The Truth About Dominance

Taken from ‘What Dogs Want’ by Mat Ward and Rupert Fawcett (Bloomsbury, 2021)

Contrary to popular belief, our dogs are not trying to climb a status ladder towards household domination and ‘pack leadership’. Rather, they are more likely to look to us for affection, assistance and fun.

Dogs are social creatures like us – they build an understanding of how interactions tend to go within relationships, and then act accordingly. Often a pattern develops between two individual dogs, where one tends to defer to the other when important resources are at stake. If this happens, the dog who normally gets their way is termed ‘dominant’ within the relationship. But, just because dogs can develop expectations in relationships, it does not mean that they are forever looking for weakness in us, and striving to become the ‘Alpha’ member of the family. Don’t worry, you can sleep peacefully at night in full knowledge that your dog isn’t planning a coup d’etat just because you let them sleep on the bed!

Wolf studies: The idea dogs are constantly trying to clamber up a hierarchy ladder to become ‘pack leader’ came from studies in the 1970s where wild wolves, who were unrelated to one another, competed for food in captivity. This high-stress situation didn’t represent normal wolf – let alone dog – social behaviour.



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