Dominance and confidents
There is no misunderstanding this communication; ears forward, tail held high and a hard stare.
Dominance has become a very "in" word and one that is quite misunderstood. For many the word dominance alone is a bad thing. The dictionary meaning of dominance is:
position especially in a social hierarchy.
Dominance in a dog means that status ranking is more important. A dominant dog is more apt to push with status seeking behaviors to maintain a higher position in a hierarchy. There are many levels of dominance from slightly dominant to fat headed over dominance. During temperament testing when puppies are 7 weeks of age I test for dominance. Along with other tests which are done; findings are recorded and that puppy should be placed accordingly. The time when dominance can go wrong is when a puppy is placed in the wrong home; a dominant dog needs someone who understands it and is a strong leader.
A dominant dog placed with a very submissive human can go wrong quickly. If a dog pushes and gets no resistance; then even a great dog can turn bad. But it really doesn't matter if you have a dominant dog or not; you must be a leader. I have seen even the most meek of dogs quickly become dominant accompanied by big issues which was entirely created by having a weak leader.
Dominance is just an explanation of personality type; not a doomsday evaluation. I have had to change my terminology sometimes when speaking to guardians because they get stuck on the word "dominant" and cannot move past it. My boy Luke is quite dominant but not very confident so easily controllable. My Jack Russell is a highly dominant female; very typical for the breed but with strict rules the only dominance shown in our house is towards the other dogs. And even that is kept for when things get a bit out of control. She is a very good leader; she is not neurotic about her position. She is serious and factual which are good traits for a good leader.
Tilley is a very non dominant dog; I would class her as a very level and highly confident dog. She in no way seeks status in our pack and is happy hanging out in the middle. She is submissive only when needed and fits like a glove into our pack. It is of the utmost importance that I run the pack; I am the leader and I make the rules. I will not let Jessie and Luke hash it out for top dog status; I just won't allow it. And because of this the dogs know who is the boss here.
Where the wires have become entangled with the whole dominance thing is when aggression is added to a dominant dog. Dogs who are highly dominant will use aggression to keep or maintain their status. A dominant dog carries themselves as such and it is a clear message to all who they are. Dominance aggression is the act of maintaining status and can lead to big trouble. It can be in the form of a challenge to another dog; resource guarding or bullying. Just like in humans bullying is unwanted and should be stopped always.
The best type of dominance is when it comes with confidence. A confident dominant dog is a joy to watch. They are typically wonderful leaders; never getting flustered and only using "reasonable force" to solve issues within a pack. In all my years of dealing with dogs in some form I have met very few "amazing leaders" but when I do I could watch them from sun up till sundown. One such dog was a mix I had the honor of meeting. He had been a stray street dog in LA and now lived with a wonderful woman. I got to witness this amazing dog in action one day at the dogbeach. His presence on the beach was immediately understood and I could not take my eyes off of all the behaviors that were unraveling and falling into place. It is something to see when there is a true leader in your midst.
So dominance in itself is not a bad thing; it can and often turns bad by an uneducated human.