THE MOST damaging word in the animal training world that I know is the 'D' word….
I hear it uttered daily as a description of pet behaviour and I know I have my work cut out for me as a trainer and rehabilitator when it's used to describe behaviour occurring in the home environment.
Primarily it implies a sinister motive; an "us against them" mentality that is detrimental to the human/animal bond and the cooperative relationship ideal for harmonious, healthy and happy living together.
By definition in the human world (and according to dictionary.com) dominance is defined as control; ruling; authority and ascendency.
As human beings we strive for status and rising up the ranks. We recognise that people in leadership roles like our boss, law enforcement or teachers hold a dominant role in our social lives, but dogs are not people.
Their social awareness is less complicated and more immediate and they do not strive to overthrow owners in an effort to gain higher status positions in their social groups or families.
Animals can't be fearful and dominant at the same time. The motives are mutually exclusive.
Behaviour that occurs out of fear aims to hold threats at bay. It's defensive and desperate and when we as humans fail to understand their needs, it's easy to explain it away as dominance, which is 'bad' and must be overcome through asserting our dominance (usually leading to more insecurity and defensive behaviour from our pets).
Growling and aggressive behaviour does not equal dominance and just because a resource may be valuable to a dog at one moment, it does not mean it will be valuable next time. Those that are first to the food bowl may not be first to the ball or first in line for a pat.
Most animals are non-confrontational. They want shelter, food, warmth and social interaction, which most humans are happy to give when our wants align.
It makes no difference who walks through the door first, whose head is higher or who sits on the furniture. All that really matters is consistency and understanding and for most part, peaceful coexistence.
If you'd like to challenge what you thought you knew about dominance theory, check out "Dominance in Dogs: Fact or Fiction?" by Barry Eaton, an easy read on the subject.)