because mothers will protect their daughters - so daughters have a rank just below their mother.

    But, back to dogs! Yes, there is dominance in that in an individual situation one dog can access a resource over another dog. But, with all of these interactions, the outcome depends on the value of the resource to each individual.

    For example, Lucky would never take another dog's toy. If there was him, another dog, and a toy - the other dog would get the toy every time. Not because the other dog was dominant and Lucky less dominant, but because Lucky doesn't care about toys - it isn't a valuable resource for him. If it was a piece of cheese, then his reaction would probably be different!

    I think this means that the stiff bodied posture is not dominance - because it is not competition over access to a resource - it's just a form of communication. Unless, it happens between two males over access to a female.
     
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  3. selina27

    selina27 Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    Good point, it does seem that the majority of +R trainers are female.
     
  4. selina27

    selina27 Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    Or even with their owners, as @Stacia suggests. Cassie will myther me sometimes when I'm sitting down, often I've realised she fancies that chair herself. Yet I can take a bone from her no problem at all. I think her comfort is of highest value to her!
     
  5. snowbunny

    snowbunny Administrator Forum Supporter

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    OK, so my thoughts. No surprises here, I don't believe there is such a thing as "a dominant dog". Partly, that comes down to the fact that there is no satisfactory definition as to what that even means. It is such a subjective thing, even within the scientific community; one person thinks that a dominant dog is one who is pushy, another thinks that it's one that shows aggressive tendencies towards others (although, even then, we're in the territory of "how do you define aggression?"), others see dominance in aloof, confident dogs. These are often mutually exclusive behaviours, so how can they all be referred to by the same term? That's where I was going with my leading question :)

    If we take the ethological definition of dominance as defined as an “individual's preferential access to resources over another”, it seems a little clearer for a minute. But then, how do we define what a resource is? Take food, one of the primary reinforcers. Put two dogs in a room with a bowl of food. We could say that dog A who eats first is the dominant dog. But look closer. Dog A has gone hungry for two days, whereas dog B ate his fill before going into the room. Do you still think dog A is dominant, or did he simply value the food more in that instant?

    We know that dogs tend to choose the path of least resistance to get to the most favourable outcome for them in that instant. That is constantly changing; as they react to their environment, the environment changes, so they have to adjust again. Through every one of these constant interactions, they are learning through classical and operant conditioning what works to get them what they want. So a dog that is pushy has learnt that being pushy gets him what he wants. Is it a "trait"? No. It's a learned behaviour. The confidence to try to be pushy that first time is a trait, but the pushiness itself is simple conditioning. It works. Similarly, an antisocial dog who has learned that growling or snapping at a stranger who gets too close will back off will repeat that behaviour. It's still not "dominance".

    Going back to the dogs in the room. If they were equally hungry, what would happen? If there were a scuffle and let's say (for sake of fairness) that dog B won the food, is he the dominant one? Or is he bigger, stronger? Does he have a history of successful outcomes in fights, whereas dog A has never been in an altercation before, or has been injured in one? There are so many variables at work in every single situation that to use a blanket term is misleading at best.

    @lucky-dog you talk about dominance hierarchies in social groups. These are very important in some species. I believe, if you put four chickens in a room, they will soon sort out an order 1-4 of rank in that group. But domestic dogs don't generally form social groups in the same way; feral dogs are promiscuous, with nearly every dog mating. Any groups formed tend to be transient. Even thinking about our own dogs, they have their small social group in the family home, but most of their social interactions are with dogs and humans they meet on their walks, who they come into contact with for a few minutes here and there. It's nonsensical to imagine they are forming a linear hierarcy with all these dogs at every meeting. If nothing else, it would be exhausting! :D

    Confidence is a trait. Fearfulness can be a trait. But dominance? Nah.

    That's my 2p anyway. Interested in any other thoughts :)
     
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  6. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey Registered Users

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    Rory does pester power he whines at Moo until she just seems to shrug and go oh go on then. He's been indulged by us all since he was tiny the older dogs adored him. They disapline in a calm doggy way there was no bared teeth no aggression. a look would do they only time I saw anger towards him was when as a young adolescent he tried to mount Moo. Doug flew across the room and growled angrily. Rory never did it again and he's not a dog which mounts others either. That was the only time he got told off were it was physical. If he hurt himself and screamed like pups do the dogs would rush over to him to make sure he was ok. When he was tiny he'd go for walks with Doug it helped through the Im scared of the big world stage. I adored Rory from the first day I was head over heals he was the most precious little pup. I threw out all the rules and raised him as the other dogs had shown me.
     
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  7. Boogie

    Boogie Moderator

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    Yes. And, as with people, some dogs are naturally more competitive than others. Tatze won’t even bother with a game of tuggy with other dogs as she’s happy to let them win. I’m the same with ball sports ‘you want the ball?, it’s yours!’ I’m simply not interested enough to compete. But give me a good board game and I’m super competitive!

    We had a funny moment last night, in the front room watching TV. Each dog had a comfy bed except Mollie. She sat in the middle of the room and barked until I sorted her a bed out. Yet with toys she’d barge in and grab without asking, she’s a really pushy girl.

    :)
     
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  8. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey Registered Users

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    That happens here if I forget a bed time snack oh the drama. The significant looks, the looking at shelves, the sighs and the dramatic standing by the kitchen door. Oh I hear you doggies.
     
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  9. Stacia

    Stacia Registered Users

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    I don't think we will ever unwrap this question! I was not aware of any overt 'dominance' between my two, but Rourke would always turn his face away if I offered him food and waited until Drift had his first. Maybe we should use the word 'respect'?

    Thinking (slightly, time very short) more about it, if humans were in a position where food was in very short supply, would we say the ones who pushed forward and gained the food, overcoming the 'weaker' ones, were 'dominant'. Is dominance strength? I think first we have to define the meaning of dominance as @snowbunny says.
     
  10. puppy mom

    puppy mom Registered Users

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    I am not sure how a dominant dogs looks like, or even how he would act. I have had a lot of actions from two socks, she sometimes acts like she thinks if she jumps, barks, and doesn't listen, she is then the boss. although she doesn't do this when it is just she and I . most of the time this is at the vet. I guess a dominant dog tries to do whatever it wants. not really sure, I have never seen this before.
     
  11. FayRose

    FayRose Registered Users

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    This is a fascinating subject and is producing some very interesting comments. We had a strange situation with our previous lab, I'll describe what he used to do and see what you think.

    When out and off the lead, he would sometimes adopt a certain posture as someone approached with a dog, which on a few occasions was described as dominant and even aggressive. He would slow right down and drop his head while appearing to stare at the approaching people/dogs. He appeared to be almost stalking. Some folk witnessing this behaviour would call out in concern that he was about to attack.
    We would always call him to us when this happened and he would happily come back, that odd posture vanishing. When the approaching walkers didn't comment we just continued to walk and as they came almost alongside, BJ would straighten up and wag.
    The odd thing is that this wasn't consistent, we never di find out what caused it and he never attacked anyone or any dog. He was in fact a very soft gentle and placid dog, though unfortunately epileptic.

    Strange behaviour?
     
  12. snowbunny

    snowbunny Administrator Forum Supporter

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    To be honest, that sounds like the behaviour of an uncertain dog, who is going a bit on the defensive until he works out the other dog's intentions.
     
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  13. Ski-Patroller

    Ski-Patroller Cooper, Terminally Cute Forum Supporter

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    When we got our 2nd Lab Pup 12 years ago, the breeder had one stud and two breeding females and one neutered female. One of them "Lilly" he referred to as the "Alpha Bitch" They feed all the dogs in the barn at the same time. Each had their own dish, but Lilly had to go around and take a bite of food from each dish before anyone else could eat. She was a nice friendly Lab, but she definitely thought she was in charge of her group.

    I think of dominant as the opposite of submissive. We all know dogs that will roll over for other dogs, and we all know some dogs that never will. All of our Labs have been in the middle of that spectrum, though all of them have been pretty confident dogs.
     
  14. Beanwood

    Beanwood Moderator Forum Supporter

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    I enjoyed reading this blog today written by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Clinical Associate Professor — Behavioral Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/decoding-your-pet/201712/why-not-alpha

    It touches on the psychology of studies conducted with unrelated dogs which suggest they do not form stable linear relationships. Blows the wolf-dog hypothesis out the water somewhat! This is interesting when you also add in the relationships between humans and dogs in terms of how "we" humans and "they" dogs communicate amongst themselves and the interspecies communication with us.
    I think it also gives insight into what some people consider a "dominant" dog. I do wonder whether the description more likely fits the misunderstood dog, not properly habituated (socialised) to human communication, coupled with a tendency to anxiety. The article touches on this point too. :)
     
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  15. Oberon

    Oberon Moderator Forum Supporter

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    That’s a good article.

    The dominance idea is rife in human-horse relationships too, and it does a lot of damage.

    Even chickens, who will compete strongly for resources and will readily beat the daylights out of each other when confined, are much less hierarchical and harmonious in an environment where there’s plenty of space and food. Hierarchies are really about competition for limited resources in chickens too. Also with horses.
     
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  16. Beanwood

    Beanwood Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Very interesting reference to chickens there @rachael, we have a few flocks here that properly free-range within electrified fencing. We rarely have any hierarchical issues due to plenty of food and fresh grass always available. I did once integrate a few ex-battery hens into the flock and the result was interesting. Terrible feather-pecking and aggression, despite better living conditions, demonstrating the learned behaviours inherent in poultry kept in dense, stressful populations were so embedded even when their environment changed for the better.
     
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  17. Oberon

    Oberon Moderator Forum Supporter

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    I’ve heard that same experience reported quite a lot with ex-battery hens. They are not tolerant of their new flock mates even though space and food are now plentiful. Pretty sad, isn’t it...
     
  18. Jes72

    Jes72 Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    This is what I see with Homer. He'll go up to most other dogs standing upright with most other dogs keeping their heads lower or rolling on their backs. He can be a bit pushy towards other dogs which I have to keep my eye on. I would call this dominant towards other dogs.

    He is also very good at getting what he wants from humans too but is more cunning in these situations.
     
  19. Kaywii

    Kaywii Registered Users

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    I think of a normal dog that its owner can't handle so they dismiss it as dominance because they aren't educated.
     
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