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The following article was published on
Translated by Angelique van Someren,

Dominance model/ The Roedel Method
Dog behaviourists Arjen van Alphen and Francien Koeman asked 3 dog professionals of various types about their view on the dominance model and the impact it has on how we interact with our dog.
This article is part of a series of 3 and is written by Arjen van Alphen and Francien Koeman from Dog Behavioural Institute De Roedel.
Arjen van Alphen is a Dutch behaviourist, (social) scientist and scientific researcher on dog behaviour; together with Francien Koeman he developed the Roedel Method®.

In1954 Prof. Dr.Niko Tinbergen already indicated the concept of dominance as hard to handle. Everything we observe is a result of many factors affecting behaviour. Not only the individual behaviour, but also upbringing and the environment are playing a significant role in this. Environmental conditions and situations are constantly changing.
This means that also relationships are constantly changing, individuals have to be flexible and they must adjust to each other all the time.
Therefore there is a continuous change of positions, those positions are never fixed.

The link between dominance and ‘ruled through aggression and violence’ has become
a very common and persistent assumption and interpretation in the dog world
as being ‘the dominance theory’.

Animals in captivity
‘The dominance theory’ was developed after observations of wolves living in captivity in animal zoos, in an environment and situation that hardly change. Flexibility is no longer really needed anymore in such circumstances and environment, using each others specific abilities in good teamwork and task delegation, is no longer relevant.
Shifts in social positions and relations are in this linear hierarchical model hardly taking place, but when it does it is done fitting the hierarchical system, through conflicts from the top down.

Wild living animals
For animals living in the wild, such a hierarchical dominance model would be in everyday life not very helpful at all!
They are just very dependant on each other's abilities, where cooperation and a good delegation of tasks are much needed, to function as an individual and as a group to survive. Consequently the social relations are often quickly and efficiently varying. There is respect and appreciation for each others individual capacities which will be employed for the entire social group, and sometimes one has the lead and sometimes the other. It’s about their own and each others welfare.

Conflict and violence to get clarity about ones position will be avoided as much as possible.

View on the dominance theory
The linear hierarchical dominance model (as described above in animals in captivity) does not comply with what the Roedel Method® defines as "natural rearing" and is based on a different dominance model.

In the dominance model of the Roedel Method® the social welfare of the members is relying on the mutual dependency of the members. Here the personal capacities of each individual are recognized and acknowledged. Those individual abilities will be used for the welfare of all members of the social group.

More over, The Roedel Method® takes it even a step further in this dominance model; why is this social dominance model actually possible?

Dogs need social interaction
Every living being, including the dog, has the need to interact socially with other living beings.
No matter in what way, every animal or human being will always be directed towards social interaction and communication with the other members of the social group to which he wants to belong to and where no one benefits from conflict and violence. This is a social genetic given, what makes living together with others possible and that social relations can be discussed.

This need for social contact works immediately after birth. Parents and child need physical contact. From that basic relationship learning how to communicate, how to negotiate, when you know your place about what you can negotiate about, but also how you do it without conflicts, and when it should come to a conflict on how to resolve it is increasingly being learned.

Immediately after birth, nearly every living being is totally helpless and dependent, especially of the mother. There is intense physical contact between the child and the mother, for giving and receiving warmth, care, nutrition, safety and protection as a means of (still) limited capacities to interact and communicate.
From this a specific social relationship evolves, making it possible first for the mother-and later- for the other members of the group to raise and educate the new generation.
The basic need for (wanting to) belong and to learn to live together with others, makes upbringing possible!
In the upbringing the ins and outs of the (species specific) language is taught, their own manners, standards and values and their own culture with all the rituals and traditions of the own group and species.
Both humans and animals learn to speak and negotiate with others. For every man and every animal it is the "primary school" of life, in preparation for "later when you’re a grown up," to become acceptable and accepted members of human society or group.
Therefore dogs also know our language

Dogs are in their basic need for communication and social interaction with others very special and unique. The dog is because of centuries of domestication the only species that not only learned the language of their own species and everything that goes with it, but also that of people, 2 different primary schools and 2 different social systems!

What impact does it have on how you interact with your dog?
There is no scientist that would deny the existence of dominance and hierarchy. Every scientist will probably admit that unambiguously defining 'dominance' is very difficult and confusing due to all the factors influencing 'dominance'.
Each factor affects and determines the social behaviour of every individual and hence the mutual social relations and positions as well, the ranking positions, from higher in rank and lower in rank.

Dominance and hierarchy: learning to give and take
But just as with dominance these words are not used as in the hierarchical linear dominance model. The one higher in rank indicates that at that moment one is provided with the right qualities to take on the responsibility necessary in that situation for the interests of the others. The one lower in rank set themselves therefore dependent in relation to the one higher in rank.

Hierarchy has to do with taking responsibility and mutual dependency.
This is unrelated to violence, strife and conflict. In all socially living species a social hierarchy exist and fellow group members are mutually dependent on each other.

Without clear agreements and rules, cooperation and living together in a social group is not possible. Ranking orders therefore have a key function in every social system both humans and animals.

The Roedel Method® is based on the interdependence of social relations within a group. As a good employer is dependent on its employees and workers depend on their employer. This means that the employer has the responsibility not only for himself but also for its employees.
Dominance and hierarchy mean being able to guide, the willingness to be led and being able to transfer leadership without this leading to conflicts and confrontations. A good leader also knows when he should stand down and must accept leadership to serve the groups best interest. The hierarchy – higher in rank or lower in rank – is exchangeable and transferable for as long as the environment and situation requires.
Under the condition that every individual can contribute within its own capabilities, and that every individual continues to feel comfortable with it.

This dominance model is opposite to the linear hierarchical dominance model, in which there is hardly a change in social relations and where conflicts are regulated much more through repression, aggression and violence.

Your role as a dog owner
Because of the relationship between wolves and dogs and because dogs live ‘in captivity’, it was assumed that 'the' dominance model was the blue print, the best way, for how an owner should be dealing with his dog. You are the boss and must always remain that way; otherwise you get problems with your dog, who will want to be “the boss"!

our dogs are domesticated and in their domination no longer wolves. Our pet dog has gone through 2 different 'primary schools' and through 2 different social systems: that of dogs and of people. Therefore they are not only directed towards other dogs but on humans as well. Wolves will always continue to focus on other wolves.

Our human society is very diverse and complex. The composition of the human social group is constantly changing, as is the situation and surrounding area. That requires a lot of flexibility, mutual trust and respect! Dog and owner together will always have to adapt to those changes. Here the ranking, the ranking positions will change continuously, because both dog and owner must be willing to put their own good qualities into use in favour of the other (s).
Applying the linear dominance hierarchy model (zoo system) in our human society is very inappropriate and inadequate. Cooperation so that the flexible exchange of tasks and ranking orders are possible, is in our complex society very essential!

The Roedel Method® in every day life
Within the Roedel Method® the need for social relationships with others is utmost important. The interdependence, social interaction, negotiations, the ongoing dialogue between dog and owner are essential in this. Owner and dog can build a relationship based on mutual trust through education and negotiations about the social positions.
Our dog lives in our human society. Therefore people do need to take on the majority of responsibilities and duties, especially at the start of the upbringing and development of the social relationship with the dog.
People are responsible for the welfare of their dog. The owner will have to determine which tasks could and can be taken on by the dog (or not) and also when. Both the owner and the dog want to build a social relationship based on trust, therefore is there no place for strife or (physical) violence.
It is about own and each others welfare, that both dog and owner together, have the important task to learn ‘self control’ in terms of toilet training, guarding, destroying, pulling on the leash, running away, and not to fight and so on...!

In everyday life the exchange of tasks and social positions between dog and owner usually takes place quite unnoticed and unconsciously. With social trust as base, hierarchy positions and responsibilities are shifting constantly.
This relationship is accumulated during the upbringing, and “negotiations” between dog and owner about the social positions are taking place.

At the beginning, the owner will have the majority of tasks and responsibilities.
The owner is dependent on the dog whether he will soil the house or not. A dog that is toilet trained is willing to keep his bladder and bowels under control in the house in the owner’s interest. The owner walks the dog to urinate and defecate in the interest of the dog. The dog is therein depending on his owner. When the owner is at home he has a protective role, but when he is away the dog will take over until his owner gets back home.
There will always be mutual dependency and various forms of cooperation, exchanges in ranking positions, wherein everyone can feel comfortable and safe without struggle or violence.

In everyday life
To come to an enjoyable social relationship and a well-functioning team is an intensive and lengthy process. The negotiations concerning cooperation, task delegation and in which situations, rank order positions, are not always running smoothly between the owner and his dog.
In this dialogue between dog and owner are many unintentionally and unwanted linguistic problems…

The owner speaks to the dog in human language, from his own social interaction system, standards and values.
The dog speaks to his owner from his own social communication systems, canine manners, moral values and language. This is his dog behaviour, regardless of whether this behaviour is desired or undesired in our human point of view.
Human language is (mostly) verbal; the dog's language consists of body language and scent language, because everything just smells… This scent and body language together makes the dog language very subtle and for us humans, with our very limited sense of smell, very hard to understand!

Language differences appears to be an obstacle!
The big difference in language is a significant obstacle, leaving the negotiations about cooperation and division of tasks between dog and owner very easy to fail. In this case, the dog could get certain positions and responsibilities which he, from its own point of view, would perfectly legitimate fulfil!
When this happens, humans almost automatically come with the 'linear hierarchical model’. The dog is being labelled as a disobedient 'dominant dog’, trying to "climb up higher", rather than a dog that is negotiating, in his own language, with his owner about a good working relationship!
Within The Roedel Method® clearing these obstacles takes an important place.

Some Scientific Research
Bradshaw, J.W.S., Blackwell, E.J. and Casey, R.A. (2009)
Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit?
Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 4, Issue 3, Pages 109-144 (May-June 2009).

Mech, L.D. and Boitani, L. (2003). Wolf social ecology. In: Mech, L.D., Boitani, L. (Eds.)
Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation University ofChicago Press,Chicago,IL, pp.1-34.

Mech, L. D. (2008).
What Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf? International Wolf, Winter 2008, pp. 4-8.

Van Kerkhove, W. (2004).
A fresh look at the wolf-pack theory of companion-animal dog social behavior J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 7, 279-285

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Some suggested reads:
Adam Miklosi, Dog Behaviour, Evolution and Cognition
Roger Abrantes, The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know
John Bradshaw, Dog Sense

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