Using the “D” word

Dominance.  A word that is often haphazardly and disproportionately used in the field of Dog Training.  

I would never say that I consider myself an “Authority” on this topic…but when you have personally owned 10+ dogs for the last 10+ years AND you have daily access to an ever-changing line-up of up to 30 other dogs with which to observe their interactions with each other, there is a LOT to be observed and taken away. This is what has greatly informed my hierarchal philosophies that I bring to my position as a Behavioral Trainer.

Dominance is one word that you will rarely hear used in our business here at CBS Inc. We don’t see Aggression as coming from a place of “Dominance“…rather, I see Aggression stemming from fear, insecurity, possession, control of resources & territory…but not from the “D” words.

Truly Dominant dogs, in my experience, tend to be more Confident than Aggressive and tend to rank higher on the hierarchy scale.

Other dogs that interact with these Confident dogs will normally show deference to the higher ranking, more Confident dog.

Confident dogs will allow themselves to be sniffed all over by Subordinates…but not as easily from another Confident dog.

The true Subordinate dog will always allow the Confident dog to sniff all them all over…but the Subordinate dog will almost always have trouble allowing another Subordinate dog to encroach upon their personal space…unless the two Subordinates already have relations.

Dogs that have relationships with one another will often allow things to occur, between them, that flies in the face of the normal hierarchal proclivities & interactions.

Sometimes the Confident higher ranking member will show deference to a Subordinate just to get them to feel confident enough to play.

I see this daily in my lead dog, a 2.5 yr old intact male Rottweiler, Prince Rufus. He’s the only intact male we have and whether or not that influences his ranking…I can’t say for sure but the correlation is certainly present.

That said, I will regularly introduce a Subordinate to Rufus…usually a female (I do believe that dogs are or can be “gender-biased”…but that’s a whole other topic for another day) who is insecure and anxious to meet other dogs. Rufus’ behavior in this context, regardless of how much the dog defers to him, is to stay calm and collected. He allows the Subordinate, provided their approach is Safe and respectful, to enter his space and even to sniff his butt (another sign of Confidence on Rufus’ part).

In turn, this almost always seems to give the Subordinate a boost of confidence or more likely, it allows the Sub to feel “safe”. He will post sideways to her…relaying through his body language that he’s not a threat to her.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere…Rufus will do his “patented” Drop & Roll. Often, he’ll do this repeatedly as if to bait the Sub to engage in some interactive play.

Dropping to the ground and rolling onto his back and then repeating it…sometimes with 2 or 3 “summer-saults” and then will run around the Sub to try to get her to engage in play.

Sure, his tail is up (well, the “nub” anyway)…his ears are high, his eye contact is strong…but, if the female does come up to his face, he’ll often avert her gaze. Normally, a behaviorist would take the gesture of averting gaze as the dog doing the look-away would be the Subordinate…but in this case, that’s not the case…not at all.

What Rufus is doing by averting her gaze is to show deference…yes. But NOT deference to her rank in the hierarchy…but actually to further the “conversation” they are having where Rufus is continuously “telling” the Sub that he’s not here to hurt her or to “dominate” her. He’s telling her, in no uncertain or misunderstood terms, that he is Confident and that his Confidence will allow him to play with her like another like-minded Subordinate.

The Sub clearly does not now think that she’s higher ranking than Rufus just because he averted her gaze. This just doesn’t happen – and is not considered some sort of miscommunication nor is Rufus feeling “submissive” to her…he’s simply saying…”look, I’m showing you that it is safe to ‘let your hair down and just play”.

Some may find that interaction contradictory or confusing.

I see it so occur so often that to me, it makes total sense. My belief is that his apparent deference to the Sub shows how truly Confident he really is.

The moral to this story, from my perspective, is this – if you are thinking of hiring a Trainer to help you with your dog’s behavior and the terminology that Trainer uses is filled with things like…”sounds like he’s being Dominant” or that sounds like “Dominance Aggression” or things like that…well, I’d recommend a 2nd opinion!

The photo here was taken from the original Facebook post from an article written in Bark Magazine.  Here’s a link to the original article:

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