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group leader? Science Explains the Myth of Dog Dominance | SEGS

Oftentimes, people hear recommendations that there should be assertive attitudes in dog breeding, so that they understand that humans are the “leaders of the pack.” For this reason, it is common to incorporate the idea that dogs, in an architectural manner, walk in front of us, when going out into the street, or have aggressive and large behaviors – all in order to “dominate” us – and that, for this reason, we need to speak loudly, fight them and even attack them . Are these concepts correct and should they be followed?

Camille Chamonix, geneticist, consultant in canine welfare and behavior and creator of the neuro-compatible education methodology for dogs in Brazil, confirms that this is an ancient behavior. You remember that the origin of this understanding goes back to the 1970’s, with the theory of dominance, pioneered by biologist Lucien David Meek and depicted in the work “The Wolf”.

She was referring to the wolves’ behavior through the scientist’s observations. Mech claimed that the families of these animals were led by strong, dominant wolves (called alphas), while submissive wolves (called omegas) obeyed them. Therefore, Alvas exercised control and dictated decisions to the other group members.

“This theory was transferred to the human-dog relationship and was quickly disseminated, including by specialists working with dog behavior,” Chamonix laments.

However, in 2005, Mech publicly denied it. As research has progressed, it has been shown that dominance theory has no scientific basis—more specifically with the advancement of behavioral neuroscience, starting in the 21st century. This science studies the functioning of the brain – which, in turn, receives internal and external information and influences, allowing the development of diverse behaviors in individuals, depending on the moment and circumstances.

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“We understand Mech was wrong in the 1970s, because neuroscience is still very young — and the research that points to the animal brain, even more so. The study that tells so much about the dog brain dates back to 2017, just five years ago! But today, in the year 2023, it is necessary to bring knowledge back home and change the way we treat species different from ours, such as those with our domestic fur, ”the geneticist records.

Thus, in detailing the workings of the brain, neuroscience shows that dogs do not have the skills to make assumptions about what another is feeling or thinking, and from there, come up with Machiavellian plans. This is called theory of mind. “Only the so-called superior primates, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and even humans, have this cognitive competence. In practice, this means that only they are able to perceive that another is thinking and feeling. No other animal, not even a dog, has sufficient neurological development for that.” Chamonix explains.

Furthermore, dogs (regardless of size or breed) have the cognitive and emotional development equivalent of a two-year-old; That is, they do not have a developed mind, to the point of wanting to control us, thus invalidating, once and for all, the theory of domination.

“Even because of this limited cognitive development, they don’t interpret the world as we do – for example, when looking in a mirror or watching scenes on television, they are unable to relate and understand that they are just reflected images.”

Behaviors in light of neuroscience

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But then, what do the aforementioned behaviors mean — wanting to walk in front of the owner, acting aggressively or stepping up to humans, as if you want to mate?

“Walking in front of its owner just shows that this animal has exploratory habits, which is something completely normal in their nature. It’s common and healthy to want to smell, dig and explore the environment while walking,” Chamonix explains. This way, the dogs can walk in front of, next to, or behind the teacher—nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, aggressive and escalating behaviors require more care and attention – not because dogs are trying to control us, but because they are most likely in pain.

“Aggressiveness becomes a necessity when a dog feels a dangerous environment, and the only way to defend itself is by biting. If it reaches this point, the owner urgently needs to seek professional help, because in addition to having a puppy in the family, he warns, severe stress and suffering may result.” at risk.”

Finally, compulsive mounting, outside of a sexual context (males facing females in heat) is called a behavioral stereotype—any way the dog finds to relieve the anxiety he feels. “The same can be said for other compulsive patterns, such as endless licking, excessive barking, and eating your own poop,” he captures.

Thus, understanding canine behavior in the light of neuroscience brings us knowledge and wisdom. “It makes no sense to subject our furs to tyrannical behavior so that they would obey and respect us, without any basis in science. It is up to us, humans, to use our evolved ‘super brain’ to understand the different and charming species we have brought into our home, to ensure the well-being and tranquility of the whole family,” concludes the scientist. heredity.

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