August 9, 2022

Breeding – myths of non-domination

Virtually every dog owner is guided by their own theories and beliefs when it comes to the care and upbringing of their dog. It can even be said that there are as many dog theories as there are owners. However, everyone would like to have a dog that not only meets their needs, but is also obedient, faithful, devoted and friendly. The only problem is that he does not always know how to do it. With the answer comes a neighbor who has already had a few dogs, friends who have heard about this and that, family in which everyone says something different, as well as thematic books, articles, Internet forums, television programs, etc. The content contained in these sources is often so contradictory that especially beginners „dog-walker” is completely confused and does not know who to listen to. This article is an attempt to present two of the most famous and popular concepts / theories in the relationship between man and dog, and actually is an antithesis to one of them, because it dominates the modern medium which is the Internet. This is about dominance theory as well as the theories presented by its staunch opponents.

  • The dominance and leadership theory primarily assumes that:
  • a dog is a pack animal and forms a pack even with humans
  • has primal instincts which it inherited from its wild ancestors
  • uses a language specific to its species to communicate with others
  • always presents one of two attitudes: submissively obedient or dominantly leading

Opponents of the dominance theory (let's call them behaviourists – The content of these sources is often so contradictory that especially beginners (although they define themselves in an unjustified way) do not even have a name for their theories, limiting themselves primarily to criticism of the theory presented above and build their counterarguments on this criticism.
Behaviorists claim e.g., that "the dominance theory came from a misinterpretation of typical wolf pack behavior". So they themselves, rejecting it, make their own interpretations, which they proclaim as true, modern, only right, based on reliable analysis. With their publications, they sew characteristics and behaviors into the supporters of the theory of domination/leadership that have little to do with the truth and actual facts. They also claim that the belief in dominance and pack makes everything simpler and easier. They cannot understand that the dog's world is simple and uncomplicated until the human himself starts to change it with his own, purely human reasoning.

To behaviorists, the very notion domination of is associated with what any average person might associate with: violence, force, lack of partner relationships, lack of fun, abuse, drill, coercion, intimidation, etc. etc. Of course, we know that people with such tendencies do exist and this is how they treat their animals, but it has nothing to do with the methods contained in the theory of dominance and leadership. In your relationship with your dog "domination" is first and foremost the establishment of norms and rules, principles and restrictions that indicate to the animals, in the clearest way for them, what behavior is good and what we accept, and what is improper and does not find our approval. It also makes it clear to the dog who is setting it up. There can be no violence, but only work based on mutual respect, understanding, love and acceptance. We know parents who do not give their children clear boundaries and rules to follow e.g. in relationships with others. In the name of love and misinterpreted freedom, allow them to do anything anytime, anywhere, even if it violates the freedom and liberty of others.

Sooner or later such parents ask for help e.g. Supernianya, who starts working not so much with the child, but with his guardian, wanting him to change his behaviour first of all, starting with setting new rules and principles of mutual relations. It does not say then "don't love", "don't play with him", "intimidate" "use force". But to say "change" "be consistent" "give clear messages" "love and demand". Dominance over a dog, then, means a consistent and/or loving person, not a terrorizing, enslaving or "breaking" their dog, as the opponents of the dominance theory try to say. Its advocates are often wrongly accused of coarseness in relations with dog, use of force and coercion, lack of sensitivity, love, feelings, terrorizing and suppressing dog, brutality and unbalance. This suggests that if such people are advocates of a particular method, then surely the method itself is inherently wrong, ridiculous, or at best outdated.

In fact, the method based on dominance and leadership does not support and even rejects with great criticism the above described characteristics of people who with such tendencies should not own any animal, much less a dog. An aggressive and angry man will never become a guide because he lacks control over himself and his behavior. If he does not control himself, he will not be able to control the dog properly either. Just because a person believes the theory of dominance to be correct does not mean that he is applying it correctly. Nor does it imply a need to reject the assumptions of this theory just because "bad" man claims to use a method based on domination.

One often gets the impression that behaviourists do not accept that a dog is a dog. In their interpretation, it is an animal with thoughts, emotions and feelings similar to those of humans, without significant differences in perception of the environment and the language in which to communicate with it. To support their claims, they often use terms: most likely, I think, you may assume, in fact, it follows, possibly, in my opinion, from my observations. They turn their own suggestions and suppositions into facts, which they themselves create in the theories they analyze. By the way, they make numerous overinterpretations and false analyses, which indicates a complete misunderstanding of what this theory is really about.

Behaviorists reject e.g. herding assumptions, claiming that the dog living at home with a man has extinguished in itself the primitive instincts of leadership, hunting and territorialism, that with a man no longer forms a herd, because the herd can create only individuals of the same species. All this, however, remains only in the realm of pure theory, which is confirmed by various studies. In history we can find many cases where individuals of one species not only accepted into their pack an individual of another species, but also cared for, protected, fed and raised it e.g. a wolf pack, among which a little boy lived and grew up, or a bitch that fed kittens or even a squirrel, a pig taking care of puppies. Although this is literary fiction, even in a novel Tarzan this possibility has been taken into account. So the claim that a herd can only be formed by individuals of the same species is not always true. This is how it is in human-dog relations. Two completely different species, and yet they live together, care for and protect each other in times of danger, are able to show affection and attachment, revisit areas together (walks), define the boundaries of behavior in mutual contacts, establish bonds that last even after the death of one of them. The same happens in packs of other species. Whether one believes or not, whether one accepts simple reality or challenges it with theories – this does not change the fact that the dog living with a man creates a pack, and the pack always creates a hierarchy, rules, rules and restrictions, which are set by the leader.

It is best for the dog that it be a human and not the dog itself. It was humans who invited dogs into their homes, it was humans who domesticated them, gave them a place to sleep, food, water and security, so they too must take on the sometimes difficult responsibility of presiding over a difficult and strange "the world of man". For who are we in the eyes of our dog if we do not form a pack with him? Rivals, a threat, another strange pack? If so, how is he supposed to survive in this reality if he doesn't communicate with us? And if they communicate with us, on whose terms and in what language? Going further with this thought, behaviorists, by the way, rightly emphasize that the dog belongs to a different species, but at the same time they make interpretations of the dog's behavior, based on our human language, examples: the dog pulls on the leash because it is in a hurry to reach its destination, where attractions await it, not because it is in the lead; the dog jumps on the man because it is happy to see him, not because it restricts his freedom to indicate that here he controls the area; the dog growls at the bowl at the owner because the bowl is his, after all, and not because, as the dominant individual, it does not allow other individuals that it considers lower in the hierarchy to approach the food that belongs exclusively to it; the dog bites the furniture in the absence of the owners, because they are there and he can bite them, not because it may be a symptom of fear of a dispersing herd over which he has lost control or a manifestation of unconsumed energy, because his only walk is outside the house on a leash; the dogs keep fighting each other in the house because they have little space and are frustrated, not because they are fighting for dominance and leadership in the pack, which in their eyes is weak.

Another argument of the opponents of the theory of dominance in the question of creating a pack is the dog pack, which of course in their opinion is not a pack either, but possibly something like „pack” (. ). The proof of this absurdity is to be found in observations of stray dogs wandering around. So in the dog's „bands”, since keyboard experts took care of their observation, there is no leader, everyone does what he wants, there is total chaos, and everyone is equal (here you can honestly laugh).

That being said, a few examples of my own: I) While playing with Lusia in the water, in a completely unfamiliar area, 4 large dogs suddenly appeared. At first they just looked at each other. Lusia felt a little insecure, but the lack of my reaction allowed her to return to play again and also did not pay attention to them. A moment later two of them started to attack Lusia, going into the water after her, showing their teeth and growling threateningly. II) Coming back from a walk, two large dogs (males) appeared on a little frequented road – slate color, size somewhere between a doberman and a rottweiler, strong, massive and well-groomed, one of them had a thick collar, probably someone lost or ran away. When they saw us, they quickly moved towards us, without aggression, barking, but very determinedly and confidently. This time their self-confidence dominated Lusia, who was equally confident in such situations. So I didn't wait for a confrontation between dogs, the more so because their behavior seriously scared other two people walking nearby. III) We walk with little Lucy through a clearing in the woods, when suddenly barking came running two dogs, a medium-sized mongrel and a Caucasian Shepherd Dog. The first one barked loudly the second one grinned and from time to time charged towards us. There was no one around. IV) Between the forest and the residential buildings, jumped out at us 3 dogs of different sizes. They surrounded us in a semi-circle, gritting their teeth and barking, from time to time trying to throw themselves at our legs, at which Lucy, scared, was standing like glued. V) Residential area, „pack”, „pack”, „herd”, „bunch” (as you like) of six dogs, noticing me walking with my dog started to run towards us. Some dogs bark, others just ruffle their fur, but they all rush straight at us.

Similar examples could be given many more, but the essence of these events was that in none of the cases so far neither I nor any dog was even scratched, and we came out of all these oppressions without the slightest harm only thanks to the knowledge of dogs' behavior, resulting from nothing else than the theory of domination, which found its practical application. All of these stories ended with the dogs walking away, resigned to the attack and its subsequent consequences.

Interpreting the dog's language in a human way will not help neither ourselves nor the dog, because we are transmitting on completely different planes. We can not require dogs to behave human, to learn human language, because they belong to a different species and genetically are not predisposed to this. However, we can teach them to live in our world and communicate with us, but in a language that dogs understand, without taking away their right to the primal instincts of the species to which they belong after all – a predator, a dog. Is it really necessary to believe that if there were no people in the world, then according to the assumptions of behaviorists, dogs would not be able to cope on their own without humans, because in them the primitive instincts that determine their survival died out – hunting, pack life, roaming, breeding, subordination or leadership? Is it really difficult to see in the behavior of dogs their natural desire to commune with nature? Is a dog really happier lying on the couch all day than when it goes for a walk? As homo sapiens After all, we ourselves strive to integrate with nature – We grow plants, we go to the water, to the forest, to the mountains, we go for a walk to the park, we watch animals living in the wild, we take them in to be closer to what is natural and real. What makes me think that the dog extinguished its primal need to live in harmony with nature, only because it started to live with a man in his house? Also, where did you get the idea that the anatomical differences between a dog and a wolf, at the same time exclude the similarity in their primal instincts? By humanizing dogs we are actually doing them a great disservice, because we are trying to deprive them of the right to be a dog and thus of the right to interact with nature according to their natural needs, which unsatisfied create an unbalanced and unhappy dog.

In an attempt to prove their point, behaviourists very often also use a rather tired argument "brutally knocking the dog down" and holding them until they calmed down. This ritual is again explained in purely human terms. In human behavior, if one man knocks over another, he is violating not only his inviolability, but also his dignity and worth as a human being. However, in the behavior of dogs, such a course of action has quite different, and at least two main reasons; to discipline and calm the individual breaking out of the hierarchy who disintegrates the pack, or to extinguish in him aggressive behavior that is unstable towards other members of the pack. Behaviorists try to explain that in this behavior, one individual is not knocked over by another, but respecting the strength and superiority of the opponent, he falls over himself showing submission. This is supposed to be an argument against deliberate putting down of a dog by its handler.

No matter if he falls down on his own or as a result of the reaction of the dominant behavior of the other individual, it doesn't change the fact that he lies down in a motionless position showing his subordination until the dominant individual allows him further movements. It should be emphasized here that this ritual is used by both humans and dogs themselves always as a last resort, in addition only in situations where the dog behaves aggressively towards others or is so highly agitated that it does not respond to any gestures or stimuli. Before such a confrontation takes place, dogs send out many signals to calm them down, as Turid Rugaas has already written in her book (Turid Rugaas "Calming signals"). Knowledge of these signals helps in many cases to prevent conflict situations. However, we know that there are times when dogs can suddenly react in an aggressive and unpredictable manner and even the calming signals of another dog will not prevent him from attacking. If anyone has seen dogs fighting, they know very well that a treat, a clicker, or verbal commands will not help. The matter is even more difficult when, in addition, both of these individuals are dominant. What behaviorists will suggest then? Dominance theory suggests a strong intervention of the handler in the way described above towards the aggressor. It should be noted that the purpose of this intervention is to calm and soothe such a quadruped, not to humiliate or violate its "canine dignity". If that was the case, we should also give up the leash, because it limits the dog's freedom and thus can hurt his feelings.

The dog, when lying down while immobilized and tranquilized, does not rationalize by thinking: "but I have been humiliated, I think I will be offended". It only receives the primary signal that it understands best in its own language – the language of gestures and behaviour. Experienced handler knows very well how, in what situation, at what time and towards which dogs he can behave like that. An inexperienced owner is very likely to do it at the wrong time and in the wrong way. And here we must agree with behaviorists that the result can be loss of trust in the handler, fear of the handler, withdrawal or increased aggression. It should be remembered, however, that there are countless dogs who, having been raised on the basis of dominance/leadership principles from the very beginning, have learned their place in the pack and have never had to be treated in this way. Those, on the other hand, who have been given signals from birth (consciously or unconsciously) to be the leader in "human herd", become unbalanced, unpredictable, aggressive or fearful, hyperactive, disobedient, in which the human could not trust.

Behaviorists reject the theory of dominance and leadership, often citing the argument that it only stems from studies conducted on animals observed in an artificial environment (in captivity). Although this is not true, because many observations and studies (if not most) have been conducted in natural conditions of wolves and dogs living in wild packs, let's try to follow this argument. If the theory of domination can still be justified for dogs living in an environment unnatural for them, but it is not true and reliable when we observe wild herds in the wild, then in what conditions live our domesticated dogs? Natural or artificial? If we do not reject the thesis, that the dog, as a result of domestication for many years, extinguished in itself the primitive instincts of survival, leadership, reproduction, territorialism, then we should consider the apartment in a block of apartments as its natural environment, in which it lives and functions like any human. Doesn't such a statement itself sound ridiculous? If, on the other hand, the apartment is an artificial environment for the dog, then should not the theory of dominance and leadership be considered valid since it has only worked in such conditions?

Opponents of the dominance/leadership theory argue that the dog because living with a human no longer forms a pack, it also does not form a hierarchy. Showing him, therefore, who is the leader becomes, in the opinion of behaviorists, unjustified and meaningless. Man (also as a species) everywhere where he lives with others creates a certain hierarchy (president, director, manager, instructor, manager, "the head of the family"); marine mammals (e.g. Dolphins, orcas, sea elephants) have a hierarchy; bison, lions, deer, hyenas, wolves, bears, goats, buffaloes, etc. have a hierarchy; even insects (e.g. The human dog (e.g. bees, ants) form hierarchical communities, but the dog does not (. ). Well, the leader standing at the top of the hierarchy is not to rule and pay tribute to him, to punish and kill members of the pack, but because he is the guarantor of the survival of the pack, protects it from dangers, introduces rhythm, does not allow to hurt the weakest, provides food, gives a sense of security and stability. After all, we ourselves feel safe when we are in the company of people who are confident and able to control even difficult situations. The burden of responsibility then falls from us, because it is borne by the one who guides others in their actions and decisions. So there is no reason to claim that only the dog does not need this, because it is some uniquely different species. The burden of responsibility for the pack can only be lifted from our dog when we ourselves become guides. Otherwise, the dog takes the lead and because it does not understand the world of humans and cannot do it in human language, it does it in its own language, which misinterpreted by humans creates tensions and various problems for both the dog and its owner.

Of course people who treat their dogs as their own children, with this "small" the difference that they have four paws and are covered with fur, they will never be able to accept the rules associated with dominance and being a guide. They also never accept that the owner, not the dog, is always responsible for certain dog behaviors. Such people willingly accept the theories of behaviourists, who put the responsibility for the dog's behaviour on the dog itself or on external factors and circumstances, almost always ignoring the owner's responsibility. Meanwhile followers of dominance theory have to work on their own behaviour to influence their pet's behaviour. The effect of the difference in such an approach will be for the first group, in many difficult canine cases, to inject the dog with drugs with sedative or psychotropic effects, or to suggest neutering or sterilization, as an antidote to changes in behavior, as well as to send for long therapies to another "specialists" a behaviourist who always values his services highly. In so called. "hopeless" suggest keeping the dog in a cage, giving it away or putting it to sleep. Meanwhile, for the second group of people, the main goal is to work on their own behavior in relation to the dog, and thus to change their own behavior, which for most people may be impossible or simply overwhelming. They are then inclined to look for the fault in the dog itself rather than see their own weaknesses, inconsistency, lack of effort, self-discipline, self-control etc. something that the dog also sees.

Behaviorists accuse dominance theory of "there is no place for spontaneity and playing with dog". They also argue that such an owner must be constantly vigilant and attentive, because in every behavior of the dog tries to capture the desire to take over leadership. This is another overinterpretation. The only argument they have everywhere in support of this ridiculous thesis is that dominance advocates "do not play with their dogs in games defined as dominance e.g. in dragging". This is allegedly due to fear of the dog's aggression being triggered and his victory in pulling, which will be seen as taking over the role of handler. It is really hard to guess why behaviorists have such one-sided ideas and beliefs. One gets the impression that they have only heard about dominance theory from people already characterized here – immature and unbalanced pet owners. Yes, the game of pulling was never advisable, but especially with young dogs who are still in the period of teeth replacement to prevent bite deformation. In addition, the same game in different dogs may evoke different associations e.g. one dog will see it as a pleasant pastime, another as a form of competition with the owner, and yet another will not be interested at all. So if we encourage a playful labrador to play, then most often it will be a great form of energy discharge for him, but if we start to drag with a pit bull or doberman showing dominant tendencies, then he may (although not necessarily) treat this kind of activity as a form of competition and a test of strength. So, if we know our dog well and we don't notice any disturbing symptoms after such game like growling and gritting teeth when we try to take back captured toy or biting hands when we took it back, then nothing stands in the way of using this kind of activity for playing with our dog. However, no reasonable person should advise playing tug-of-war if the dog has aggressive tendencies and is unpredictable towards the owner or other people or animals.

Another accusation made against the theory of guidance and dominance is that it has long since become outdated and obsolete, which causes, especially in people starting their adventure with dogs, a natural reluctance. On courses in animal behaviorism, which in Poland and abroad are not cheap, young students are taught at the very beginning to reject the theory of dominance and leadership. They then duplicate "modern concepts" in working with people and their dogs, even if they turn out to be completely ineffective, and often even harmful. In one of the reviews of the book by Gary Eaton "Dominance in dogs, truth or myth", which undermines the validity of the dominance theory, we can read: "We learn most effectively by questioning old theories. This book does it without a doubt". Questioning, therefore, what "old" The theory of dominance and leadership is to become the legitimate basis for all the resulting claims, and at the same time it is to provide a ticket for newly created concepts. This is probably the best opinion of behaviorists they could give themselves. Philosophizing, pondering, and dreaming up wild theories should undoubtedly be left to them. In these matters, they will always remain far superior to practitioners (such as. The most important of them are people (e.g. Jan Fannell, Cesar Millan) who base their work with a dog first of all on common sense acceptance of the fact that a dog is a dog, a pack animal reacting instinctively, which does not think and feel in human categories (as most of its owners would like to do), that it has natural, primal needs to roam, to search, to fight for survival, to have its territory, to be with a handler or to be guided. Since this is the case, these needs should be met and not expect from the dog to satisfy only human desires, often excessive, selfish and unrealistic for the dog to fulfill, which are unnatural and incomprehensible for him. This is what will show a lack of true love for the dog, "breaking" their nature and inhumane treatment.

The dominance theory does not look for twin similarities between dog and wolf to prove that a domesticated dog is in fact a wolf in dog's skin – what the opponents of the dominance theory are constantly trying to tell us. This theory only explains many of dog's behaviors, which are nowadays tried to stick different, often absurd, even ridiculous theories. Domesticated dog has many characteristics very different from a wolf, but it doesn't mean that he got rid of primitive instincts that often determine his behavior. It is possible to extinguish many of the dog's primal behaviors, but they will certainly resurface if the influencing factors change; environment, surroundings, other individuals, or ultimately the handler himself.

So if someone who breeds flowers or rabbits sits in front of a computer wanting to appear as an expert on dog behaviour, he exposes those who are really looking for reliable sources of information and knowledge to confusion and even deeper disorientation. The dog forums rarely feature practitioners who have worked with more than one dog. Mostly they are accidental people „new thinkers/philosophers”, who various theories try to give a new tone to – their own, their own, innovative, loud, noticeable and commercial. They dissect the dog – like a frog – to the first factors, they discuss in whole megabytes of pages what philosophy is good and what is bad for the dog, they try to „dog specialists”, they criticize experienced practitioners, who first of all work directly with dogs, and not only watch them on photos and you tube videos, making overinterpretations. Such dog theorists, when they run out of arguments, ridicule others or pride themselves on sucking more nonsense out of their fingers.

So show me your dog and I will tell you something about your theory – this is how one could end up philosophizing about dog behavior.

The above is not a total criticism of the theories presented by behaviorists, although they themselves do not accept arguments other than their own. But instead of emphasizing only their own views and completely rejecting all others, maybe it would be better to find a compromise on the level of dialogue and analysis of common points that every theory has. However, this requires stepping outside their rigid pattern of beliefs and being open to other concepts. In the case of methods based on dominance and guidance, the concepts are not only theoretical, but above all practical, based on observations and realized in direct work with the dog in the various difficulties that he manifested.

Opponents of the dominance theory described here often demonstrate many inaccuracies in their own approach to the above issues. They oppose the theory itself but in real life (consciously or unconsciously), they apply a lot of it in direct behaviour and actions towards dogs. A careful observer will notice this many times without much difficulty. Such cognitive inconsistency they try to explain again purely theoretically on principle; „I do, but I really don't”. E.g. there is no herd and no hierarchy, but I try to be a guide (. ); the dog has extinguished primitive instincts, but acts instinctively (instinctively to what?); we explain to people what they have to improve – but it is the dog, not the human, that is being medicated or caged for almost every problem; we are so spontaneous in our relations with dogs, but we train them in obedience – to whom? a partner or handler? If it is a partnership, then a dog and a man should be equal in everything: in freedom of movement in space (without any leash limitations), in eating everywhere, always, everything and at any time, in reproduction, in various whims, so no indications as to what a dog can and cannot do, because this is the domain of the handler.

Behaviorists will certainly be able to teach a dog to walk at the foot, to sit, to linger, to come when called, not to bark, to bark, to do tricks. There are definitely more dogs that undergo these procedures. However their statistics are much worse when they have to deal with e.g. with an aggressive dog, which (regardless of its size) has become dangerous and has taken over total control in its immediate environment. Then their „partner methods” not only turn out to be ineffective, but downright lethal, because most often they only exacerbate the condition and get owners into even more trouble. In such cases, they end their work with prescriptions such as: cage, pharmacology, treatment, putting to sleep (less often, but still a prescription), endless „training”, dedication.

Properly interpreted and realized theory of dominance allows the dog to find itself in the world of man and in mutual friendship enjoy the fact of coexistence. In such an area, a dog can live with us in a sense of security by having many of its needs met: love, consistency, exercise, play. Behaviorist theories certainly sound beautiful and evoke delight, but they are more suited to working with children than with quadrupeds. However, both sides have one thing in common: the dog's passion. So if there is a common ground, maybe there are also roads where you can meet together with your dogs to walk on the paths of different theories.

Every responsible owner should take the time to read and analyze the issues involved in raising a dog contained in the many different ways, methods, techniques of influence. No matter what he chooses, if he does it in a conscious way (not randomly), with not only his own needs in mind but also those of his dog, if he verifies the methods used with the results obtained and is open to other possibilities, he certainly has a chance to become the best guide for his dog. In any other case, even if the dog can do tricks or difficult work, it will only be an illusion of leadership based on the belief that the dog is happy, but only because its owner thinks so.

It is we who need dogs, not they who need us. By letting them be dogs, we get closer not only to them but also to nature, which makes us and our dogs happier and fulfilled in mutual friendship.

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