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  • Con Slobodchikoff, Ph.D.
    Slobodchikoff is President and CEO of Animal Communications, Ltd., specializing in pet behavior problems and in educating people about the behavior of animals.

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March 19, 2010


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Dr. Hetts seems to enjoy giving extreme examples on dominance as a distraction to the facts. The simple facts of this conversation are that all dogs are pack animals, and that your dog is not motivated to please you. The misconception of any dog wanting to please you has caused the greatest roadblock of all when it comes to dog training. Think about it, what has your dog ever done in order to please you? You can't think of one single instance can you? This is because your dog, and all other dogs are motivated to please themselves. Rolling a meatball across the dinner plate to another dog only happens in Disney movies, not in reality.
Dogs learn by association. It is inevitable that they associate everything as either positive or negative. If you give a dog variable reinforcement in any instance it is in their nature to use this to their advantage. Be it sleeping on your bed, stealing food from the table, or any other behavior that may become undesirable. When an undesired association becomes a part of your dog's imprinting; it can be very difficult to distingish.

Adriana Diniz

Hi, I am from Brazil and i found this weblog, do you believe?

This article is very enlightening on the topic dominance.

As a dog owner, sometimes, i was unhappy by doing certain things in the name of establishing my dominance. Things that doesn't make any sense!

When you talk about the proponents of the dominance techniques are your talking about Cesar Millan?

I do believe, however, that something of his method is very useful to us! And I can't deny the fact that a great numbers of dogs were save for his job in his cesars way.

Rick Smith

Well, I definitely agree that modern scientific studies have pretty much eroded the traditional theory of alpha dominance in wolf packs, but I certainly don't agree that breeding wolf pairs are kind of like breeding human pairs and whenever animal behaviors are compared to human (animal) behaviors, I quickly throw up a red flag :-)

All jokes aside, animal pets living with humans do require control that may or may not be explained in terms of dominance or the old outdated "alpha" word. I have yet to read any scientific definitive studies of this although dog trainers for years have gathered lots of empirical and anecdotal data to back up whichever way they choose to explain the terms and confused a lot of people.

I do think much of the wolf's body language can still be observed in domestic dogs, so that research has been helpful to me in dealing with domestic dog behavior, but I would like to see more studies on human/dog groups before I rule out all aspects of the "alpha" dominance factor as it might pertain to these unique groups. They are tightly knit inter-species social groups and light years apart from wolf packs. Obviously no breeding occurs and in many cases breeding urges have been completely removed (at least on the dogs side:) through spaying and neutering, therefore the primary basis for holding a wolf pack together simply does not exist in our canine/human households. I respect his scientific efforts but don't think I would study wolf research to determine how best to raise and care for my dogs (and cats), and those who would should probably look in another direction for guidance :-)

Just like in dogs and wolves, our human DNA is pretty close to a lot of "other" animals, but we don't raise our kids the same way a mother chimp does, so it seems logical the same should apply to our pets. But although I continually see problems when people try and raise dogs as if they were mini humans, I have NEVER seen a problem when an owner has raised their dog (or cat) based on an understanding of the principles of operant conditioning and (consistent) positive reinforcement. And all of these same problem free pet owners have shown just as much love and affection as the loving owners who come to me with problems that their "spoiled child" and "stubborn brat" pooches are accused of instigating :-)

Happy living conditions in a family with dogs and cats certainly requires control and that may indicate the need for the dominance of some over others. Maybe my dog has become the aplha since he eats MUCH better food then I do, gets much better health and dental care than I do and has ensured I exercise him daily, rain or shine :-) Should you be the "aplha" in your pack and not let your dog dominate you or other family members ? Maybe, maybe not, but if you take the time to learn how to effectively shape their behavior to happily coexist in your household using time tested scientific behavior shaping techniques, it really won't matter and cease to be an issue pet owners worry about !

Randall Johnson

Kudos to Dr. Hetts for finally setting the record straight on the issue of dog dominance. Some myths are beautiful or heroic. This one is downright ugly...not to mention way off base! A much better model was presented by Alexandra Semyonova, who did a 15 year study of domesticated dogs in their natural habitat (i.e., living in human households), using the principles of emergence theory to describe their behaviors. Her study showed that dogs are, in fact, quite cooperative with one another, and that there is no real evidence that dogs form dominance hierarchies the way we humans think of the term.
Here's a link to her paper:
In closing, I'd like to say SHAME on the 'trainer' for telling that one family they had to 'hump' their dog to establish dominance of him, and SHAME on the family for falling for such a load of c**p!


Well said.


Amen! I'm so glad you wrote this post. We need to do more to educate people about dominance and control. I had someone at the dog park tell me yesterday that she bit her dog's ear because she growled at her. Unbelievable. Today, someone told me that her sister rolled her Rottweiler and beat it up so it knew who was boss. Seriously people, if you have to beat your dog you're not dominant or in control. You're just plain stupid and cruel.

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