The old definition of dominance meant a social hierarchy of rank, high status being sought because it accorded breeding privileges and since genetic proliferation is held as the mainspring of evolution. This definition was propagated by scientists who had gathered the data and interpreted the statistics, and was then disseminated by trainers and behaviorists to substantiate the position that neutering, especially early in life, would prevent all manner of social dysfunction and increase well being since canine social life was predicated on the above mentioned evolutionary imperative. The new definition of dominance in contrast means control over resources, complete with situational awareness of context and with dog nestled within a family-like matrix of relationships. As Roger Abrantes states:
“Dominant behavior is a quantitative and quantifiable behavior displayed by an individual with the function of gaining or maintaining temporary access to a particular resource on a particular occasion, versus a particular opponent, without either party incurring injury. If any of the parties incur injury, then the behavior is aggressive and not dominant. Its quantitative characteristics range from slightly self-confident to overtly assertive.”
“Dominant behavior is situational, individual and resource related. One individual displaying dominant behavior in one specific situation does not necessarily show it on another occasion toward another individual, or toward the same individual in another situation.”
“Resources are what an organism perceives as life necessities, e.g. food, mating partner, or a patch of territory. The perception of what an animal may consider a resource is species as well as individual related.”
So in the new definition of dominance, and since the vast majority of female dogs are spayed and thus do not constitute a breeding resource, and since dogs have situational awareness of which resource is available, when and where, and since the endocrine system is certainly integral to the capacity to display and receive coherent dominance and submissive signals so that aggression can be averted, there is no longer an intellectual justification to neuter male dogs.
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A few days ago one of my (intact) hounds, Jack, attacked my neutered hound, Logan, when Logan tried to eat from Jack’s bowl, having finished his own meal. This is not the first time Jack has warned Logan off, but this is the first time Logan had sustained injury. An example of ‘dominant’ behaviour, but with Abrante’s definition, Jack’s behaviour could be deemed ‘aggressive’. A similar, but milder, situation over food occurred a few weeks previously between my intact labrador and Jack. The labrador has subsequently learnt to be wary in the kitchen around Jack when food is about.
So why is Archie wary and Logan seems to ‘forget’? One possibility could be that Logan is neutered, limiting his reading of the situation. (?)
I am now beginning to wonder if Jack’s food agression (only of his own, he would never challenge anyone for theirs – he’d wait til they left the room) is due to the work we did with him as a puppy taking his food away so that he would accept that we owned the resource. Am I right in saying that this might have built up a charge around food which is why we are seeing this guarding behaviour now. But then again its likely to be more complex than that!
It makes me go on to wonder, yet again, how much of these behavioural problems in dogs we are creating, with the best intentions but limited understanding 🙂
Yes, you’re right about putting too much spin on the ball with the early training, so that Jack has to take it when you take away the food, but he doesn’t have to take it from Logan. That said, the generic cause of the problem is too much energy in too small a space so this problem can occur no matter what you do. It’s a good idea to feed them in separate spaces. When I feed a bunch of dogs in the play yard, I have various nooks and platforms that clearly designate space for each dog who is feeding, and this reduces exponentially how much I have to monitor. Basically dogs should be given the opportunity to eat in peace and not make any issue of it whatsoever. I don’t like sitting in restaurants where the chairs are too close, and the other tables are too close.
The problem however also speaks to the emotional battery and to the need for external triggers in order to relieve a latent charge. Dogs will find themselves drawn to these “setups for an upset” in order to find relief from a charge and this has been misinterpreted by behavioral scientists as competition over resources. There is a protocol for teaching dogs to eat from the same bowl, but it’s not really worth it other than using it as a trigger to get energy up to the surface for dogs that are really stuck in other areas. I have found that the more confidence a dog has in its prey drive, the less it needs external triggers to find relief from an internal charge because it’s emotional battery is formatted to the group synchronizing mode in order to attain a state of resolution, i.e. the release into weightlessness.
As to Archie and Logan’s varied responses. First of all they will have to vary by virtue of occupying different emotional polarities within the group mind and it also shows just how this variation is structured, Logan remains more in hunger than balance and so can’t readily learn about the danger until he experiences a physical pain intense enough to trigger the balance mechanism, whereas Archie is far more in balance than hunger and quickly learns to keep his distance. One’s magnetic, the other is electric.