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Dominance / Pack theory - what does it actually mean?

(10 Posts)
TheBrandNewBLUE Wed 24-May-17 09:56:24

Dominance/pack theory, is something often mentioned as debunked on here. But I don't really understand what it is and generally the reason I've really seen given for it being debunked was that it's because it was based on an a pack of wolves that humans had put together, rather than a natural pack.

I would be very grateful if someone could explain:
a) what dominance theory is?
b) what does it incorporate? I.e. I don't allow my dog on my lap unless I invite him - does that count? And why does or doesn't it?
c) why has the theory been debunked? The wolf pack studied being a mix of wolves people put together rather than a natural family pack surely makes it closer to a home set up with humans?

Thank you and as I said I am just intrigued and trying to get my head around what dominance/pack theory actually means.

tabulahrasa Wed 24-May-17 11:26:52

Dominance and pack theory in practise is the idea that dogs will try to assert dominance over people and to train them you need to establish yourself as the pack leader by behaving in certain ways.

So if you're having an issue with your dog, instead of tackling that specific issue, you do things like establish rules about you eating before they do or never letting them on furniture because it gives them ideas above their station hmm

It's been dubunked because firstly, wolf packs don't actually work like that, wolf packs are a family, the wolves that are in charge aren't usually asserting that by 'alpha rolling' or any other method, they're in charge because they're the parents of the other wolves...which is a hugely different dynamic than the one observed by the study mentioned.

Also, dogs aren't wolves, they don't live in packs and they're well aware that we are not dogs.

Thewolfsjustapuppy Wed 24-May-17 11:47:26

I think that one of the biggest problems with dominance theory is that it seems to advocate a level of assertive behaviour over your dog that is intimidating to the the dog (like the way that Ceaser Milan AKA the Dog whisperer seemed to train his dogs) on some dogs this seems effective if not harmful but on many dogs it was very harmful to the dogs psyche. As opposed to reward based positive reinforcement which is an effective training method on most dogs.
It's not helpful to look at dogs behaviour in relation to other dogs as being dominant either as most of the time those that are being perceived as dominant are in fact just plain rude to other dogs - poor socialisation has resulted in the dog having no idea how to read or use their innate calming signals when interacting with other dogs ( it works on humans who can read calming signals too).

tabulahrasa Wed 24-May-17 12:00:13

"As opposed to reward based positive reinforcement which is an effective training method on most dogs."

Positive reinforcement comes from behavioural science...it works on any animal, including humans, lol.

But that's a fair point training methods based on dominance theory have the potential to create dogs with huge psychological issues and can make dogs dangerous to humans... if your positive training goes wrong, you've just got a dog who still isn't doing what you were trying to teach it.

Thewolfsjustapuppy Wed 24-May-17 12:26:19

I agree it is effective but I find that if I state that something is always the case then there is a barrage of posters saying that they are the exception to that rule hmm. MN has trained me to generalise my posts. I need to toughen up grin.

CornflakeHomunculus Wed 24-May-17 12:50:29

Have a read through the following resources OP, I think they'll go a long way towards answering your questions:

Why Won't Dominance Die?

So You Think Your Dog Is Dominant?

Fiction: Dominance In Dogs - An Easy Read

Dominance theory based training does have some overlap with more modern, science based techniques. It's the reason behind why certain things work that is the key.

Obviously things like alpha rolling, staring your dog down and nibbling a cracker before they eat range from potentially dangerous to rather silly but some methods often employed by dominance theorists aren't remotely harmful and do have a positive effect on behaviour. It's just not for the reasons they think!!

A good example is getting a dog to wait whilst you put their bowl down then giving them a release command. It doesn't make your dog think you're the "alpha" but it is a good little impulse control exercise and better impulse control has a positive effect on behaviour in general. I do this with my dogs for two main reasons: 1) I've got four dogs and I don't want a scrum for food as soon as bowls start going down, and 2) the fact it's an easy, very regular refresher when it comes to impulse control.

You not allowing your dog on your lap unless he's invited may be something that a dominance based trainer would tell you is helping reinforce his position in the pack. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing for you to do though.

TheBrandNewBLUE Wed 24-May-17 14:00:40

Ok so dominance/pack theory is basically like the human acting like a strict Victorian era father. Using the cane, children to be seen but not heard, man to get the best of everything, his dinner served and on the table first and children to silently accept it - "respect" through fear of a bully. As opposed to modern parenting (or modern positive re-enforcement dog training) where we reward and encourage, good behaviour, try to ensure consequences are logical (e.g. with young child parent makes child hold their hand, if they don't walk nicely on the path, next to a road). So encouraging children to be happy and fulfilled, whilst having clear boundaries and consequences to keep them safe and ensure they learn how to behave around other people.

Corn they are two very good examples. I don't let him have his dinner until he is sitting in his crate (more like a play pen with a lid), not because I'm boss and I'm asserting that but because it's more practical with young DC to have the dogs food secured from my youngest DC, provides a positive​ association with the crate and has taught him not to jump up and down like an over excited bouncy ball, making it possible for my eldest DC to put his food bowl down safely, which has given them closer bond. So whilst someone could say it was dominance/pack theory it's actually nothing to do with that.

With the not allowing him onto my lap unless invited was started because he's a total lap magnet and wants to be in my lap the second my bottom touches the seat, which a) isn't always practical and b) meant that once we had a collision - when I went to sit down, I suddenly remembered I needed to do something and stood back up before I'd fully sat down but dog had already launched himself at my lap so we collided mid air and pup being the smaller one went flying - it was horrible. So after that I taught him not to jump up until I call him, to keep us both safe. I also think it helps instill good manners when guests visit. It's certainly not intended as a statement of I'm boss - know your place.

tabulahrasa Wed 24-May-17 14:16:39

More or less yep.

My dog waits for his food and to go through doorways because I don't want 38kg of dog rushing me, but i don't do it because I think it gives me a higher status than him and I know it'll not stop him from doing anything else unless I work on that specific behaviour.

TheBrandNewBLUE Wed 24-May-17 16:36:33

corn that last link is very good. I wish I could copy the bit about ray coppinger's study on feral dogs across. I think that is the best explanation as to why it was debunked.

Also I think it was the cross over of things like waiting until you'd gone through a door way, sitting before food is put down, etc that was confusing me as to what the hell dominance / pack theory meant, that was different to other methods. Now I get it.
Pack theory = I will be your boss and you will do as I tell you. Plus I will make you do things, like not let you through door ways, for no real reason other than to assert that authority - in the hope you are bullied by and scared enough of me that you will do as I say in any situation.

Modern positive techniques = more like a modern parenting style - I will reward the good and try to help and guide you to learn to behave in a socially acceptable way, and accept there will be individual problems that will need individual solutions. Forcing you to do unrelated x, y, z things, will not suddenly correct a, b, c issues. If I teach you things like wait for me to go through a door way, it'll be for practical or safety reason directly related to that (i.e. big dog rushing through door could hurt either or both of you).

TheBrandNewBLUE Wed 24-May-17 16:39:44

Thank you all for your clear and thorough explanationssmile

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