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Dominance in Dogs
What is it about? You may have read books or seen TV shows that tell you that your dog will seek to dominate you, your family members and other pets unless you become the “alpha” and put him in his place. The theory is that since dogs evolved from wolves and wolves (supposedly) form packs with strict pecking orders and battle each other to become the pack leader, your dog will do the same within your household. In this new US edition, author Barry Eaton separates out the facts from the fiction regarding dominance in pet dogs, presenting the reader with the results of recent research into the behaviour of wolves and the impacts of selective breeding on the behaviour of dogs. The results may surprise you and will surely inform you.
More about Barry- Barry Eaton lives in England where he is an Affiliate of the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and a member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers. He is an expert on training deaf dogs and is the author of the popular book Hear, Hear. He is the former chair of the Wessex Sheepdog Society and enjoyed participating in sheepdog trials.
When was it published? 2010
Who published it? Dogwise Publishing
Illustrations- Black and white photographs
MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
“How far is the dog from the roving packs of wolves in the past? "Dominance in Dogs: Fact or Fiction?" discusses the idea that dogs will try to become alpha males in their families, drawing their canine instincts. Studying wolves and comparing them to domestic dogs and how the habits differ are similar, Barry Eaton provides quite the thoughtful study on dogs and their dominance. "Dominance In Dogs" is a thoughtful collection, very highly recommended”. James A. Cox
IN DEPTH REVIEW
For many years the general belief was that dogs were just like wolves. Like their ancestors they form packs that work on strict hierarchies with dogs battling one another to become pack leader.
The theory followed that in a domesticated setting our dogs would try to dominate us to become pack leader.
It is a theory that is laid to waste by Barry Eaton’s informative and extremely interesting book, which offers a completely different view about dominance in dogs.
Author, Barry Eaton is an Affiliate of the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and a member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviorists and Trainers. When researching the subject of dominance for his diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour and Training with COAPE, he realized there was a distinct lack of literature available on the latest and most up to date theories on dominance. He got to work and the result is this fascinating guide that explains to us the truth behind dominance in dogs.
He uses recent research to explain to the reader how through selective breeding for certain behaviours, the dog no longer bears such a close resemblance to the wolf. The domesticated dog and wild wolf live in two very different worlds, and therefore, we cannot expect training principles based upon pack rules to have an effect on the modern day dog.
Eaton argues further, that much of the past research collected about wolves has been largely inaccurate and therefore many of these ‘rules’ have no basis in reality, and can often be harmful and confusing for dogs.
He explains how behaviours typically seen as dominant can be explained through poor socialisation and training and can be easily managed without the need to assert authority over the dog.
Eaton simply separates the facts from the fiction in this commonsense guide to understanding dominance in dogs, described by no less an international authority than Dr Ian Dunbar as “a little book with a big message”.
Chapter one begins by explaining the meaning of dominance. Eaton first looks at the dictionary definition and examines how it relates to people. He then goes on to explain what dominance means in a wolf’s world, how packs are largely peaceable, violence is rare and hierarchies maintained by ritualised behaviour.
Eaton then examines dominance in the domesticated dog. He looks at situations where dogs are typically thought to show dominance, such as in accessing resources and in aggression towards people, and explains how these situations are often misinterpreted, and the dog is in fact not acting to assert his authority.
Chapter two examines some of the distinctions between wolves and dogs and why training programmes designed for pet dogs based on wolf behaviour are ineffective and out-dated. Eaton explains to the reader that while there are many similarities between dogs and wolves, there are also significant differences. Over the years we have bred dogs for many different functions, and ultimately this means we have bred for looks and for behaviour, meaning the dogs similarity with the wolf has become less and less over time.
Therefore, the domesticated dog no longer shares the same instincts as a wolf in the wild, as it has been adapted to suit our needs. For example, predatory motor patterns have changed in the Border Collie to enable it to round up sheep without the instinct to kill.
Chapter three discusses packs and how a common notion exists that because wolves are pack animals, dogs are also. In an attempt to determine how relevant the pack is to our pet dog, Eaton examines the structure and function of packs as well as how and when they form, looking at the typical make up of a wolf pack, normally consisting of an adult pair and their offspring.
He then looks at how studying packs in captivity has not given us an accurate representation of what pack life is really like in the wild, where the emphasis is on survival and cooperation, and not dominance. Behaviour, such as the alpha wolf always eating first, is in fact largely a myth.
Further to this, research has suggested that packing behaviour is not entirely genetic, as was once thought, but more a strategy adopted for survival. The domesticated dog no longer has a strong survival instinct. Because of this, Eaton argues, they do not have the need to form packs. Through studying feral dogs, it has been found that they instead form groups, in which social rules are far more relaxed and dogs can come and go as they please.
Domestication has changed the dog in so many ways that they have also lost the capabilities that enabled them to live exclusively within a group of one species. The major difference in appearances between breeds means that social communication can become somewhat confused and misunderstood. Eaton finishes by saying that ultimately dogs view us as humans and therefore not a part of their pack or group. Because of this, they feel no need to compete with us for status.
Chapter four examines pack rules, and how in the past professionals have mistakenly attempted to apply them to dogs. Many training regimes and systems have been founded on the basis of following what were thought of as the ‘pack rules’ of wild wolf packs. Eaton gives us common examples of behaviours that are believed to transpose wolf behaviour into rules, such as always eat before your dog, never step over your dog, never let your dog on the furniture and never let your dog win a game of tug, and explains why these rules and beliefs are ineffective and untrue. In some cases, he argues, they confuse the dog further.
Finally, Eaton looks at rank reduction programmes, which treat dominant dogs by applying pack rules and explains, how in his opinion, they are largely unsuccessful and fail to treat the specific problem.
Chapter five aims to provide us with a definition of dominance that makes sense to the domesticated dog. Eaton explains how behaviours typically thought of as dominant, such as food guarding are in fact a result of poor training and socialisation that had led the dog to guard his resources. He also explains how dominance aggression most commonly occurs as a dog’s reaction to fear rather than the dog trying to assert himself.
Chapter six looks at the alternative to bringing a dog up on misguided pack principles and what approach we should adopt instead. Eaton advocates finding books and a trainer that do not base their principles on pack rules, but instead place a major emphasis on socialisation. He provides guidance and tips on selecting a breeder, socialising the puppy, finding the right training class, household etiquette and training principles, in order to raise and train the dog in a positive and effective manner.
In chapter 7, Eaton concludes how trying to dominate our dogs is a misguided and out-dated principle. Although descended from wolves, domesticated dogs live extremely different lives, and principles that were founded on observing wolves in captivity have very little relevance to dogs today. Dogs do not feel the need to assert their status above us, and behaviour thought of as such, often occurs as a result of our own errors.
Eaton suggests instead of asserting ourselves as pack leaders, we should aim to be fair and consistent ‘responsible dog owners’, with emphasis on correct socialisation and training that will enable our dogs to live in harmony with us in our society.
By challenging theories from the past Eaton allows us to learn and understand more about the reality of dogs in their present state. We are responsible for domesticating dogs and it is through our selective breeding programmes that dogs have lost many of their wolf like traits. Therefore surely we owe it to dogs to properly understand what we have created.
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