New research out of the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences found that contrary to popular belief, dogs do not aggress because they are “dominant.” According to the paper titled “Dominance in Dogs – useful construct or bad habit” published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, Clinical Applications and Research, the researchers spent six months examining dogs’ interactions at the Dogs Trust re-homing centre. 

The researchers looked at interactions between neutered male dogs and found relationships were formed, usually in pairs, but they could not indentify an overall hierarchy within the group. The authors found conflicts were more likely to arise over a resource that was perceived as valuable by the dogs and pointed out the dogs would learn that aggression would get them access to the resource. In essence, the aggression was rewarded if it kept other dogs away from the item of value which would cause the dog to be more likely to aggress again in the future.

 To put this into context for the average dog owner, think of the dog who becomes aggressive if another pooch comes close when he is receiving a food reward from his owner. The dog receiving the treat may bare teeth, snarl or air snap at the approaching offender and if the offender has good doggie social skills, he will likely back off and leave the dog alone. Even if the owner stops treating the dog, he will learn that aggressive posturing results in the “trespassing” dog leaving him alone. Further, he may also make a negative association with the approaching dog because his treats went away when the other dog got closer.

In our experience with the 10 resident Clicker Leash Co.  family dogs, we have noticed that some of our four-legged friends place more value on various items that others. The dog that cares about the resource is most likely to become defensive if another dog approaches but thankfully because we live in a house of plenty (ie plenty of toys, food, water and special treats) the dogs typically just move on if they come face-to-face with a growl or lip curl. In our home these are deemed good communication skills because they do not result in altercations. If we ever had two dogs that both cared a lot about a resource, we would simply set up the environment so the item could be enjoyed without interference or we would work on creating a positive association with dogs approaching.

In the words of Jean Donaldson, author of “The Culture Clash,” dogs do what works!