Mark Johnson, DVM, is Executive Director of Global Wildlife Resources, Inc. and the senior wildlife veterinarian for the Yellowstone Wolf Recovery Project.
Over on his Feral Dog blog he asks, "Is Dominance Always Bad?
And, of course the answer is NO. He writes:
I am seeing a lot of blogs about how how horrible dominance is and how there is no need for dominance when working with domestic dogs. They say the use of dominance is now considered ineffective and, worse, it is unethical and inhumane. Those critical of using any forms of dominance are describing what wolves and feral dogs do and do not do and I am seeing so many incorrect statements.
I work with wild and captive wolves, and have handled over 2,000 feral dogs. I was also the Project Veterinarian for the 1995-96 Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction program and had the privilege of working with Dr. Dave Mech, one of the founders of wolf research, when we captured wolves in Canada and brought them into the US. Many people condemning dominance are referring to Dave’s comments.
This discussion of dominance relates to my work, not only because I work with wolves and feral dogs, but also because I am dedicated to teach animal control officers and disaster responders how to handle frightened dogs without creating a fight with the animal. That is why I write in this blog and website about the Energy of Conflict.
I would prefer to set aside the claims of wolf and feral dog behavior and explore more deeply the concept of “dominance”. But the statements about wolves and feral dogs have been so inherently wrong that I have to offer my viewpoint and then below I will explore what is driving these discussions which is our concept of “dominance.”
Dr. Johnson then goes on to note that
Over and over again there is a deeply seated concept of dominance that is really limiting our ability to objectively study what animal handlers are doing and is, at times, limiting our ability to create a harmonious relationship with the dogs. Many people want to rid themselves of dominance so much that scientific studies are being interpreted to support their beliefs (which is always the weakness of science) and people are coming up with new interpretations of what wolves have always been doing. Any mention of dominance is taboo in these circles.
.... Punishing a dog into submission is obviously an unhealthy relationship. Strictly giving a dog rewards addresses our warm fuzzy desires, but does not always build the healthiest relationship either. The middle ground can still be compassionate and loving.
.... But dominance does not have to be mean and is an integral part of the social hierarchy of many animals including dogs, wolves and horses. Listen carefully to Dave Mech’s video. He says wolves do not fight to get to the top of the pack, but they still get “there”. I agree. Wolves do not continuously fight to get to the top of the pack, there is no argument. Fighting is not in their best interests. But everyone who knows wolves knows there is posturing, tail position, facial expressions, and ear positioning to create that hierarchy without fighting. It is a healthy form of dominance. I once watched a pair of wolves in Yellowstone Park kill an elk calf and one wolf asked for permission from the other wolf before it could feed. It is a reflex for the wolf to define where it is in that hierarchy. But there does not have to be violence to create the hierarchy. It is not demeaning or punitive and they flourish in the pack knowing how they relate to their pack mates.
Needless to say, read the whole thing. Dr. Johnson goes on to talk about feral dogs too -- apparently feral dog packs exist (who knew!?)
Read also L. David Mech's comments to the post cited above -- he agrees with it!
Of particular interest to some readers of this blog will be Dr. Johnson's notes on the use of the Y pole which works, in large part, because dogs recognize dominance and readily submit to it.
It is the nature of canids to submit to this gentle restraint device when properly used. Proper use requires a combination of dominance with kind and calm movements. The dominance motivates the dog to submit. Kindness and compassion will make the animal feel safer and more will to do what you request. The Y pole will not work with physical force alone.
Again, read the whole thing.