Without a model for the animal mind, Dogdom must always return to the notion of dominance in order to explain social structure. Learning theory hasn’t been able to fill the bill and neuroscience merely reduces behavior to its biological nuts and bolts. Furthermore the notion of dominance seems consistent with evolutionary theory, given the assumption that competition for limited resources is the driving force of natural selection, and that individuals vary one from the other by random. A good articulation of the shift in thinking on dominance in order to sustain the thesis is Roger Abrantes:
Abrantes believes that the reason many people have difficulty with a theory of dominance is due to poor definitions and political correctness, i.e. an anti-Cesar backlash.
Roger Abrantes: “Dominance exists in all species. Recent trends claim that “dominant behavior” does not exist in dogs, which poses some serious problems. There are two ways to argue in favor of such thinking. One is to dismiss “dominant behavior” downright, which is absurd since, for the reasons we saw above, the term exists, we know roughly what it means and we can have a meaningful conversation using it. It must, therefore, refer to a class of behaviors that we have observed.”
KB: Abrantes argues that dominance must exist for one thing because we have so many words to describe it and we all know what those terms refer to. And yes while it’s true that there is a phenomenon that is being observed and then interpreted to be dominance, but it would be more accurate to say that social order exists, and so the existence of social order doesn’t necessarily mean it is predicated on dominance. He furthermore says that if two species diverged in their evolution in the distant, primordial past, it may be accurate to say dominance might exist in one and not the other given the evolutionary gap between them but in the case of dogs and wolves since they diverged relatively recently on the evolutionary scheme of things and can still communicate with each other and interbreed, if dominance exists in wolves it is only logical for it to exist in dogs.
RA: “A third alternative is to build a brand new theory to explain how two so closely related species as the wolf and the dog (actually sub-species) can have developed in such a short period (thousands of years) so many radically different characteristics in one aspect, but not others. This would amount to a massive revision of the entire complex of our biological knowledge with implications far beyond wolves and dogs and one which I find unrealistic.”
KB: I vote for a brand new theory because we have want of a model. In the model I propose, dogs are fundamentally like wolves, a fact consistent with their closeness in terms of an evolutionary timetable. However this fundamental common denominator is amplified in dogs due to domestication and this magnification of “Temperament” is what makes dogs different from wolves in many ways. This amplification occurred because domestication was predicated on hunting-as-a-synchronized-group which is a more comprehensive explanation for why only the dog can adapt to every aspect of human civilization and even working cooperatively under extreme conditions. No other species of animal is capable of this range of adaptability. Furthermore, such an approach leads to an energy model which is 100% consistent with a theory of evolution predicated on common descent in a world of UNLIMITED RESOURCES. Resources are not limited in regards to cooperative-based social structures. Mark Derr’s book, “How The Dog Became The Dog,” demonstrates: (1) the domestication of dogs happened much earlier than currently presumed and (2) early hominids became human through co-evolving (rather than human taming wolf) with the dog. The emotional relationship that has evolved between man and dog is a compelling example of cooperation yielding new energy, for example, herding prey animals as opposed to hunting them.
RA:”It is absurd to argue that dominance does not exist when we have so many words to describe whatever it relates to. If it didn’t, we would not have even one word for it.”
KB: This logic is perhaps even more true of an energy theory as well because everyone knows what is meant by animal magnetism (sex appeal/charisma) and if someone were to describe a person as “wired,” or “there was electricity in the air” every one would know what is meant. There are innumerable energetic terms which allows people to talk meaningfully about an infinite range of animal and human behavior.
RA: “Dominant behavior is a quantitative and qualitative 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.”
KB: This is a description rather than a definition. For example, one could quantify, qualify and catalogue the effects of magnetism and then label it as magnetism, as was done in antiquity, but that doesn’t define it. And one could catalogue, quantify and qualify electrical phenomena and call these electricity; and again one would have described rather than defined the phenomena. This is because no model has been provided. Once a model was developed, it was understood that electricity and magnetism are but different manifestations of the same phenomenon.
The first contradiction with this definition is the problem of variability. If maintaining-access-to-resources without resorting to violence is the essence of social structure, and since the competition over limited resources in the face of too many progeny is supposedly the universal problem for all species, then why is there such variability in social structures between species? Why is the social construct of domestic cats so different from domestic dogs since they both compete for the same range of resources in any given human household. And yet they manifest different social structures as well as different capacities to work with human beings.
Secondly, it can be observed that serious injuries often result from encounters that first began with the classic displays of what is described as dominance. How then could that incident of aggression be entirely different from dominance if it can so easily escalate from one to the other? And just because injury resulted from a slow but steady escalation so that it ends up being defined differently, it’s incongruent to say that a display of dominance that leads to aggression is fundamentally different from a display of dominance that doesn’t lead to aggression since the same people would describe the first phase of either kind of event with the same terms. The metric of whether or not an injury is sustained is an arbitrary distinction for the sake of a definition. That would be akin to saying that the shock received when crossing a carpeted room on a cold day and touching a metal switch plate, is fundamentally different from being electrocuted to death.
I’ve used electromagnetism in this discussion because since the phenomenon of magnetism can naturally progress into a phenomenon of electrical discharge, it would be more logical to presume a fundamental connection between these two phenomenon, just as we should with dominance and aggression and so this should cause us to question the artificial lines of demarcation predicated on descriptive treatments. And to carry the analogy further, a magnetic field can deflect an electrical charge so that an electrical charge isn’t transferred from one party or pole to another, and so this suggests within the same phenomenon a process that moderates the transfer of a charge.
Thirdly, a definition by default automatically constructs a model because it immediately poses questions that can only be answered by a human psychology. There has to be a separate intention for dominance, and a separate intention for aggression. Then there have to be separate intentions for the variability of response between contexts as well as additional psychology to account for how long of a time an individual would seek to maintain its access to a particular resource.
RA: “This means that no individual is in principle always dominant or submissive, it all rather depends on the opponent and, of course, the values of the potential benefit and estimated costs.”
KB: We’re talking here of an incredibly complex intellectual psychology; why would an individual opt for dominance rather than aggression? And then why only dominate one resource, why not all resources, what’s the complex human psychology in that cost/benefit analysis? We also have to account for how specifically dominance could evolve without submissiveness in tandem for it doesn’t do any good if the sender of a signal can’t trigger the appropriate response in the receiver. What if an individual is dominant toward something that doesn’t have a submissive impulse, that could trigger an aggressive response that could have been avoided? What if an individual shows submission to a belligerent that lacks the capacity to be mollified by submissiveness? That’s an invitation for injury. And if dominance exists in all species, then it must be an instinct and cannot in any way require a cost/benefit psychology, otherwise it’s not an instinct and thus, cannot be in all species.
Fourthly and finally, I can’t think of a less likely governor on violence than one that involves the instinctive compulsion to control access to resources. In my reading of history and in my work with aggressive dogs, the need to maintain access to resources is the number one source of violence, injury and mayhem in the world, between dogs and between dogs and human beings. Whereas a more likely candidate to inhibit violence would be fear, and it can readily be shown that the states of “dominance” and “submission” are in fact states of emotional paralysis due to fear. And so if “dominance” exists in all species, then we are eminently qualified to judge for ourselves our own subjective emotional experiences when we find ourselves in intense expressions of either “dominance” or “submission.” We can judge for ourselves if what we find appealing in a leader is their dominance, or their magnetic, dynamic nature.
The most logical candidate for the inhibition of violence is an emotional bond. An emotional bond can never escalate into violence, whereas fear easily can. And since working together toward a common goal is how strangers can most easily bond, this interpretation is far more consistent with the nature of the domestic dog and the nature of the emotional relationship that’s evolved between human beings and canines.