Dominance – Dare we use the ‘D’ word?



In a very good article Melissa Starling says, ‘Come with me on a journey of the science of dominance in domestic dogs, but leave everything you think you know at the door’.

She asks what actually is dominance?  Is there such a thing as dominance in dogs?

Starling says yes. The scientific literature is actually quite clear on this point. Studies find that at least between two dogs in situations where they are both exposed to a resource, such as food, one dog will typically win out, usually without violence.  She says leadership is not demanded by a dominant member, but maintained by subordinates wanting to be close to leaders and therefore following them.

Jennifer Cattet Ph.D also says yes in answer to the dominance in dogs question. She describes the two schools of thought – those who believe that dogs define every interaction with others in terms of dominant and submissive and that we need to be the ‘leader of the pack’, and those who question the concept of dominance to the point that many now believe that it simply does not apply to dogs at all (or to wolves).

Cattet says: Dominance between animals, including dogs is a validated scientific concept that helps describe and understand certain social dynamics between animals. But contrary to what has been advocated, we don’t gain stability in the group by forcefully exerting dominance.

However, Diane Garrod in her PPG blog post says that dominance in dogs is scientifically proven to be a myth! No wonder we are confused! To quote: The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) continues to debunk dominance in their efforts to inform the dog training public to the myths of dominance, as stated in an article “Dominance and Dog Training“.

It seems to me that these three sources are saying the same thing and that the confusion is in the semantics. The APDT explains, dominance doesn’t exist in dogs as such. “Dominance is not a personality trait…….. is “primarily a descriptive term for relationships between pairs of individuals,” and moreover, “the use of the expression ‘dominant dog’ is meaningless, since “dominance” can apply only to a relationship between individuals. (Bradshaw et al., 2009)”

Here is the story of a dog I worked with whose owner, having watched TV programmes and believing it was the way to control his dog, had ruined their relationship by trying to ‘dominate’ him;

Here is my man website:


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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