Unraveling the confusion around the word: Dominance.

Let’s just keep this simple and work definitively:

noun: dominance

  1. power and influence over others.

noun: power; plural noun: powers

  1. the ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality.”the power of speech”
  2. the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.”she had me under her power.

noun influence

  1. the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

So what do dogs naturally seek to have power or influence over?

The 4 most obvious things are: FOOD, RESTING PLACES, ACTIVITY, & AFFECTION.

When a dog has open access to or MAKES DECISIONS regarding these things they will defend them as rightfully theirs. Dominance is having FIRST right to limited or valued resources. When a dog is in this position they may also defend their ownership and leadership over household members (pack members). An example of this is a dog biting a child because he is in competition for maintaining his control or power over affection received from mom, or the couch. So, how does this apply to our dogs and providing leadership in our homes?

First, we need to understand that dogs do accept humans as part of their pack. We know that packs include hierarchy subsequent to maturity (meaning a littler of pups will establish their own hierarchy scale but still all be below adult dogs….puppies can view adult humans as “litter mates” or equals). Knowing this we need to assume that if there is not leadership present our dogs will will assume the dominant or leadership position. Referencing the definitions above we can see that controlling the resources listed in a productive manner would be the easy way to establish dominance.

How do we control food? controlling when the dog eats (not free feeding) and having the dog earn it by performing a task before eating like going on a productive walk, or using their food as training “treats”.

How do we control resting places? Creating a clear variance between the dog’s allocated resting places and ours. Resting places are VERY important to dogs. Their bed should their bed. Babies, children and visitors should not disturb the dog on its bed. The couch and our beds can easily be viewed (and defended) by the dog as theirs. If a dog believes they are in ownership of a resting place (our bed or the couch) it is only natural that they would bite to discipline anyone for disturbing it. Some dogs are more tolerant than others but this is something to evaluate as many “unprovoked attacks” are over resting places.

How do we control activity? by deciding when it starts and when it ends, instead of waiting for our dog to bring us the toy to play fetch or waiting for our dog to sit by the door to go out or on a walk, beat them to punch. Call your dog outside for a game of fetch, go for a walk, or to do some obedience work. Pick up toys in the house when you are home so that you can present the toy to they dog with value and intention.

How do we control affection? by deciding when it happens and timing it to create value. If our dogs receive solicited affection then they are controlling it. Instead of loving on our dogs at their request call them over to give them lovies, keep it short and sweet or offer it after a behavior has been executed properly. Verbal affection matters too….does your dog earn the lovely smushy talk or does it happen all the time? By saying when and why our dogs receive affection we are controlling a very important resource. We want our love to mean something so we can use it as a reward. Overdoing it or letting our pups control it devalues it immensely and can set them up to react negatively if they are not in the mood for it. The exception here is the greeting, when you get home and your pup is happy to see you and you them…..love it up!

NO where in the definitions do we see reference to violence, “alpha rolling”, or “showing the dog who’s boss”.

It is simply deciding when and how valued resources are utilized and dispersed. BY practicing leadership and dominance (meaning the human has FIRST right to limited recourses) we are communicating to our dog’s DNA very clear expectations.

By controlling these simple things consistently we can establish ourselves as leaders. When we lead and provide for our dogs, teach them obedience fairly, and socialize them calmly, we can prevent confusion, dominance aggression and most importantly we can have heartfelt and meaningful relationships with our dogs.