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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
The topic of pack behavior and dominance (or alpha) dynamics being debunked comes up often, and I'd like to take the time to assess the viability of some of the "debunking" claims I keep running across.

First, there's this:
Even though dogs and wolves are genetically similar, they are separated by at least fifteen thousand years of domestication that has changed them in many important ways. Today’s domestic dog is approximately as genetically similar to the wolf as we humans are to chimpanzees
ref. link

Let's see... where to start?
1) Are the genetic differences between humans and chimps of the same order of magnitude as those between wolves and dogs? Well, chimps and humans have 96% of their DNA in common (ref link), while dogs and wolves share 98.8% (ref link). Close enough, right? Well, 2.8% may seem insignificant, but it does make the above claim mathematically false. Genetically speaking, 2.8% is quite a canyon to bridge (most DNA is "junk" DNA, and hence quantity doesn't tell the whole story). Which leads us to...

2) Dogs and wolves aren't just genetically similar, they are the same species (Canis)! Dogs and wolves can inter-breed, and so can their offspring (one of the tests for species is multi-generational breeding). Can we say the same about chimps and humans? Oops! Nope.

3) As for the 15K years (~40K in some estimates), why not note the evolutionary time distance between chimps and humans? Oh, yeah, because it is several orders of magnitude greater, perhaps? 13 million years, in case you care to count.

4) Not only can dogs and wolves interbreed, but several dog breeds have been generated by bringing wolves into the blood line. That 15K years just got significantly shorter.

5) Finally, do anthropologists study chimps and other primates to understand human behavior? All the time! (ref link) In particular, check out studies of Bonobos (ref link), who are closer genetically to us (98.7% -- ring a bell?).

Associated with this claim are comments about studies of wolf pack behavior in captivity being irrelevant given that wolves interact differently in the wild. Well, that would pass the giggle test if domesticated dogs also lived in the wild, but alas, by definition, they do not! (See my follow-up post on this thread for more on this.)

All of which goes to say, when debunking something scientifically, it helps immensely to get the science straight.
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
To further address the issue of dominance debunking, let us now review verbatim David Mech's alleged recantation of the "alpha" concept. While the beginning of thisvideo seems to support the claim that David Mech changed his mind (with much regret!), please do not miss what he says at the 1:35 minute mark.
And I quote:

"It's appropriate to use the term 'alpha' in an artificial pack where you might put many wolves from different assemblages together,... then they would form a pecking order or a dominance hierarchy, and you could call the top animal at that point the 'alpha.' But that happens rarely in the wild, if ever." (emphasis mine)

Then, he goes on to note special cases in the wild where dominance can and has developed. Again, there, you have the 'assemblages' effect he mentions at work.

Now, let's listen for comprehension to what he actually said, and let's think about what happens in a home where you have two or more dogs:

1) First, your home is not the wild!!! Your pooch is not ranging free in the middle of Yosemite or Yellowstone.
2) Second, the dogs, as benign as we may make it, are living in captivity.
3) Third, unless you bred all the dogs from a single male/female pair, BINGO, most of us have exactly the sort of "assemblages" Dr. Mech refers to.

Now, will someone with a straight face and a modicum of logical wherewithal please explain how this debunks anything? Or can we use, if nothing else, common sense to admit that, yes, at least when it comes to multiple dogs in a home we could face dominance issues among them?

Note: this is not to say that dominance is useful in human-dog interaction, or as a manner of training. I am not advocating that. However, I am concerned when many of our discussions about the validity of dominance discount it as a reality among some dogs, in some circumstances. That strikes me as unnecessarily tossing away valuable insight.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
One final point requires addressing, whether the process of domestication itself, and the selective breeding that goes with it has fundamentally changed a dog's nature so that it differs substantially in behavior and innate drive from a wolf. This on its face seems a valid point, as one might argue that the breeding-selection process was meant (in part) to make dogs less wolf-like (less aggressive, more compliant). Wouldn't that make them less dominant (or aggressive, or whatever) than wolves?

A recent study reveals a surprising and opposite finding. Wolves, left to themselves are more cooperative, more independent than dogs. I'll let the following summary statement from the linked article expand on the point:
For dog lovers, comparative psychologists Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi have an unsettling conclusion. Many researchers think that as humans domesticated wolves, they selected for a cooperative nature, resulting in animals keen to pitch in on tasks with humans. But when the two scientists at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna studied lab-raised dog and wolf packs, they found that wolves were the tolerant, cooperative ones. The dogs, in contrast, formed strict, linear dominance hierarchies that demand obedience from subordinates, Range explained last week at the Animal Behavior Society meeting at Princeton University. As wolves became dogs, she thinks, they were bred for the ability to follow orders and to be dependent on human masters.
For the sake of completeness, here's another study that yields an opposite conclusion in studies of feral dog packs:
Of course wolves are not dogs, so let's look at a recent (2010) piece of research by Roberto Bonanni of the University of Parma and his associates. They looked at free-ranging packs of dogs in Italy and found that leadership was a very fluid thing. For example, in one pack, which had 27 members, there were 6 dogs that habitually took turns leading the pack, but at least half of the adult dogs were leaders, at least some of the time. The dogs that were usually found leading the pack tended to be the older, more experienced dogs, but not necessarily the most dominant. The pack seems to allow leadership to dogs, who at particular times seem to be most likely to contribute to the welfare of the pack through knowledge that can access the resources they require.
Note that since this second study examined feral dogs, in the wild, so to speak, the applicability of that environmental context to a pack of dogs in a home/confined setting is open to further questioning. The first study was performed in the lab (in captivity). While that setting may not exactly match our homes, it comes closer than free-range living.
 

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Regardless of wolf and dog power dynamics amongst one another, I think the most relevant thing "debunking" addresses is that an animal's status has little bearing on its basic manners and obedience skills. Some of the rudest dogs I've trained are also the most submissive. Your dog doesn't pee on your shoes to assert dominance... he does it because you haven't properly trained him where to pee!

Further we have to ask the question of whether dogs view and treat us as fellow dogs. We are two species learning a second language. While dogs only really know how to express themselves to us in their own language, they have a highly-developed (very possibly through evolution) sense of our (body) language. They can easily read our expressions and formulate a response.

In the end, I do realize that all group animals have a social structure--- either an extremely rigid linear pecking order or a looser, more variable dynamic. To anyone who thinks that wolf social behavior is analogous to dog behavior, I would ask them how they think a wolf would fare in a dog park... or a dog in a wolf enclosure!

I figure that either way, for as long as clicker training and force-free training is the preferred method for training wolves as well as dogs, though, that there shouldn't be too much to debate about when it comes for methods of training canines.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Regardless of wolf and dog power dynamics amongst one another, I think the most relevant thing "debunking" addresses is that an animal's status has little bearing on its basic manners and obedience skills. Some of the rudest dogs I've trained are also the most submissive. Your dog doesn't pee on your shoes to assert dominance... he does it because you haven't properly trained him where to pee!
Well, we can always prove anything (even the ridiculous) by appealing to the ridiculous. ;) Are we to assume that peeing encompasses the whole of canine ill behavior that may or may not arise from dominance dynamics? Or are we to marvel at the coincidence that your response does not mention violent and aggressive behavior?

Further we have to ask the question of whether dogs view and treat us as fellow dogs. We are two species learning a second language. While dogs only really know how to express themselves to us in their own language, they have a highly-developed (very possibly through evolution) sense of our (body) language. They can easily read our expressions and formulate a response.
As I stated in my OP and follow-ups, this is not the point of this thread. Dog-to-dog dynamics only, so shifting the argument does not address the points I made.

In the end, I do realize that all group animals have a social structure--- either an extremely rigid linear pecking order or a looser, more variable dynamic. To anyone who thinks that wolf social behavior is analogous to dog behavior, I would ask them how they think a wolf would fare in a dog park... or a dog in a wolf enclosure!
And there is the appeal to the ridiculous again. How does this observation change or negate the stipulation you make in the first sentence of the above paragraph? If there's a pecking order, how does wolf behavior in a dog park change that? I could play along and assert that the wolf will be alpha, hands down, and then what?

I figure that either way, for as long as clicker training and force-free training is the preferred method for training wolves as well as dogs, though, that there shouldn't be too much to debate about when it comes for methods of training canines.
Again, shifting the argument. The OP was not about recommending or advocating dominance over dogs (by humans) as a training approach. We should not, however, be so quick to dismiss dominance altogether (and talk it away by shoe-horning it into convenient alternatives like resource guarding, or anxiety, which are often applicable, but not comprehensive explanations) and so miss out on the full picture of insight into canine behavior for settings where we have multiple dogs living under a single roof.
 

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Well, we can always prove anything (even the ridiculous) by appealing to the ridiculous. ;) Are we to assume that peeing encompasses the whole of canine ill behavior that may or may not arise from dominance dynamics? Or are we to marvel at the coincidence that your response does not mention violent and aggressive behavior?
Jeez. This person was trying to contribute to the thread, and didn't realize you were waiting to pounce. I think you should be left alone to talk to yourself. :rolleyes:
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Jeez. This person was trying to contribute to the thread, and didn't realize you were waiting to pounce. I think you should be left alone to talk to yourself. :rolleyes:
We are having a discussion here on the merits of what I posted and responses to it. If you have facts, data, and logical argumentation to offer, please feel free to contribute. I'm not understanding how your response assists us in that regard, so we will leave it there...
 

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Well, we can always prove anything (even the ridiculous) by appealing to the ridiculous. ;) Are we to assume that peeing encompasses the whole of canine ill behavior that may or may not arise from dominance dynamics? Or are we to marvel at the coincidence that your response does not mention violent and aggressive behavior?

As I stated in my OP and follow-ups, this is not the point of this thread. Dog-to-dog dynamics only, so shifting the argument does not address the points I made.

And there is the appeal to the ridiculous again. How does this observation change or negate the stipulation you make in the first sentence of the above paragraph? If there's a pecking order, how does wolf behavior in a dog park change that? I could play along and assert that the wolf will be alpha, hands down, and then what?

Again, shifting the argument. The OP was not about recommending or advocating dominance over dogs (by humans) as a training approach. We should not, however, be so quick to dismiss dominance altogether (and talk it away by shoe-horning it into convenient alternatives like resource guarding, or anxiety, which are often applicable, but not comprehensive explanations) and so miss out on the full picture of insight into canine behavior for settings where we have multiple dogs living under a single roof.
The ridiculous, as far as assumptions about dog behavior, comes from assuming that a creature that depends on us for food, water, shelter, and as a main social connection can by it's will dominate us in any way ;)

If you want to talk dominance, look up the ethological definition. 'Dominance' is defined as the being who, at a given time, is in control of a resource. If I don't want to give my dog a resource, I don't have to-- point blank. I can choose not to feed him, not to provide him with water, to leave him in the backyard, to ignore him. It is because we are in control of these resources that dogs will often resort to non-confrontational means of getting them: begging, learning behaviors like tricks and bad habits, and trying to sneak them without our knowledge. Until dogs develop more advanced cognition and opposable thumbs, we will be the at the top of the pack.

Now, if you want to talk about violent and aggressive behavior, I can link you to many, many studies asserting that this is the product of fear rather than a matter of dominance or submission. From my learning and personal experiences with dogs in professional walking, training, boarding and in daycare, this tends to be the case 99% if not 100% of the time. As social creatures, dogs have few reasons, other than an immediate (real or percieved) threat to their safety, to confront those that it can get along with. Confrontation is inefficient. All you need is another creature to call your bluff and you get a fight. Where you get a fight you get a waste of energy, injury, infection and or death-- whether you come out on the top or the bottom. This is probably why measures taken to reduce fear and anxiety in dogs (counterconditioning, desensitization, even supplements and medication) are so efficient at countering aggressive behavior.

I mean... I see what you are driving at with your argument about artificial packs but you are missing (or sidestepping) the entire other end of the argument Mech puts forth about stress in captivity and scarcity of resources. Specifically:

(1) The wolves in Schenkel's pack were stressed. They were probably about as stressed as wolves can be. They were not allowed to exhibit natural behaviour, provided with little mental stimulation, their basic social needs (either a nuclear family or a mate) were not met, their nutritional needs probably weren't met either... That's like trying to judge human behavior based on behavior of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. It simply isn't an accurate snapshot of normative human behavior.

(2) There were things to compete over: Food, water, hiding places, mates... This competition rarely exists among housepets that aren't victims of serious neglect. If you kept any animal the way animals were kept in a mid-century zoo, animal control would probably hunt you down.

Another thing to consider is that genetic similarity =/= morphological or behavioral similarity. We have so many common genes with pigs that we can take their organs as transplants and even catch flus from them. Lions can also hybridize with tigers, but one is a social, matriarchal animal and the other a solitary, male-dominates species. See where I'm going with this?

Unlike the gray wolf, which has an extremely short socialization window for developing interspecies friendships (I believe that they must be exposed to an animal for 24 hours straight, and while they are under 4 weeks of age), dog possess a unique ability to relate to creatures that are unlike them. They also respond to different cues in training, and speak different "languages" (and this is why wolves often can not be kept alongside dogs: dogs don't know how to not offend them and will cause fights without meaning to). No "alpha", no dominance, just vet bills all around. Finally, they respond to humans differently. Wolves will dig their way out of pretty much any crate you put them in, no matter how young you start them. They will claw through drywall if confined. They respond less to human voice. And so forth.

So, simply from the standpoint on the data we have on the behavior of each species (social developlment, body language, instinctual behaviors, etcetera), they are different. Plain and simple. Perhaps it's best then, when we are interacting with them, to treat dogs as dogs and wolves as wolves.

In conclusion, yeah, it's important to get the science straight, but you can't forget that the science gets straighter and straighter every day. New sides will keep developing to both arguments. I respect research and academic knowledge, but applying it to my empirical experiences and evaluating it that way always serves me best. Especially when observing an artificial pack of 15-25 dogs from day to day.
 

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The ridiculous, as far as assumptions about dog behavior, comes from assuming that a creature that depends on us for food, water, shelter, and as a main social connection can by it's will dominate us in any way ;)
Of course they can't dominate us, humans are the top of the food chain and even without tools or weapons, most humans are more than a match for a dog in combat.

More importantly though, they don't want to dominate us. they're genetically programmed to be submissive to us . I think the best argument for the "alpha" training theory is that dogs suffer when we don't dominate them. Or to use a less politically charged word, when we don't lead them. Dogs expect to submit to us. Their relationship with humans is what makes them different from wolves and its been bred into their genes. No dog thinks they're the alpha of a pack that includes you but I contend that some suffer from that lack of an 'alpha' if you don't assume that role.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
The ridiculous, as far as assumptions about dog behavior, comes from assuming that a creature that depends on us for food, water, shelter, and as a main social connection can by it's will dominate us in any way ;)
Kelly, please... where did I say that a dog is trying to dominate us? Where did I argue for that? Did I not state (twice by my count, now), that this post is about dog-to-dog interactions? If that was not clear, then let it be clear now. As I said:

...this is not to say that dominance is useful in human-dog interaction, or as a manner of training. I am not advocating that.
and (in response to whether "dogs treat us as fellow dogs")

As I stated in my OP and follow-ups, this is not the point of this thread. Dog-to-dog dynamics only...
To reiterate, I am not advocating for a training philosophy that assumes dogs try to dominate us, and that we should seek to dominate them back. Even if its true (I have serious doubts for the very reasons you note: we own the resources), I find it distasteful. I prefer to get my dog to cooperate with me willingly and intelligently. This modulates my approach to re: positive (R+) training, too, BTW. Some of the stuff I see out there comes across like [re]programming a dog, and I don't want my pooch to be a robot. But that's a topic for another thread, perhaps.

I mean... I see what you are driving at with your argument about artificial packs but you are missing (or sidestepping) the entire other end of the argument Mech puts forth about stress in captivity and scarcity of resources. Specifically:

(1) The wolves in Schenkel's pack were stressed. They were probably about as stressed as wolves can be. They were not allowed to exhibit natural behaviour, provided with little mental stimulation, their basic social needs (either a nuclear family or a mate) were not met, their nutritional needs probably weren't met either... That's like trying to judge human behavior based on behavior of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. It simply isn't an accurate snapshot of normative human behavior.

(2) There were things to compete over: Food, water, hiding places, mates... This competition rarely exists among housepets that aren't victims of serious neglect. If you kept any animal the way animals were kept in a mid-century zoo, animal control would probably hunt you down.
These are some valid points. I would go one step further to note that these points highlight conditions to avoid in our own packs. Isn't it good to know that if you don't want your dogs to exhibit dominant (or whatever we choose to call it) behavior, we should avoid these conditions? Could it be, for instance, that dogs do in fact exhibit dominant behavior as a result of abusive situations where a bunch of dogs have been thrown into a pen and neglected, where they haven't been fed well, where they have been stressed? And isn't it important to keep that in mind in case by happenstance we happen to adopt one such dog, without full knowledge of its background and trauma, and the pooch starts wreaking havoc with our other dogs, and then we wonder why when we try to fit its behavior into one of the usual bins, our remediation doesn't quite work? Or it takes way more effort? And what if one of our dogs misreads its environment as one of food scarcity, for instance, and starts whaling on our other pooches? Could that also not lead to the sort of dominant behavior Mech describes?

All those questions illustrate my main thrust here, namely that we shouldn't disregard dominance as a possible dog-on-dog interaction just because we conflate it with human-on-dog dominance and all the "abuse" we ascribe to it. If we leave this canine dynamic out as a possibility for why a certain dog is misbehaving, we may never achieve a fully satisfactory outcome because we failed to address true root cause. Isn't it better to operate with a full menu of knowledge than with only 50 or 90% of it?

Another thing to consider is that genetic similarity =/= morphological or behavioral similarity. We have so many common genes with pigs that we can take their organs as transplants and even catch flus from them. Lions can also hybridize with tigers, but one is a social, matriarchal animal and the other a solitary, male-dominates species. See where I'm going with this?
Yes, that's also an excellent point. But make sure you carry it, not in isolation, but alongside Mech's findings re: dominance, as discussed above.

In conclusion, yeah, it's important to get the science straight, but you can't forget that the science gets straighter and straighter every day. New sides will keep developing to both arguments. I respect research and academic knowledge, but applying it to my empirical experiences and evaluating it that way always serves me best. Especially when observing an artificial pack of 15-25 dogs from day to day.
And this also is a good point. Who knows. Twenty years from now we may learn that none of the current training approaches fully account for all doggie situations. It's good to keep an ear to the ground (as with that 2014 study I quoted comparing wolves and dogs in the lab) to see what else we might learn.
 

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Of course they can't dominate us, humans are the top of the food chain and even without tools or weapons, most humans are more than a match for a dog in combat.
Guess you've never met anyone that's afraid of their own dog eh? The dog being the bully of the family...
 

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@Esand I definitely agree that dogs (unlike wolves) are genetically programmed as our sidekicks. A lot of behavioral and physical evidence shows that we are their main food source. Not only can they thrive on a lot of "human" foods and refuse, they also have the cognitive edges... Interspecies relationships, facial recognition and such. I don't know if you've ever looked at some of the behavioral research on crows, but it's kind of interesting how they share a lot of abilities with dogs: problem-solving, recognizing human faces, and the like.

@esuastegui
If you want to just talk about dogs in groups, these are my thoughts from working 4-8 hours a day supervising groups of dogs (on-leash and off-leash walks, daycare, boarding, socialization classes):

-Instances of dog-dog aggression outside of antisocial behavior (I'll talk about resource guarding in a second) and physical/mental deficits (dogs that are blind, hurt, need anxiety meds, etcetera) are pretty rare. Where I work now, there are definitely a handful of dogs that are accused of being "dominant". They're aggressive, but all they are out to do is refuse interaction of any sort. They don't want "control" of the "pack"... They want to be no part of it! Given the chance, they will happily retreat to a crate where they can be left the heck alone. Sometimes I see playing puppies escalate into frustrated, tantrum-like fights (which usually start the same way they do with two wrestling kids) but once broken up, they both take a rest and resume their relationship as usual.

-No dog is "alpha" in the sense that they control all of the resources. Few dogs want control over all of the resources. Some dogs become white fang if you throw a tennis ball into play, but will happily share food and pass up other toys altogether. Some dogs are the top dog of the water bowl when they are new, but care less and less as they realize how infinite the water source is. Some dogs guard their crates (usually the loners-- surprise) and nothing else. And so forth. In fact, anywhere, I have never witnessed a case of a dog that actually guards everything that there is to guard.

-Dogs don't go through doors/gates/halls, eat, drink, etcetera in any order. Except fastest to slowest, maybe.

- As far as personal boundaries go... If you wanted to assign dominance (stiff posturing, growling, looking down on another dog, aggression) based on how to dogs interact it would go back and forth all the time, in a normal, stable relationship. Take my dog... She's fearful of being sniffed out from behind and will turn and snap at dogs. If you call that dominance, it pretty much evaporates with dogs she trusts, or weirdos who introduce themselves by running at her full speed and drawing her into a chase. Unsurprisingly (to me) the snappiness is evaporating as she builds confidence in successfully greeting new dogs, and learning how fantastic new friends are. As a side note, she also exhibited a strange behavior when I first took the problem on. Every time she had a greeting gone bad, I would notice that she would actually pee as she took a snap at them. Not the token of a fierce alpha dog IMO.

-A lot of behaviors like mounting and demand barking in dogs
a) Are super common among third-wheelers (dogs who are trying to insert themselves in play between two dogs who are too busy having fun to notice them).
b) Are also common among dogs with limited social experience, who don't know how to engage a dog in play.
c) Almost always evaporate as the dog gains social finesse and gets better at enticing dogs to hang out with them.

Ultimately, I think that dominance over other dogs matters rarely to dogs and total dominance does not matter at all to them. They simply aren't willing to fight or even be rude over something if it's not crucial to their feeling of safety and security.

@jagger, being completely fair here, dogs may try (and succeed) to manipulate humans but rarely do they gain control over all of the resources that a human is sharing with them, as is the case with the "alpha" animal. Even a dog that resource-guards doesn't have control over their resource all the time. Take food... A dog that guards his food only has control over food that we have either given him or left for him to find. He can't make him give the food to him (except perhaps by whining or demand barking). He can't make us buy the food. He can't walk over to the cupboard, pull it out and start eating. He can keep control if he finds it or it is given to him, but he can't very well take it.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
@kell528 thanks for sharing your experience. Perhaps we should also simplify and look to smaller, established packs? I appreciate yours (and the many other examples) where "dominance" (or whatever we want to call it) happens in a more fluid, in-flux manner.

I can share alternative anecdotal experience where I've seen dominance maintained between two dogs for years, then flip once the prior submissive dog was stronger than the prior dominant one. I can also share that this interaction (in my case) required very little intervention on my part because it was for the most part healthy (non-harming) and even loving. Dominance (or whatever we want to call it) isn't necessarily something to fear or avoid. I can also share a more recent scenario (not in my own house, thankfully, but in a family member's), where the introduction of a new rather assertive puppy has caused a battle royale. In my observation it has nothing to do with resource guarding (no fighting over food or toys), not due to anxiety or fear, nor rude playfulness, nor any of the other often-proposed diagnoses for why dogs go at it. It is literally (manifested in clear physical interaction) a struggle about who is on top. Not play, just all out physical struggle leading to aggression. As much as I squint to read something else into it, it's too plain to see: the younger dog trying to assert itself, and the older one refusing to give in. So there are two cases to add to yours (and that of many others). I don't think they prove much in general, except for what is happening in these discrete, unique situations. I think the best we can say is that dominance/alpha/assertiveness/leadership/... manifests itself in a variety of ways depending on the specific, unique personalities of the dogs involved, and the unique situation/environment they inhabit. Still, for me, dominance (or whatever we want to call it) is a real dynamic. I can't deny it anymore than I can look up at the sky and say it isn't blue at high noon on a sunny day.
 

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I can share alternative anecdotal experience where I've seen dominance maintained between two dogs for years, then flip once the prior submissive dog was stronger than the prior dominant one. I can also share that this interaction (in my case) required very little intervention on my part because it was for the most part healthy (non-harming) and even loving. Dominance (or whatever we want to call it) isn't necessarily something to fear or avoid. I can also share a more recent scenario (not in my own house, thankfully, but in a family member's), where the introduction of a new rather assertive puppy has caused a battle royale. In my observation it has nothing to do with resource guarding (no fighting over food or toys), not due to anxiety or fear, nor rude playfulness, nor any of the other often-proposed diagnoses for why dogs go at it. It is literally (manifested in clear physical interaction) a struggle about who is on top. Not play, just all out physical struggle leading to aggression. As much as I squint to read something else into it, it's too plain to see: the younger dog trying to assert itself, and the older one refusing to give in. So there are two cases to add to yours (and that of many others). I don't think they prove much in general, except for what is happening in these discrete, unique situations. I think the best we can say is that dominance/alpha/assertiveness/leadership/... manifests itself in a variety of ways depending on the specific, unique personalities of the dogs involved, and the unique situation/environment they inhabit. Still, for me, dominance (or whatever we want to call it) is a real dynamic. I can't deny it anymore than I can look up at the sky and say it isn't blue at high noon on a sunny day.
That's not dominance as defined by established science. You can squint all you want, but if you're still looking through the lens of dominance theory, that's what you'll see.

I am interested in exactly what behaviors you saw and the exact context of the "battle royale."
 

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Discussion Starter #16
@cookieface - I'm afraid nothing short of a video would satisfy. Even then, we would run into interpretation issues. That's the problem with anecdotal evidence. It isn't fully representative, and it is often viewed through a prism of preconceived notions.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
@Kelly528 - also to follow-up on this...
If you want to just talk about dogs in groups, these are my thoughts from working 4-8 hours a day supervising groups of dogs (on-leash and off-leash walks, daycare, boarding, socialization classes):
I don't know that these are equivalent to the sorts of established packs Mech and others have studied. Some of the fluidity you mention may arise from the fact that from one day to the next, the composition of your packs changes because the same dogs aren't always present. That is, of course, unless the same dogs come into a sitting or walking situation day after day?
 

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@esuastegui and @kelly528

Just chiming in to say thanks for taking the time to share knowledge, experiences, points of view, and opinions. I enjoy longreads, and they are a rare thing in the insta twitter gram world.

I'll keep reading if you keep on posting.
 

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I've worked in "artificial" groups of dogs for over 5 years now, in two different daycares with groups from 15 to 100+ dogs (the daycare with 100 dogs in a group was the "worse" one). I've seen a lot of behavior that can be described as "dominant" and "submissive." I think it's a matter of semantics though, and it's not black and white. The "dominant" dogs aren't "leaders," they're bullies and every bit as insecure as the "submissive" dogs. Stiff, posturing, humping, harrassing, getting into fights if they come across a similarly tempered dog. Not only not leaders, but behavior that would be self-destructive in a real life social environment where survival is key. (I was just reading an article about the behavior of dogs from hoarding situations vs dogs raised in "normal" homes, and although the hoarded dogs are much more fearful and insecure in most situations, they were actually less aggressive towards other dogs and better at socializing in that respect. When you have to survive in a pack of dogs, aggressive behavior typically seen as "dominant" can get you injured, even killed.)

OP, I think you would find Temple Grandin's "Animals Make Us Human" interesting. Each chapter is about our relationship with a different domestic species. The dog chapter touches on some of the points we made and attempts to explain our relationship to dogs with two popular hypotheses:

1) Do dogs think of us as an "artificial pack" that they have to compete within and establish rank in? The argument for that is similar to the ones you have made.

2) Or do dogs think of us as parental figures as in a natural wolf pack?

The evidence for the latter is that dogs are actually neotenic wolves, and do not develop to the extent of a full grown wolf. Both physically and especially mentally and behaviorally, they are more comparable to wolf puppies.



"Some of the physical traits characteristic of certain dog breeds, such as floppy ears and rounded profiles, do appear in wolves, but only as pups. This appearance of youthful wolf traits in adult domestic dogs suggests that dogs are neotenic, forever immature.

Morey suggests that retention of juvenile morphological and behavioral traits by adult dogs was due to natural, rather than artificial, selection. Presumably, dog domestication began when humans captured wolf pups and raised them as pets. In the wild, mature wolves leave the natal pack to seek mates and start their own packs, or they challenge the dominant animals in their pack and take over. Animals that did this to human masters would likely be killed, giving them little opportunity to contribute to the gene pool of the domestic dog.

The wolves that survived in the human environment and gave rise to dogs probably were individuals that preserved into adulthood the submission that wolf pups demonstrate toward adult wolves...." (Cohn, 1997)

(One correction I will add is since 1997 scientists have established there was a phase between wild wolves and pet dogs- not evolved from being captured and raised as pets- but some wolves evolved to become less fearful of humans as they scavenged around their camps and villages, and natural selection began selecting for tameness before humans started taking canids into their homes. Not many people believe the "humans captured wolf pups as pets" anymore- it was not practical for our ancestors to do so before a symbiotic relationship began to form between the species. It's believed that this domestication was a more gradual and less intentional process than previously thought.)



"Improved techniques for observing the behavior of wild wolf packs have lead to a reappraisal of the basis of their sociality. Mech and Boitani (2003, p. 1) state that ‘‘the basic social unit of a wolf population is the mated pair,’’ which are accompanied by their offspring from previous years. Dominance contests in such packs are rare; for example, Mech (1999) observed none in one free-living pack over a 13-year period. The breeding pair appears to be able to maintain its status without aggression. ‘‘Submissive’’ behavior, which Packard (2003) redefines as ‘‘appeasing’’ because it is often spontaneous, rather than being a response to aggression, is commonly performed by the younger pack members toward the breeding pair, and occasionally by the breeding female to the breeding male. In the wild, only larger packs including non-kin, or ‘‘disrupted’’ packs where, for example, one or both of the breeding pair has died, show assertive behavior. Agonistic behavior, when it occurs, appears to be much more labile than would be predicted from a stable hierarchy, changing with factors such as age, reproductive state, nutritional condition, aversive experiences, and the resource under dispute (Packard, 2003).

Thus, recent interpretations of wolf behavior have tended to emphasize cohesive, rather than aggressive, behavior as essential to the stability of naturally occurring packs. Agonistic behavior may be induced by the artificial circumstances experienced by captive packs, in which individuals are often unrelated and cannot voluntarily disperse (Zimen, 1975). The question remains as to which of these circumstances is the better analogy for the situation experienced by the owned domestic dog. King (2004) has logically argued that the captive-wolf analogy may be more appropriate for a multidog household comprising unrelated individuals, but since Lockwood (1979) found no correspondence between dominance and aggression even in his captive packs, it may still not be straightforward to use dominance as an explanatory concept for dog–dog aggression within a household.

It is also unclear how much the social behavior of the wolf has been affected by domestication. Some authors claim profound changes, particularly in social cognition (Hare and Tomasello, 2005; Miklo´si, 2007), that effectively raise a further set of objections to any useful comparability between the wolf pack and a social unit comprising domestic dogs managed by human owners." (Bradshaw et al., 2009)



Finally, whether or not you believe the neotenic wolf explanation, all you have to do to realize that wolf and dog social structure is different, is look at their mating behavior. A wolf pack exists because the breeding pair mates for life and produces puppies that become the pack members. Dogs do not mate for life- males will mate with as many bitches as possible and abandon them to raise the pups. The puppies don't tend to stick around and form a pack with their mothers for anywhere near as long as wolf pups do. Socially, they're just very different animals. It's really hard to compare them with so many important differences.


I'm sure you're gonna tear apart my post like you have with everyone else's, but take the information as you will. I'm here to contribute, not argue.
 

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@revolutionrocknroll - The idea of dogs being neotenic wolves is very interesting to me! Thank you for sharing that.
 
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