Posted on

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Speaks out Against the Dominance Model

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior would like to let you know that Dominance – the idea that we need to overcome our dogs by force, lest they try to take over our homes, is outdated and leads to inhumane training.

Here’s some info from their Position Statement on Dominance issued in December, 2008:

AVSAB is concerned with the recent re-emergence of dominance theory and forcing dogs and other animals into submission as a means of preventing and correcting behavior problems. For decades, some traditional animal training has relied on dominance theory and has assumed that animals misbehave primarily because they are striving for higher rank. This idea often leads trainers to believe that force or coercion must be used to modify these undesirable behaviors.”

Meaning, say, that the Dog Whisperer is using outdated techniques and repackaging them as useful. (My interpretation, but you’ve got to admit, ‘dominance’ seems to be the root of all dog misdeeds in the Dog Whisperer show).

“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. To understand how and whether to apply dominance theory to behavior in animals, it’s imperative that one first has a basic understanding of the principles.”

Applying Dominance Theory to Human-Animal Interactions Can Pose Problems,” writes the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

“Even in the relatively few cases where aggression is related to rank, applying animal social theory and mimicking how animals would respond can pose a problem. First, it can cause one to use punishment, which may suppress aggression without addressing the underlying cause. Because fear and anxiety are common causes of aggression and other behavior problems, including those that mimic resource guarding, the use of punishment can directly exacerbate the problem by increasing
the animal’s fear or anxiety (AVSAB 2007).”

“Second, it fails to recognize that with wild animals, dominance-submissive relationships are reinforced through warning postures
and ritualistic dominance and submissive displays. If the relationship is stable, then the submissive animal defers automatically to the dominant individual. If the relationship is less stable, the dominant individual has a more aggressive personality, or the dominant individual is less confident about its ability to maintain a higher rank, continued aggressive displays occur (Yin 2007, Yin 2009).”

So if you do need to alpha roll your dog, it’s because you’re a bad CEO – a less confident individual, for example.

Lest you decide to still think your problem with heeling is that your dog is too dominant: “Most undesirable behaviors in our pets are not related to priority access to resources; rather, they are due to accidental rewarding of the undesirable behavior.

I’ll conclude with their recommendation (my emphasis):

“The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it.”

The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians identify and refer clients only to trainers and behavior consultants who understand the principles of learning theory and who focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors and removing the reinforcement for undesirable behaviors.

For more info, visit the AVSAB web page on Dominance.

Related articles on our site: