The Dog Dominance Myth

Is dominance in dogs just a few simple positions and postures… or is it something that runs deeper, something that is not visible to the human eye? For many years now we have heard of training techniques that involve the owner to act like a dominant dog. This involves the person doing things like eating first, walking with your dog beside you or behind you, instead of pulling in front of you, not letting him sleep on high positions in the house like the bed or the sofa and so on.

Although these techniques can help to create a good relationship with your dog, especially when used by novice owners, they don’t always work. From my experiences with not only training dogs but with observing my own dogs I have seen inconsistencies in this theory. I have found that in many instances that all these so called dominant positions do not mean a thing and more importantly they don’t work all the time.

For example my 4 year old Belgian Malinois is quite a dominant female and for the past 3.5 years she has only been submissive to one older pig hunting female on my yard. Any other female I bring onto my yard, no matter what dominant positions they take. Nor how big they are, she will want to dominate them and if I allowed it she would fly into them and attack them with out hesitation. The same goes if I keep these females on my yard for many years, there will always be a struggle for dominance between her and the other female. This is regardless of what dominant behaviour the introduced female will try.

About 6 months ago something interesting happened on my yard. This Malinois submitted to a 18month old Bulldog female I have raised on my yard. This Malinois has dominated the Bulldog female for her entire life. Now this Bulldog female does the same dominant pose as all the other females have tried. But… for some reason it worked for her and the Malinois female submitted…

Another instance that I can think of is when a friend of mine came done from Sydney to visit. I had my dog training class and at the end I needed one of my new clients to fill out some forms. This client, a husband and wife, had a 12month old German Shepherd female that they had absolutely no control over. When filling out the forms the husband, a large guy, handed control of the dog over to his wife who is a much smaller person. I asked my friend who has owned dogs for many years to assist her if she had trouble with the dog.

It was only about one minute before this dog started jumping on the lady. My friend correctly instructed the lady to check the dog with the lead. She did it correctly but the dog continued to jump on her. Seeing this, my friend took control of the leash and checked the dog. To his amazement and hers, this crazy out of control female dropped to the floor and looked up at my friend attentively. She had submitted with the exact same method that did not work for the lady…

While doing house calls for people with problem dogs. All too often the people have commented how calm and well behaved their dog is around me. I hear things like, “I can’t believe it, he is normally jumping up on whoever comes in the door.” Or he isn’t doing it now for some reason.” How can this be if all I have done is walked into their house or yard?

I believe there is something that dogs can see or feel that makes them submit to another animal or obey a human. And all these so called dominant positions are secondary to this “VIBE” someone or some dog gives off. Why else would my Malinois female submit to a younger female that she has been doing dominant positions to all her life and never submitted to other females that would do exactly the same? Why did the female shepherd submit to my friend and not to its owner when he used exactly the same technique as the owner did? Why do peoples out of control dogs act differently when I enter the house?

Relating this “VIBE” back to dog training, I think the “VIBE” can also be called “respect.” A dog is not going to listen to you if it doesn’t have respect for you. Now to make it clear. I believe that not letting your dog sleep on your bed will create a degree of respect. And feeding your dog the correct way will go towards your dog respecting you. Making your dog walk beside you and not in front will also add to the respect your dog has for you. So all these things will go into the respect bank account and effect the relationship you have with your dog. But what I also want to make clear is that if your dog has the utmost respect for you, or you have the “VIBE,” you can let your dog drag you on the leash, or feed it in anyway you like, or let it sleep on the bed and it will still be obedient to you. Because like I said at the start, all these dominant positions/ techniques are only secondary to the “VIBE” you give off.