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AVSAB Statement on Dominance

AVSAB Statement on Dominance

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Published by Eric Goebelbecker
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a new position paper aimed at countering some of the pervasive influence of his show, which airs on the National Geographic Channel, and of Millan’s training approach, which is based on what the position statement calls outdated dominance theory.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a new position paper aimed at countering some of the pervasive influence of his show, which airs on the National Geographic Channel, and of Millan’s training approach, which is based on what the position statement calls outdated dominance theory.

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Published by: Eric Goebelbecker on May 22, 2010
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 Pst Statmt  tUs  Dma Tr Bavr Mdfat  Amas
 AVSAB is concerned with the recentre-emergence o dominance theory andorcing dogs and other animals intosubmission as a means o preventing andcorrecting behavior problems.
For decades,some traditional animal training has relied ondominance theory and has assumed that animalsmisbehave primarily because they are strivingor higher rank. This idea oten leads trainers tobelieve that orce or coercion must be used tomodiy these undesirable behaviors.In the last several decades, our understandingo dominance theory and o the behavior o do-mesticated animals and their wild counterpartshas grown considerably, leading to updatedviews. To understand how and whether to applydominance theory to behavior in animals, it’simperative that one rst has a basic understand-ing o the principles.
Defnition o Dominance
Dominance is dened as a relationship be-tween individual animals that is established byorce/aggression and submission, to determinewho has priority access to multiple resourcessuch as ood, preerred resting spots, and mates(Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). A dominance-submissive relationship does not exist until oneindividual consistently submits or deers. Insuch relationships, priority access exists primar-ily when the more dominant individual is pres-ent to guard the resource. For instance, in a herdcomprised o several bulls and many cows, thesubordinate males avoid trying to mate whenthe dominant bull is near or they deer when thedominant bull approaches (Yin 2009). However,they will mate with emales when the dominantbull is ar away, separated by a barrier, or out o visual sight. By mating in this manner, subor-dinate bulls are not challenging the dominantbull’s rank; rather, they are using an alternatestrategy or gaining access to mates.In our relationship withour pets, priority access toresources is not the majorconcern. The majority o behaviors owners want tomodiy, such as excessivevocalization, unruly greet-ings, and ailure to comewhen called, are not relatedto valued resources andmay not even involve ag-gression. Rather, these be-haviors occur because theyhave been inadvertentlyrewarded and because alter-nate appropriate behaviorshave not been trainedinstead. Consequently, whatowners really want is not togain dominance, but to ob-tain the ability to infuence their pets to perormbehaviors willingly —which is one accepteddenition o leadership (Knowles and Saxberg1970; Yin 2009). 
 Applying Dominance Theory to Human- Animal Interactions Can Pose Problems
Even in the relatively ew cases where aggres-sion is related to rank, applying animal socialtheory and mimicking how animals wouldrespond can pose a problem. First, it can causeone to use punishment, which may suppressaggression without addressing the underlyingcause. Because ear and anxiety are commoncauses o aggression and otherbehavior problems, includ-ing those that mimic resourceguarding, the use o punish-ment can directly exacerbatethe problem by increasingthe animal’s ear or anxiety(AVSAB 2007).Second, it ails to recog-nize that with wild animals,dominance-submissiverelationships are reinorcedthrough warning posturesand ritualistic dominance andsubmissive displays. I therelationship is stable, thenthe submissive animal deersautomatically to the dominantindividual. I the relationshipis less stable, the dominantindividual has a more aggressive personality, orthe dominant individual is less condent aboutits ability to maintain a higher rank, continuedaggressive displays occur (Yin 2007, Yin 2009).
 American Veterinary Societyof Animal Behavior
• Despite the fact that advances in behaviorresearch have modied our understandingof social hierarchies in wolves, many animaltrainers continue to base their training meth
ods on outdated perceptions of dominance
theory. (Refer to
Myths About Dominance and Wolf Behavior as It Relates to Dogs
• Dominance is dened as a relationshipbetween individual animals that is estab
lished by force/aggression and submission,to determine who has priority access tomultiple resources such as food, preferredresting spots, and mates (Bernstein 1981;Drews 1993). Most undesirable behaviors inour pets are not related to priority access toresources; rather, they are due to accidentalrewarding of the undesirable behavior.• The AVSAB recommends that veterinar
ians not refer clients to trainers or behaviorconsultants who coach and advocate domi
nance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it.• Instead, the AVSAB emphasizes that ani
mal training, behavior prevention strategies,and behavior modication programs shouldfollow the scientically based guidelines of positive reinforcement, operant condition
ing, classical conditioning, desensitization,and counter conditioning.• The AVSAB recommends that veterinar
ians identify and refer clients only to trainersand behavior consultants who understandthe principles of learning theory and whofocus on reinforcing desirable behaviorsand removing the reinforcement for undesir
able behaviors.
K Pts
 American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. 2007. AVSAB Position Statement–Punishment Guidelines:
The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems
. http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=119.Barker, R. 1997. How can we train leaders if we don’t know what leadership is?
Human Relations
50(4):343-62.Benowitz, E.A. 2001.
CliffsQuickReview: Principles of Management 
. New York: Hungry Minds.Bernstein, I.S. 1981. Dominance: The baby and the bathwater.
 J Behav Brain Sci 
4:419-57.Drews, C. 1993. The concept and definition of dominance behavior.
125: 284-313.Knowles, H.P., and B.O. Saxberg. 1971.
Personality and Leadership Behavior 
. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Yin, S. 2007. Dominance Versus Leadership in Dog Training
. Compendium Continuing Educa-tion for the Practicing Veterinarian
29:414-32. 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.
People who rely on dominance theory totrain their pets may need to regularly threatenthem with aggressive displays or repeatedlyuse physical orce. Conversely, pets subjectedto threats or orce may not oer submissivebehaviors. Instead, they may react with aggres-sion, not because they are trying to be dominantbut because the human threatening them makesthem araid.Third, in the wild, even in dominance-submissive relationships that are well-estab-lished, the relationship lasts only as long as thehigher-ranking individual is strong enough toretain this rank. Thus, high rank may be short-lived in both human-animal and animal-animalrelationships.Overall, the use o dominance theory tounderstand human-animal interactions leads toan antagonistic relationship between owners andtheir pets.
The Standard o Care
The AVSAB emphasizes that the standard o care or veterinarians specializing in behavior isthat dominance theory should not be used as ageneral guide or behavior modication. Instead,the AVSAB emphasizes that behavior modica-tion and training should ocus on reinorcingdesirable behaviors, avoiding the reinorcemento undesirable behaviors, and striving to addressthe underlying emotionalstate and motivations, in-cluding medical and geneticactors, that are driving theundesirable behavior.
How Leadership Differs from Dominance
The AVSAB claries thatdominance and leadershipare not synonymous. Inthe human-related elds o business management andsociology, where leader-ship is studied extensively,leadership is dened broadlyby some as “the processo infuencing activities o an individual or group toachieve a certain objectivein a given situation” (Dubrin1990, in Barker 1997).Despite this denition, whichincludes infuence throughcoercion, scholars in theseelds recommend against theuse o coercion and orce toattempt to gain leadership(Benowitz 2001). Coercionand orce generate passiveresistance, tend to requirecontinual pressure and direc-tion rom the leader, and areusually not good tactics orgetting the best perormancerom a team (Benowitz2001). Additionally, thosemanagers who rule through coercive power (theability to punish) “most oten generate resistancewhich may lead workers to deliberately avoidcarrying out instructions or to disobey orders”(Benowitz 2001).Similarly with pets, leadership should beattained by more positive means—by reward-ing appropriate behaviors and using desiredresources as reinorcers or these behaviors.Leadership is established when a pet ownercan consistently set clear limits or behaviorand eectively communicate the rules by im-mediately rewarding the correct behaviors andpreventing access to or removing the rewards orundesirable behaviors beore these undesirablebehaviors are reinorced. Owners must avoidreinorcing undesirable behaviors and only rein-orce the desirable behaviors requently enoughand consistently enough or the good behaviorsto become a habit (Yin 2007).Finally, AVSAB points out that while aggres-sion between both domesticated and wild ani-mals can be related to the desire to attain higherrank and thus priority access to resources, thereare many other causes. These are discussed indetail in multiple veterinary behavior textbooks(please see www.avsabonline.org or helpul ar-ticles). Consequently, dominance should not beautomatically presumed to be the cause o suchconficts, especially when the confict occurswithin a human household. Instead, a thoroughmedical and behavioral assessment should beconducted on all animals involved in the con-fict to determine the true cause or causes o theaggression.
The AVSAB emphasizes that the use o sci-entically sound learning principles that applyto all species is the accepted means o trainingand modiying behavior in pets and is the key toour understanding o how pets learn and how tocommunicate with our pets.
The AVSAB emphasizes that the standard of carefor veterinarians specializing in behavior is that dominance theory should not be used as a generalguide for behavior modification. Instead, the AVSABemphasizes that behavior modification and train
ing should focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors,avoiding the reinforcement of undesirable behaviors,and striving to address the underlying emotionalstate and motivations, including medical and geneticfactors, that are driving the undesirable behavior.
My Dog gReeTS Me By jUMPing UP,STeAlS ooD BehinD My BAcK, TRieS TocliMB inTo My lAP To Be PeTTeD, AnDoTen ignoReS Me when i cAll hiMTo coMe. ARe TheSe SignS o DoMi-nAnce?
No. In animal social systems, domi
nance is dened as a relationship betweentwo or more individuals that is established byforce, aggression, and submission in orderto gain priority access to resources (Bernstein1981; Drews 1993). Most unruly behaviors indogs occur not out of the desire to gain higherrank, but simply because the undesirablebehaviors have been rewarded. For instance,dogs jump on people and climb into their lapsbecause when they do so, they get attention.Similarly, dogs fail to come when called if theyare being rewarded by the objects or activitiesthat are distracting them. Even stealing food when humans are not watching is not a playfor higher rank. In the wild, lower-rankinganimals steal resources when higher-rankinganimals are not around to guard the resourc
es. This is an alternate strategy for obtainingthe resources they want. Those who are re
 warded by success are more likely to continuestealing in this manner.
Baus ds ar ratd t vs,  sud us vs as a mdr udrstad ds.
 While we canget ideas of the types of behaviors to study indogs based on what we know about wolves,the best model for understanding domesticdogs is domestic dogs. Dogs have divergedsignicantly from wolves in the last 15,000 years. Ancestral wolves evolved as huntersand now generally live in packs consistingmost often of family members (Mech 2000).Pack members cooperate to hunt and to takecare of offspring. In a given year, generallyonly the alpha male and alpha female mate,so that the resources of the entire pack canbe focused on their one litter. Dogs, on theother hand, evolved as scavengers rather thanhunters (Coppinger and Coppinger 2002).Those who were the least fearful, compared totheir human-shy counterparts, were best ableto survive off the trash and waste of humansand reproduce in this environment. Currently,free-roaming dogs live in small groups ratherthan cohesive packs, and in some cases spendmuch of their time alone (MacDonald andCarr 1995). They do not generally cooperateto hunt or to raise their offspring, and virtuallyall males and females have the opportunity tomate (Boitani et al. 1995). Marked differencesin social systems, such as those just described,inevitably lead to notable differences in socialbehavior.
i ar tat  u tk a d sdmat, u sud r m  sbak  a “apa r” ad r s a baus tat’s at aapa  ud d.
In a pack of  wolves, higher-ranking wolves do not rolllower-ranking wolves on their backs. Rather,lower-ranking wolves show their subordinatestatus by offering to roll on their backs. Thissubmissive roll is a sign of deference, similarto when someone greets the queen or thepope by kneeling. Consequently, a moreappropriate term for the posture would be asubmissive roll (Yin 2009).
ev  vs d’t r subrd-ats  tr bak, t sms t rk sm ass. Sud i tr t a- a  m d s arssv?
The most common cause of aggression indogs is fear. Pinning a dog down when he isscared will not address the root of his fear.Furthermore it can heighten the aggression(AVSAB 2007). In fact, a recent study of dogs(Herron et al. 2008) found that confronta
tional techniques such as hitting or kickingthe dog for undesirable behavior, growling at the dog, performing an “alpha roll,” staringthe dog down, and enforcing a “dominancedown” frequently elicited an aggressiveresponse from the dog. The aggression mayalso be redirected toward inanimate objects,or other animals or people besides the owner.Even non-physical punishment, such as aharsh verbal reprimand or shaking a ngerat a dog, can elicit defensive aggression if thedog feels threatened by it.
i av ard tat t b t bss radr, u av t  tu drsfrst: ak aad  t d k vs d.
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 atight linear formation based on their rank.
S t apa s frst, sud u at br ur d?
Higher-ranking wolves don’t necessarily have priorityaccess to food. Once a wolf has possessionof 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, withthe higher-ranking wolves usually winning.
d ds trats  aus tmt bm dmat.
Even among wildanimals, sharing of food does not relate todominance. Adult wolves frequently regurgi
tate food for puppies. Males of other speciesfrequently court females by bringing food tothem. Giving a dog a treat when he jumps upor barks at you can result in unruly behavior.However this does not teach him that he ishigher ranked or has priority access to re
sources. If you would like to teach him to wait 
Mts Abut Dma ad w Bavr as it Rats t Ds

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