In a world where dogs are permanently called puppies regardless of age, or worse still, fur-babies who receive prozac for their woes, we have concluded that dominance is no more.
So I checked. The dictionary still has the word in there, with the definition: “The disposition of an individual to assert control in dealing with others” Oxford defines Leader as “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people”. To me, the two words have always been closely intertwined, if not sometimes related. Yet, I’m being told it no longer exists.
Of course it exists. We call them Dominant Dogs, AKA Canine Leaders. Some dogs so assert control in dealing with others. But not the dogs that you think.
However, the word was so incorrectly used for many years that I’m not surprised we tried to get rid of it. If a dog misbehaved, he was being dominant, when really, he just misbehaved.
So yes, it has probably been the most mis-used word and belief when it comes to dog training. It was used in comparing dogs to wolves, which they are not. But because we used the word wrong does not mean that the word should be removed. It means we should learn to use it right.
It is very rare that I run into a dominant dog, but they do exist. One of my favorites is the most magnificent Alaskan Malamute. He has so much presence, pride, and confidence, in his quiet, gentle way, that all the weak-girls in Socialization Class used to flock to him. We dubbed him, “The King”, and he was.
Another is a Chow, who was born knowing how to get what he wanted. Both his veterinarian, and myself told his first-time dog owner that she would be euthanizing him before ten months if she didn’t rise to the occasion. She did rise, and he is another magnificent dog. But you cannot ‘make’ him do anything. We don’t ‘tell’ him what we want. We ask. Nicely. With an ego stroke. His owner has managed to get him to do amazing things, and be a great partner providing he is asked nicely.
Now please don't hear what I just said, and justify your own dog's crappy behaviour, and think I just gave you the excuse not to retrain. Dominant dogs are not common. In fact, most of you have probably never met one, and probably never will. You need help with your dog. And if per chance your dog is one that I am talking about, you need help even more, from someone who knows what they are doing.
The thing that has been misunderstood about dominance is these guys are not the young punks with something to prove. These dogs have nothing to prove; They know they are the best in the room. They are quiet, calm dogs that seem bigger than their size. They have presence. They are magnificent. They can make the hair on the back of your neck go up. You know not to fuck with them.
Your eye will always be drawn to them. It is impossible not to notice, and admire them. They are not looking for trouble, but if they feel wronged, will have no problem firmly disciplining the wrong-doer.
One Akita I knew of, who was older with nary a problem, one day got accidentally stepped on. If memory serves me right, his mistress needed something like 27 stitches in her face.
So for all the bratty pubescent punks that you see misbehaving at the dog park, or on their walks - they are not being dominant. Most are lacking confidence, and trying to push boundaries to find their place. Or are just of that age where they are pushing. Or are just undisciplined dinks.
Certain breeds are going to produce more of these characters than others. And certainly not all of them can live with us in harmony. Some won’t accept any rules from even the best of handlers….
But for some, if you pair them with the right owner, they become dogs that we can all admire and look upon as Canine Royalty, because they are….