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Position Statement on theUse of Dominance Theory inBehavior Modification of Animals                                       ...
the underlying emotional            Similarly with pets, leadership should be                                             ...
Myths About Dominance and wolf Behavior as it Relates to DogsMy Dog gReeTS Me By jUMPing UP,                    dogs is do...
politely for a treat you can wait until he sits or     lies down patiently and then give him a treat.                     ...
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AVSAB Position Statement on Dominance


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Transcript of "AVSAB Position Statement on Dominance"

  1. 1. Position Statement on theUse of Dominance Theory inBehavior Modification of Animals American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior AVSAB is concerned with the recent subordinate males avoid trying to mate when Applying Dominance Theory to Human-re-emergence of dominance theory and the dominant bull is near or they defer when the Animal Interactions Can Pose Problemsforcing dogs and other animals into dominant bull approaches (Yin 2009). However, Even in the relatively few cases where aggres-submission as a means of preventing and they will mate with females when the dominant sion is related to rank, applying animal socialcorrecting behavior problems. For decades, bull is far away, separated by a barrier, or out of theory and mimicking how animals wouldsome traditional animal training has relied on visual sight. By mating in this manner, subor- respond can pose a problem. First, it can causedominance theory and has assumed that animals dinate bulls are not challenging the dominant one to use punishment, which may suppressmisbehave primarily because they are striving bull’s rank; rather, they are using an alternate aggression without addressing the underlyingfor higher rank. This idea often leads trainers to strategy for gaining access to mates. cause. Because fear and anxiety are commonbelieve that force or coercion must be used to In our relationship with causes of aggression and othermodify these undesirable behaviors. our pets, priority access to behavior problems, includ- In the last several decades, our understanding resources is not the major ing those that mimic resourceof dominance theory and of the behavior of do- concern. The majority of guarding, the use of punish-mesticated animals and their wild counterparts behaviors owners want to ment can directly exacerbatehas grown considerably, leading to updated modify, such as excessive the problem by increasingviews. To understand how and whether to apply vocalization, unruly greet- the animal’s fear or anxietydominance theory to behavior in animals, it’s ings, and failure to come (AVSAB 2007).imperative that one first has a basic understand- when called, are not related Second, it fails to recog-ing of the principles. to valued resources and nize that with wild animals, may not even involve ag- dominance-submissiveDefinition of Dominance gression. Rather, these be- relationships are reinforced Dominance is defined as a relationship be- haviors occur because they through warning posturestween individual animals that is established by have been inadvertently and ritualistic dominance andforce/aggression and submission, to determine rewarded and because alter- submissive displays. If thewho has priority access to multiple resources nate appropriate behaviors relationship is stable, thensuch as food, preferred resting spots, and mates have not been trained the submissive animal defers(Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). A dominance- instead. Consequently, what automatically to the dominantsubmissive relationship does not exist until one owners really want is not to individual. If the relationshipindividual consistently submits or defers. In gain dominance, but to ob- is less stable, the dominantsuch relationships, priority access exists primar- tain the ability to influence their pets to perform individual has a more aggressive personality, orily when the more dominant individual is pres- behaviors willingly —which is one accepted the dominant individual is less confident aboutent to guard the resource. For instance, in a herd definition of leadership (Knowles and Saxberg its ability to maintain a higher rank, continuedcomprised of several bulls and many cows, the 1970; Yin 2009). aggressive displays occur (Yin 2007, Yin 2009).Key Points• Despite the fact that advances in behavior Drews 1993). Most undesirable behaviors in follow the scientifically based guidelines ofresearch have modified our understanding our pets are not related to priority access to positive reinforcement, operant condition-of social hierarchies in wolves, many animal resources; rather, they are due to accidental ing, classical conditioning, desensitization,trainers continue to base their training meth- rewarding of the undesirable behavior. and counter conditioning.ods on outdated perceptions of dominancetheory. (Refer to Myths About Dominance • The AVSAB recommends that veterinar- • The AVSAB recommends that veterinar-and Wolf Behavior as It Relates to Dogs) ians not refer clients to trainers or behavior ians identify and refer clients only to trainers consultants who coach and advocate domi- and behavior consultants who understand• Dominance is defined as a relationship nance hierarchy theory and the subsequent the principles of learning theory and whobetween individual animals that is estab- confrontational training that follows from it. focus on reinforcing desirable behaviorslished by force/aggression and submission, and removing the reinforcement for undesir-to determine who has priority access to • Instead, the AVSAB emphasizes that ani- able behaviors.multiple resources such as food, preferred mal training, behavior prevention strategies,resting spots, and mates (Bernstein 1981; and behavior modification programs should 1
  2. 2. the underlying emotional Similarly with pets, leadership should be state and motivations, in- attained by more positive means—by reward- cluding medical and genetic ing appropriate behaviors and using desired factors, that are driving the resources as reinforcers for these behaviors. undesirable behavior. Leadership is established when a pet owner can consistently set clear limits for behavior How Leadership Differs and effectively communicate the rules by im- from Dominance mediately rewarding the correct behaviors and The AVSAB clarifies that preventing access to or removing the rewards for dominance and leadership undesirable behaviors before these undesirable are not synonymous. In behaviors are reinforced. Owners must avoid the human-related fields of reinforcing undesirable behaviors and only rein- business management and force the desirable behaviors frequently enough sociology, where leader- and consistently enough for the good behaviors ship is studied extensively, to become a habit (Yin 2007). leadership is defined broadly Finally, AVSAB points out that while aggres- by some as “the process sion between both domesticated and wild ani- of influencing activities of mals can be related to the desire to attain higher an individual or group to rank and thus priority access to resources, there achieve a certain objective are many other causes. These are discussed in The AVSAB emphasizes that the standard of care in a given situation” (Dubrin detail in multiple veterinary behavior textbooks for veterinarians specializing in behavior is that 1990, in Barker 1997). (please see for helpful ar- Despite this definition, which ticles). Consequently, dominance should not be dominance theory should not be used as a general includes influence through automatically presumed to be the cause of such guide for behavior modification. Instead, the AVSAB coercion, scholars in these conflicts, especially when the conflict occurs fields recommend against the within a human household. Instead, a thorough emphasizes that behavior modification and train- medical and behavioral assessment should be use of coercion and force to ing should focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors, attempt to gain leadership conducted on all animals involved in the con- avoiding the reinforcement of undesirable behaviors, (Benowitz 2001). Coercion flict to determine the true cause or causes of the and force generate passive aggression. and striving to address the underlying emotional resistance, tend to require state and motivations, including medical and genetic continual pressure and direc- Conclusion tion from the leader, and are The AVSAB emphasizes that the use of sci- factors, that are driving the undesirable behavior. entifically sound learning principles that apply usually not good tactics for getting the best performance to all species is the accepted means of training from a team (Benowitz and modifying behavior in pets and is the key to People who rely on dominance theory to 2001). Additionally, those our understanding of how pets learn and how to train their pets may need to regularly threaten managers who rule through coercive power (the communicate with our pets. them with aggressive displays or repeatedly ability to punish) “most often generate resistance use physical force. Conversely, pets subjected which may lead workers to deliberately avoid to threats or force may not offer submissive carrying out instructions or to disobey orders” behaviors. Instead, they may react with aggres- (Benowitz 2001). sion, not because they are trying to be dominant but because the human threatening them makes them afraid. R ef eRen c eS Third, in the wild, even in dominance- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. 2007. AVSAB Position Statement–Punishment submissive relationships that are well-estab- Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems. http://www. lished, the relationship lasts only as long as the higher-ranking individual is strong enough to retain this rank. Thus, high rank may be short- Barker, R. 1997. How can we train leaders if we don’t know what leadership is? lived in both human-animal and animal-animal Human Relations 50(4):343-62. relationships. Overall, the use of dominance theory to Benowitz, E.A. 2001. CliffsQuickReview: Principles of Management. New York: Hungry Minds. understand human-animal interactions leads to an antagonistic relationship between owners and Bernstein, I.S. 1981. Dominance: The baby and the bathwater. J Behav Brain Sci 4:419-57. their pets. Drews, C. 1993. The concept and definition of dominance behavior. Behaviour 125: 284-313. The Standard of Care The AVSAB emphasizes that the standard of Knowles, H.P., and B.O. Saxberg. 1971. Personality and Leadership Behavior. Reading, MA: care for veterinarians specializing in behavior is Addison-Wesley. that dominance theory should not be used as a general guide for behavior modification. Instead, Yin, S. 2007. Dominance Versus Leadership in Dog Training. Compendium Continuing Educa- the AVSAB emphasizes that behavior modifica- tion for the Practicing Veterinarian 29:414-32. tion and training should focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors, avoiding the reinforcement Yin, S. 2009. Dominance vs. Unruly Behavior. In Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior of undesirable behaviors, and striving to address Modification of Dogs and Cats. 52-73. Davis, Calif.: CattleDog Publishing.2
  3. 3. Myths About Dominance and wolf Behavior as it Relates to DogsMy Dog gReeTS Me By jUMPing UP, dogs is domestic dogs. Dogs have diverged lower-ranking wolves show their subordinateSTeAlS fooD BehinD My BAcK, TRieS To significantly from wolves in the last 15,000 status by offering to roll on their backs. ThiscliMB inTo My lAP To Be PeTTeD, AnD years. Ancestral wolves evolved as hunters submissive roll is a sign of deference, similarofTen ignoReS Me when i cAll hiM and now generally live in packs consisting to when someone greets the queen or theTo coMe. ARe TheSe SignS of DoMi- most often of family members (Mech 2000). pope by kneeling. Consequently, a morenAnce? No. In animal social systems, domi- Pack members cooperate to hunt and to take appropriate term for the posture would be anance is defined as a relationship between care of offspring. In a given year, generally submissive roll (Yin 2009).two or more individuals that is established by only the alpha male and alpha female mate,force, aggression, and submission in order so that the resources of the entire pack can even if wolves don’t roll subordi-to gain priority access to resources (Bernstein be focused on their one litter. Dogs, on the nates on their back, it seems to work1981; Drews 1993). Most unruly behaviors in other hand, evolved as scavengers rather than in some cases. Should i try it any-dogs occur not out of the desire to gain higher hunters (Coppinger and Coppinger 2002). way if my dog is aggressive?rank, but simply because the undesirable Those who were the least fearful, compared to The most common cause of aggression inbehaviors have been rewarded. For instance, their human-shy counterparts, were best able dogs is fear. Pinning a dog down when he isdogs jump on people and climb into their laps to survive off the trash and waste of humans scared will not address the root of his fear.because when they do so, they get attention. and reproduce in this environment. Currently, Furthermore it can heighten the aggressionSimilarly, dogs fail to come when called if they free-roaming dogs live in small groups rather (AVSAB 2007). In fact, a recent study of dogsare being rewarded by the objects or activities than cohesive packs, and in some cases spend (Herron et al. 2008) found that confronta-that are distracting them. Even stealing food much of their time alone (MacDonald and tional techniques such as hitting or kickingwhen humans are not watching is not a play Carr 1995). They do not generally cooperate the dog for undesirable behavior, growling atfor higher rank. In the wild, lower-ranking to hunt or to raise their offspring, and virtually the dog, performing an “alpha roll,” staringanimals steal resources when higher-ranking all males and females have the opportunity to the dog down, and enforcing a “dominanceanimals are not around to guard the resourc- mate (Boitani et al. 1995). Marked differences down” frequently elicited an aggressivees. This is an alternate strategy for obtaining in social systems, such as those just described, response from the dog. The aggression maythe resources they want. Those who are re- inevitably lead to notable differences in social also be redirected toward inanimate objects,warded by success are more likely to continue behavior. or other animals or people besides the owner.stealing in this manner. Even non-physical punishment, such as a i hear that if you think a dog is harsh verbal reprimand or shaking a fingerBecause dogs are related to wolves, dominant, you should roll him on his at a dog, can elicit defensive aggression if thewe should use wolves as a model back in an “alpha roll” and growl dog feels threatened by it.for understanding dogs. While we can in his face because that’s what anget ideas of the types of behaviors to study in alpha wolf would do.. In a pack of i have heard that to be the boss ordogs based on what we know about wolves, wolves, higher-ranking wolves do not roll leader, you have to go though doorsthe best model for understanding domestic lower-ranking wolves on their backs. Rather, first: walk ahead of the dog like wolves do. In a wolf pack, the highest ranking wolves only lead the hunt a fraction of the time (Peterson et al. 2002). Furthermore, when they are hunting, they do not keep a tight linear formation based on their rank. Since the alpha goes first, should you eat before your dog? Higher- ranking wolves don’t necessarily have priority access to food. Once a wolf has possession of food, he may not give it up to another wolf regardless of his rank. When food is not yet in possession of either wolf, ritualized aggres- sion (snarling, lunging) may still occur, with the higher-ranking wolves usually winning. feeding dogs treats will cause them to become dominant. Even among wild animals, sharing of food does not relate to dominance. Adult wolves frequently regurgi- tate food for puppies. Males of other species frequently court females by bringing food to them. Giving a dog a treat when he jumps up or barks at you can result in unruly behavior. However this does not teach him that he is higher ranked or has priority access to re- sources. If you would like to teach him to wait 3
  4. 4. politely for a treat you can wait until he sits or lies down patiently and then give him a treat. R ef eRen c eS American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. 2007. AVSAB Position Statement–Punishment Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems. http://www. will growling or trying to bite a dog or making a claw with your fingers mimic what a wolf does when he Bernstein, I.S. 1981. Dominance: The baby and the bathwater. J Behav Brain Sci 4:419-57. growls at or bites a subordinate? There are no studies on this. However, as an Boitani, L., F. Francisci, P. Ciucci, and G. Andreoli. 1995. Population biology and ecology of feral dogs in central Italy. In The domestic dog: Its evolution, behaviour and interactions with experiment, you might ask a friend who has people, ed. J. Serpell. 217-244. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. been bitten by a dog whether poking him with your fingers bent in claw formation has Coppinger, R., and L. Coppinger. 2002. Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Be- an effect that’s similar to when he was bitten, havior, and Evolution. New York: Scribner. or whether your growling or biting seems similarly ferocious. In general, we shouldn’t Drews, C. 1993. The concept and definition of dominance behavior. Behaviour 125: 284-313. assume that our actions mimic those of a dog Herron, M., F.S. Shofer, and I.R. Reisner. 2008. Safety and efficacy of behavior modification or a wolf. Rather, we should evaluate each techniques used by dog owners. In 2008 ACVB/AVSAB Scientific Paper and Poster Session. of our interactions with our pets and observe New Orleans, La., July 18, 2008. their response to determine how the pet perceived it. MacDonald, D.W., and G.M. Carr. 1995. Variation in dog society: Between resource disper- sion and social flux. In The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People, ed. J. Serpell. 199-216. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mech, David 1999. Alpha Status, Dominance and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77:1196-1203. pha_status.htm (accessed November 11, 2008) Mech, L.D. 2008. What every happened to the term alpha wolf? International Wolf. ( Peterson, R.O., A.K. Jacobs, T.D. Drummer, L.D. Mech, and D.W. Smith. 2002. Leadership behavior in relation to dominance and reproductive status in gray wolves, Canis lupus. Cana- dian Journal of Zoology. 80:1405-12. Yin, S. 2009. Dominance vs. Unruly Behavior. In Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats. 52-73. Davis, Calif.: CattleDog Publishing.4 © 2008 AVSAB American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior