No that’s okay it’s a very common misconception (and one that needs to die).
Firstly, dogs are not wolves. And dogs do not form cohesive packs like wolves do (and dominance-submission relationships are purely based on access to resources btw).
Dogs have diverged significantly from wolves in the last 15,000 years. Ancestral wolves evolved as hunters and now generally live in packs consisting most often of family members (Mech 2000).Pack members cooperate to hunt and to take care of offspring. In a given year, generally only the alpha male and alpha female mate, so that the resources of the entire pack can be focused on their one litter. Dogs, on the other hand, evolved as scavengers rather than hunters (Coppinger and Coppinger 2002). Those who were the least fearful, compared to their human-shy counterparts, were best able to survive off the trash and waste of humans and reproduce in this environment. Currently, free-roaming dogs live in small groups rather than cohesive packs, and in some cases spend much of their time alone (MacDonald and Carr 1995). They do not generally cooperate to hunt or to raise their offspring, and virtually all males and females have the opportunity to mate (Boitani et al. 1995)
- Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals; AVSAB
So now that we’ve established that, let’s look at how dogs interact with each other. Dogs have specific behaviours called appeasement behaviours which are designed to diffuse conflict and ask for space. This is because getting into a fight by being overly aggressive is a really really dumb thing to do. Avoiding injury by diffusing conflict is an evolutionary survival mechanism.
Okay. So what has this to do with training?
Dogs don’t want to fight with us for ‘dominance’. Dogs are not interested in rank or hierarchy in the domestic environment. Dominance is about access to resources - you control your dog’s entire life. Their food, their water, their shelter, their happiness - technically you’re already the ‘dominant’ one. If you really want to look at it that way…
The thing is… Dogs know we’re not dogs. Dogs do not see us as dogs. We don’t have tails or ears to mimic their body language and postural positions. So why should we be pushing around, growling, pinning and being a downright bully to our dogs? They don’t see you as another dog. You’re only proving that you’re a scary, unpredictable bully.
When you apply dominance theory to dogs you insert this really horrible, harmful, egotistic mentality that you need to “be the boss” and you need to be aggressive. You also instantly assume that misbehaviour is an attempt to “outrank” you. Which is so so wrong oh god
Dogs are just trying to cope with the challenges in the domestic environment. Misbehaviour such as jumping up occurs because he/she has been unwittingly reinforced for it rather than taught how to sit when guests come through the door. Not because they’re trying to be dominant.
Aggression is often due to underlying anxiety and fear - when you assume it’s because your dog’s “challenging” you and that makes you want to fight it and show it who’s boss by using confrontational and aversive techniques like hitting, growling, alpha rolling ect. All you’re doing is making that underlying anxiety even worse. You’re giving the dog even more reason to react. And sure you might be able to suppress the growling, lunging and barking if you punish it enough. But you haven’t removed the anxiety, the root of the aggression is still there. That’s when you get learned helpless and shut-down. That’s when you get redirected aggression, when you get bites that occur “out of the blue” because the warning signs were punished and suppressed.
Confrontational techniques are aversive - they work by causing pain and fear. We’ve established that dogs do not see us as other dogs - so no, they do not see it as another dog “nipping” them. They see it as you causing them pain or discomfort, which is scary and confronting. And that might cause them to want to defend themselves against you. It is our responsibility to teach our dogs the right behaviours that will allow them to cope in the domestic environment. To reinforce when they get it right and, when they don’t, ask WHY. Work out the root of the problem, don’t just assume oh he’s trying to get the better of me. Because he’s not. Dogs are so much more mentally and cognitively advanced than people give them credit for. They’re not mindless machines out to achieve world domination. Every behaviour has a purpose - it’s your job to find out what caused it and, if it’s undesirable, how you can fix it.
Sorry that got a bit long and convoluted but I hope I got the point across well enough!
Here’s a couple of links for you that further debunk pack theory: