By Dale McCluskey
An ocean traveler has even more vividly the impression that the ocean is made of waves than that it is made of water.
Arthur S. Eddington (1882-1944) English astronomer and physicist.
Behaviorists use social hierarchy as a main pillar to support their positions regarding dominance theory. While promoted as being of sound mind and body the science label attached to this issue is far from passing the minimum standard with making it through nature's front door.
The “pack” and “dominance” theory of domestic dogs is a harmful meme. It prevents many owners from understanding their dogs, causes untold misery for both and is perpetuated by well-meaning but uninformed dog trainers around the world. It is proving extremely resistant to extinction. (Ryan 2010)
This social hierarchy pillar begins to crumble once you begin to gain insight into the real meaning of strength and weakness, dominance and influence beyond what is seen from the surface. What dominance represents is not revealed to the casual observer from the surface of the relationship. It is revealed to those who have both feet in nature and have surrender to its already established laws. It is revealed through the mind and body connection. To gain better insight into how certain branches of behavioral science attempt to support each other under the weight of ongoing challenges a better understanding is needed into the branch called ethology.
Behaviorism and ethology are two different ways of studying animal behavior; one is confined largely to the laboratory (behaviorism), and the other is based on field studies (ethology). Each tells us something different about an animal's response, but the conclusions from both disciplines, taken together, explain all that we see and understand about animal behavior. (Dodman 2010)
Although ethology appears to take the path away from the lab and into the natural environment of the dog it merely a branch from the same behaviorist tree. Its narrow definition as it links with the observable physical force blends with the underpinnings of behaviorism in its adherence with sticking strictly to the physiological point of view. (Skinner 1927)
This behaviorist view regarding dominance can be seen through the one dimensional snapshot and image taken from the surface of the relationship.
Among ethologists, dominance is normally defined as ‘‘an attribute of the pattern of repeated, antagonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favor of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation. The status of the consistent winner is dominant and that of the loser subordinate’’ (Drews, 1993).
How force is interpreted and used to support the behaviorist position regarding dominance provides no depth beyond the surface of the behaviorist view. The information revealed by direct and intensive human and dog interaction within the pack relationship provides the standard from which everything else is measured. The nails which behaviorists use to help hold their framework together relies on the feelings and emotions of dog owners to help support its cracked foundation.
If owners believe that a dog does something to ‘achieve status’ or ‘control them’ or ‘be the boss’ it naturally tends to lead people to use coercive training techniques. This relies on inducing a negative emotional state (e.g. fear or anxiety) in a dog in order to inhibit behavior, which has the risk of inducing further undesired behavior or having a negative effect on welfare, as described further in ‘What are the problems of using training techniques that induce fear or pain?’ (Welfare 2010)
What is extracted from social hierarchy by behaviorists, as it relates to force and authority, is twisted and used as fuel to appeal to an owner focused feelings and emotions based agenda. The behaviorist concept of learning (Refer to learning), as it connects with the exploitation of conditioning, is interjected into social hierarchy mix to help prop up the position regarding dominance.
Studies of interactions by dogs shows no evidence of fixed ‘hierarchical’ relationships, but rather relationships between individuals which are based on learning.
The lack of observable physical confrontation and encounters between pack members plays into the interpretation that the pack consists of co-operative family groups, where the parents ‘guide’ their offspring. (Welfare 2009)
This nudging by behaviorists with using language to paint an image of nature shows the breakdown with understanding what dominance represents as it connects with both mind and body. The ability for dogs to assess and interpret each other’s strength or weakness through this connection represents stability and balance within the pack. Each member of the pack is keenly aware of their chances of winning a confrontation before the engagement even happens. This reduces the amount of physical confrontations to a minimum based on how interplay takes place within this structure. Behavioral science does not have the ability to gain traction on what dominance represents based on dismissing this mind and body connection. What is revealed is only a one dimensional image instead of three dimensional which shows the real meaning of strength and weakness as it connects to nature.
Hence, it is commonly suggested that a desire ‘to be dominant’ actually drives behavior, especially aggression, in the domestic dog. By contrast, many recent studies of wolf packs have questioned whether there is any direct correspondence between dominance within a relationship and antagonistic behavior. (Bradshaw 2009)
The connection of the critical dot from the dominant role to the intensity and frequency of unwanted behaviors is lost on those who align with behavioral science. How social hierarchy is used by behaviorists exposes the motives and intent with how the issue of dominance is shaped to fit into an agenda fueled by feelings and emotions.
In the last several decades, our understanding of dominance theory and of the behavior of domesticated animals and their wild counterparts has grown considerably, leading to updated views. (AVSAB – 2008)
While this statement pertaining to updated views may be referring to David Mech's historical ‘mistake’ in the interpretation of wolf behavior and dominance, nature's laws have never changed in this regard.
Early observations of captive wolves gave the impression that wolves live in groups dominated by the “alpha wolf” which got its position through fighting and aggressive behaviors. However these initial observations were hasty and faulty. Early publications, such as The Wolf: Ecology and the Behavior of an Endangered Species. published in 1970, relied on the flawed observations and since little information existed to challenge it many other publications relied on those initial books to provide information unknowingly spreading incorrect assumptions. After biologists, such as L. David Mech, studied wolves in their natural habitat some ideas were revised including the one about a strict linear hierarchy. In 1999 and 2000 articles like “Alpha Status, Dominance and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs” and “Leadership in Wolf, Canis lupus, Packs” were published (respectively) to correct the misinformation. (Alpha 2010)
The changing of position by front line behavioral scientists such as Mech represents the problems associated with those who have taken entrenched positions regarding dominance. The sold out attitudes by those who continue to push forward regardless of the ongoing questions and challenges creates the appearance that behaviorists are manipulating the facts and the science to make the square peg fit into the round hole. It is clear from recent behaviorist studies from dominance and attempt to make it fit.