In this post, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts about dominance. There is a preconception out there among dog trainers that dominance doesn’t exist, founded on the idea that dogs aren’t actually pack animals (which may or may not be true). This idea has gained a lot of traction during the last few years.
This morning I was out walking my dog Chip and Sword, the Belgian malamute I’m training as a protection dog. Out there, watching these two dogs, I’m reminded of the lessons dogs can teach us about dominance and how they can apply them to ourselves. Chocolate Chip and Sword are both fantastic dogs, and Chip is a feisty little girl, but Sword is a lot more powerful. He’s in training for protection, he’s strong, and when he bites he’s ferocious.
Whenever I let these two out in the backyard, however, Chip wants to dominate Sword. She’ll growl and bite his neck. If he lies down, she’ll stand on top of him. Her posture is domineering in nature: she’ll puff up her chest and try to push against him. This isn’t true just with Sword. Chip will behave this way with every other dog, so I need to carefully guide how she plays. She always wants to own the conversation.
When I hear people saying that dominance isn’t real, I always think of Chip. Why does she stand over Sword to make sure he doesn’t move? Why does she growl and push him around? Why will she shove him out of her way to get a toy? Why would she do these things if dominance doesn’t exist?
I think that people come to deny the existence of dominance because they’ve erroneously interpreted data. Research says that if you’re brutal and physically dominant with your dog, you’ll make them afraid. The prevailing mindset has therefore moved away from teaching dominance. But that’s not the way to go. Dominance exists. You, as the owner and human, don’t need to capitalize on it by being dominant over your dog. You don’t need to growl on your dog, put it on its back, or be bossy—but you do need to be a leader.
Notice how I’ve made a distinction there, because being dominant and being a leader are two very different things. I try to think of myself as the leader of my company, but I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being dominant toward my employees. Leadership is simply guidelines and expectations that you follow through on. It doesn’t require bossiness, talking in a deep voice, or being physically tough. All it requires is deciding what the rules are, outlining your expectations, and following through on them.
Dominance does exist, but you shouldn’t worry about it. You don’t need to be dominant toward your dog! You just need to be a good leader.