Sense and nonsense of dominance relationships and hierarchy: a closer look on behaviour and social organization structures in domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
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In this paper a closer look is taken on the concept of dominance and hierarchy in domestic dogs with five statements derived from the paper of Bradshaw and colleagues’ (2009) as guiding directories for discussion: 1) dominance is based on associative learning, 2) aggression as criteria in dominance relationships, 3) the usability of (captive) pack-theories as found in captive wolf and 4) free ranging dogs for the interpretation of domestic dog behaviour and 5) finally human-dog interactions: how is the domestic dog positioned in the human household? It is concluded that dominance cannot be purely based on associative learning for two reasons: evidence is available that heredity plays a role as well and it is not in line with the results from and knowledge of nature-nurture research to attribute behaviour purely to associative learning. Furthermore, aggression patterns appear no reliable criteria for dominance relationships; on the contrary submissive behaviours and formal dominance appears a better criteria since these provide unidirectional and linear hierarchies. Similarities between behaviours in wolf and feral dog-packs are found whereby captive wolf pack models appear to be more suitable than situations in which restrictive competitive conditions are present. Unwanted behaviours in household seem to overshadow a variety of causes and the attitude of the domestic dog has changed over time. Domestic dogs appear to be adapted to human in a certain way (e.g. affective if socialized well on humans, more alert on humans and human behaviour in a visual way as compared to wolves), what makes dogs such suitable companions. Nevertheless, it seems doubtful that essential ethological priorities and basic species specific motivations has been adapted by artificial selection in domestication processes, neither should these species specific characteristics be faded away by operant conditioning later in life. Many topics should be carefully studied and discussed in more detail before a repeatedly predictive and proofed model on hierarchy and dominance can be shifted to the past. Thus far, we advocate to be careful and never throw away the child with the bath water.