Published Thursday in the Science Daily website, Joanne A. M. van der Borg, Matthijs B. H. Schilder, Claudia M. Vinke, and Han de Vries conducted a study about the hierarchical structure of dog behavior in groups and the long questioned dominance debate.
As scientists and trainers suspect, there is a hierarchy among dog groups. Usually there is the dominant and the submissive in the group. One group ranks higher and the other lower, so-to-speak. The article at sciencedaily.com references the study by Van der Borg et al and discusses the findings. Dogs were studied as a group for a number of months during which a stable hierarchy was established. The scientists studied a group of seven postures along with 24 specific behaviors among the dogs, and the findings were noted as linear.
Dogs give each other signals through different behaviors or postures. Aggression was studied as a possible indicator supporting the hierarchy but since the study showed that both the submissive and the dominant dogs showed aggression at times, that was not a suitable source of information. One of the questions proposed was about whether dogs want to actually fight or not. The study showed that dogs actually are not “natural born fighters.”
Tail wagging, head position and body posture turned out to be better sources of information than aggression, play, or the greeting. This study hopes to show ways to understand better the behavior of dogs in groups as analysis to improve the dogs’ welfare in society.
According to the study itself, published at journals.plos.org, the signals studied in this experiment would help owners, trainers, vets and other dog people to diagnose behavioral problems and possibly understand better solutions for each individual dog.
The study found that it is possible that the findings could differ by breed as well. Each breed has variation in terms of aggression style, temperament and individual personality. This brings up the question about how to deal with specific breeds and their own issues. The scientists site breeds like Rottweilers being more of a totalitarian dominant type as opposed to Labrador Retrievers who happen to be more shy and offer more equality within the scheme of dominance. It is however, not necessarily the breed, but the training, and other factors that tie into some of the dog’s own behavioral tendencies.
The study suggests that the research continue with narrowing down breed types and using the criteria to understand specific breed hierarchies as well.
For more information, one can find this article or future articles, and studies like this are also being published with the National Institutes of Health.