Thursday, March 11, 2010

You're still wrong, though

It seems that everyone who has a blog right now has to take a side, for or against "dominance", and defend it vociferously. Hmmm... Ok, I'll play again.

"Dominance" is real and not just in dogs. The reason you don't believe it is, either you don't understand what "dominance" means, and/or you're just not watching your dog(s).

The argument against dominance is usually as follows: "wolf packs aren't dictatorships with a strict hierarchy, therefore dominance doesn't exist in dogs." Except for the "what breed of dog hunts" crazy woman of course, whose argument is simply "my dogs don't." And given her keen understanding of canine psychology, that's a rock-solid argument, eh?

Anyway, about your wolf pack argument: first of all, I don't have a pet wolf. I have a pet dog. I don't give a fig what wolf packs do and don't.

Other than that, you're right: a wolf pack isn't Qin Shi Huangdi and his army. And... what's your point with that? Nobody said it was; you're just projecting some maladaptive schema of yours onto everyone else's use of the word "dominance". If you can prove that wolf packs don't work that way, it's like proving that the sky isn't red. Yes, you're right, but no one was saying otherwise, and it doesn't advance the question one bit.

If you want to understand dominance, you have to look at your workplace. Assuming you don't work in one of those namby-pamby places where feelings are more important than performance.

At my work, because we're a certifiable trade, we automatically have a hierarchy: The Boss, then the journeymen, then the fourth-year apprentices, then third, second, first, and finally labourers. People lower down the ladder generally obey those higher up, for the simple reason that the higher you are, the more training you have, therefore the more you're right. And everyone obeys The Boss, whether he's right or wrong, because he's The Boss and the survival of the pack depends on him.

Other than matters of business, we don't have a rigid order of precedence. We all get along pretty well, we joke with each other, lower pack members get to make non-essential decisions such as what radio station we're listening to. There are still dominant personalities and a certain deference of the lower orders to the higher ones, but it's not imperial China.

Likewise in animal packs and herds. The boss dog, or horse, or wolf, is The Boss, and his authority is respected because the pack depends on him. Below The Boss, the dogs have a certain order of doing things as far as the business of the pack, but there's no need among them to be aggressive with each other. It's just a natural organization that they live with comfortably, just as we do at my work. And outside business hours, everyone is more or less equal, within limits.

The business of a dog pack is two-fold: eat, and walk. Mostly eat, though. In my pack, I'm the boss bitch, therefore all the food, and all the food decisions, are mine. I say who eats what when. Tinky-Winky wouldn't dream of taking food away from me, unlike my old cat who would steal food right out of my hand. That's the business of our pack, and when it comes to food, I'm the unconstested ruler.

When it comes to walking, I say when we walk and where we walk. Some times I look at where she's trying to go and go that way, but if I don't want to go her way, we go my way. The reverse isn't true. If she doesn't want to go my way, we still go my way. She has tons of freedom while walking, but ultimately the decisions are still all mine.

Other than eating and walking, we're just buddies. I don't believe in never approaching her to pet her, and it doesn't make her misbehave when I do that. If she takes my spot on the couch, I move her, but if she takes the best spot on the bed, I let her have it. If she wants attention, I usually give it to her, unless she's being rude. She used to be very dominant and stand up to make me do her bidding, which didn't work for her, but she persisted, until one day I licked her nose. I'm not sure why that established in her mind that you don't stand up and push me, but I've never had that problem since.

That's how dominance works, and yes it exists in dogs, as in any other society. Your neurosis about accepting other people's leadership is irrelevant to the question, as is the existence of alpha rolls in wolves or lack thereof.

Dog packs, human packs, and mixed dog/human packs, work on the basis of dominance. With a good flow of dominance, a pack works well. Without, it doesn't. And you're either dominant to your dog or you're not, whether you understand the word or not.

I'd go on, but it's time I go hunt with my human pack.

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