There is a school of thought, unfortunately all too common among positive trainers, that denies the very existence of a social hierarchy among dogs.
I believe there are several reasons for this mistaken perspective:
1. They genuinely don't see it
Women, especially, seem to fall prey to this idea, which may be related to their own human social experience. Women do not form hierarchies in their own social interactions!
There are men, too, who don't see the social hierarchy, possibly because dogs tend to yield rank to individuals possessing testosterone, eliminating the need for the canine(s) in the household to establish a hierarchy among themselves.
Finally, if you have not owned multiple dogs, you don't get the same perspective. Yes, dogs can and will form loose lead-follow relationships at the dog park, during play dates, and the like, but the leadership role is not quite the same as the type of leadership role exhibited with the family.
2. There is motivation to make the claim
They don't want to support "dominance" techniques. Recognition of a social hierarchy absolutely does not constitute endorsement of practices like alpha rolls, scruff shakes, stare-downs, muzzle grabs, etc, that present serious risk of "miscommunication". If your dog learns that no amount of appeasement will make you stop aggressing, you can effectively ELICIT aggression.
A stable, effective leader dog elicits cooperation from the follower dogs through performing the duties of a leader. Owners often misinterpret growls from a low-ranking dog protecting resources from a higher ranking dog as evidence that the growler (low rank) is actually the leader!
Aggression has been linked to canine leadership in the minds of many humans. Aggression is neither a tool nor a communicator of leadership. Aggression is, by definition, a strategy for handling social conflicts, which result from MISSING or INEFFECTIVE leadership.
3. Not as much as as we need to know has been researched in DOGS
One of the common assumptions made is that canids are canids, and that foxes approximate wolves approximate dogs. Well, in very general terms, this is correct, just as it is to say that primates approximate humans.
But in specific terms, humans are not monkeys, and dogs are not wolves.
While I argue that there is evidence to support the idea of dogs understanding a social hierarchy among dogs, there is even less research that explores how dogs (and other species who form social hierarchies) frame the inclusion of other species.
My point is simply this: keep an open mind, and look for what is really there, not evidence that simply weighs for or against a social hierarchy.
I have very strong feelings about the importance of what I call good leadership, but there are many possible explanations for why the recommendations I make work, which may or may not have anything to do with a social hierarchy that may or may not include humans.
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