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Not all dog domination is bad. Pack and sexual dog domination are a benefit

dog domination venn diagramThis might be one of the first dog dominance venn diagrams ever to help explain the confusion I daily see in parks about what is dog dominance and when is it 'good' dominance.

The three dimensions of Dog Dominance

Contrary to popular belief, a dog being assertive or dominant by 'humping' is not a bad thing, it actually solves many of the lingering dog hierarchy issues you will encounter. Social dogs use dominance to quickly work out pack order and keep the peace.

You can go to a dog park for all of your life and never see another dog dominate a dog by humping it, but they will always dominate by other more subtle body language moves.

I have found that the reason that most women get upset when their dog is dominated is they fear that it will hurt it and may lead to a problem with their psyche.  Many men hate dog domination as they grew up trying not to have themselves dominated and its a bad reflection on their man hood.

Both of these concerns are human concerns and irrelevant to what is actually happening in the dog park.  If you want to understand your dog and what it might encounter or do itself as far as dog domination/ humping goes, then this is the article for you.

1             Dog dominance and the dog pack

This is the truly selfless act of dogs inherited by their ancestors the grey wolf. Dogs only evolved from wolves 20,000 years ago so any behaviour you see is almost certainly a modified behaviour of their ancestors.

The PACK circle (above diagram) is the dominance (humping or other ways) that is reflective of the leader or main challenger wanting to keep the pack strong. It knows that a weak pack doesn't cooperate and are not efficient at hunting and will cause members of the pack to starve. The domination is only used to sort out who is in charge and serves a management duty.

Being alpha dog or pack leader is not an easy task, you have to lead the pack, be the dog who will be attacking or attacked first and you will regularly be challenged by dogs in your pack or dogs in other packs.  It is not a thankless task, just one of the major ones that keeps a pack together, a safety factor!

When a dog is very social, very confident and settled with its abilities. When it judges that it is the pack leader or deserves to be the spokes-dog, it will hump either dogs in the pack that get out of line, or dogs that the pack encounters to reinforce that its pack is strong and don't mess with members of its pack.

I have seen this kind of transactional hump work very effectively and never look like causing a fight. This is the IDEAL Domination that a domestic dog will do in the park.

2             Sexual Domination and the dog pack

When a dog is dominating a dog because of sexual urges, it is acting out of self interest and its own pleasure.  It is gaining endorphins from winning a play fight and it is satisfying primal urges - particularly when it is a male and has been de-sexed. 

This kind of domination can either be from an adult dog that is very sexualised, and/or a dog that has remained in the puppy stage in life and is only interested in satisfying base instincts like eating and sexual urges - with no real benefit to the pack.  If a dog is purely working in this sphere, it can destabilise the pack. This happens when the other dog pack members see no real advantage in the dog's domination actions. This can lead to the perpetrator being challenged and a possible fight, particularly when a non social dog is humped.

3             Aggressive domination and the dog pack

Some people will consider that any humping or domination is aggressive in nature. It surly isn't submissive and it isn't always neutral, but if a dog's intentions are purely for the benefit of pack order or sexual, then aggression plays very little part in its actions.

You will often find 'powerful' dog breeds, dog breeds created for hunting and killing are more likely to adopt an aggressive domination humping tactic to intimidate another dog and put permanent fear into it. A dog that does this enjoys having fear and destabilised dogs in the park, it is not doing it for the benefit of its own dog pack. 'Own dog pack' can also mean a pack that only forms momentarily in the park.

Real world domination and INTERSECTION of the dominance venn diagram

Most regular park goers with stable social dogs will instinctively know that very rarely in nature do you get one single motivation behind a dog behaviour. Aggression or forceful domination and humping should be avoided in the park at all costs. It will lead to fights and to ruining the self confidence of other social dogs that are being attacked.

NOTE, a dog may puppy growl or even bark while it is attempting to dominate, as this is part of its act in convincing the other dog that it is superior, but a should NEVER lead to a bite. An aggressive dog dominating will not accept the dog it is trying to dominate from trying to get free, it will cause the other dog a major anxiety and destabilise the pack. So Aggressive dominance coupled with either sexual or pack domination is a behaviour that must be stopped.

The only place that aggressive and Pack orientated domination is welcomed, would be in the wild amongst a pack of hunting dogs that truly have their lives on the line by following the orders of the lead dog. This is considered an acceptable place where a dogs domination might include some aggression, as long as it is aimed at the higher goal of the pack.

A dog that acts with aggression and sexual domination ONLY, is only acting out of self interest and is likely to have fights, and not benefit the social order of the dog park.

The only other acceptable dog domination motivation besides pure pack domination, is one that is pack and sexual orientated. My dog actually falls into the category at times. He is neutered and seven and a spoodle. Most people would not consider a spoodle to be an aggressive dog, and in fact mine has never intentionally started a fight, because of the input breeds and his daily socialisation. Yet he loves to dominate dogs that he judges he can dominate and other body language that he shows before and after a domination act suggests that there is some sexual component to his actions.

The reason that I know that there are also pack motivations in my dogs behaviour is that I have often seen him judge when two other dogs are locked in a domination battle and he will (if physically able to and he judges the dogs as social) try to dominate the dog that is dominating another dog. He is effectively breaking the domination up and balancing the play.

He won't usually keep dominating unless the other dog keeps on trying to dominate a very submissive dog. My dog will also sometimes bark or try dominating dogs that are entering my car, letting them know that they have to behave under good pack rules. My dog does not show any food, toy or house guarding characteristics when people have brought dogs into our house, suggesting a low level of dominance aggression.

Dog dominance motivation conclusions

As long as a dog is social and intelligently picks which dog it will try and dominate, and is willing to stop when the other dog shows obvious sights of distress (anxiety or aggression) then it is fine that it is either PACK motivated domination, or Pack and Sexualised Domination.

Aggression in any real form (specifically biting used to cause damage) is not acceptable in any social dog or dog park.

Guard dogs are the obvious exception for being trained to be aggressive, but under a good dog trainer, they should be able to switch off and be able to be walked in public.

Dog domination serves a vital aspect of dog development, dog behaviour and dog pack security. As long as the dog being dominated is social and does not attempt to bite the dominating dog, the result is usually a better play experience for dogs at least.

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