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All dogs are not the same.

Dominance is not an individual trait, there are no 'dominant' dogs, it is an ASYMMETRICAL RELATIONSHIP: in a relationship a dog can be stronger or weaker.

dominant dog over submissive dog

A dog may display imposing or submissive behaviours. These behaviours are not equally distributed in the group. Dominance is not so much defined by the imposing behaviour imposed on the weaker, but by the submissive behaviour received.

Submission is a request for friendship and tolerance, and is based on trust.

the submissive puppy

Dominance is only one aspect of the relationship.

In the dog's ethogram, there are only 50 imposition behaviours, but there are about 300 social contact behaviours! 

play behaviour in dogs

play in dogs

two dogs face off

Imposing behaviour can be used to stop, displace, divide, control a resource.

Asymmetry in the relationship makes it possible to avoid conflict. Dogs do not pretend to be stronger to get something from other dogs. A dog is what it does, and more importantly the other dog is free to choose how it reacts to the information it receives. No relationship is fixed or rigid, but can evolve over time.

dog communication classes

The female staffy uses imposition to help the male border collie during the interaction with an unfamiliar dog.

Dogs display imposing behaviours to communicate and as part of a social relationship, not to cause fear or pain.

Physically forcing the dog onto its side, hitting it, yelling at it, isolating it, are behaviours that express aggression and violence used to vent anger, frustration and insecurity, and the human need to control dogs: they have nothing to do with the ethological concept of imposition and dominance.

"Nothing is worse than respect based on fear" (J.P. Sartre) 

Text by Alexa Capra 27 december 2022
Photos Daniele Robotti