Dominance in domestic dogs revisited: Useful habit and useful construct?

M.B.H. Schilder, C.M. Vinke, J.A.M. van der Borg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


In the last decade, the validity and relevance of the dominance model was regularly put into question regarding relationships between canids like dogs and wolves, and consequently, humanedog relationships as well. The concept underlying this model, scientifically defined as an intervening variable reflecting status difference between individuals, is applicable when formal status signals symbolize the long-term relationship between individuals, resulting in a formalized dominance hierarchy. This article reviews the basics underlying the concept of dominance and reflects on the value and importance of some new quantitative studies on the applicability of the concept of dominance in domestic dogs. The conclusions are, first, that formal dominance is present in the domestic dog, expressed by context-independent unidirectional formal status signals. Consequently, formal dominance (e.g., submission) plays an important role in assessing status in dogedog relationships. Second, that nonverbal statuserelated communication in humans resembles that in dogs to a considerable degree, and hence dogs may be well able to interpret this human statuserelated nonverbal communication from their perspective. Dominance is therefore also likely to play a role in humanedog relationships. Hence, the dominance concept might be useful to explain the development of certain problems in dogedog and dogehuman relationships. However, enforcing a dominant status by a human may entail considerable risks and should therefore be avoided.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-191
JournalJournal of Veterinary Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • free-ranging dogs
  • canis-familiaris
  • personality dimensions
  • agonistic interactions
  • nonhuman animals
  • gray wolves
  • behavior
  • hierarchies
  • traits
  • lupus

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