What do you think when you hear the word "dominant"?
Most likely your family is not the fist thing you think of, and yet this is the first thing that is mentioned in a multi-dog home (more than 1 dog), when there is a conflict between dogs. Something like "oh he is being dominant", or "she is the dominant bitch here".
I am here to ask you to stop looking at your dogs and all dogs as dominant, submissive and so on. I realize that this is a heavy task to some degree, because so many canine professionals and literature has or does refer to dogs (and wolves), in this way, but....it is just not fact. Even Scientist Dr. L. David Mech who in 1970, published his theory that wolves use a hierarchy of dominance, has since debunked his own theory.
Multiple dogs in a household actually function as a family, similar to human families, but in a canine way (of-course).
"Canine relationships and families are not organized in a hierarchical structure; however, hierarchies do exist among canine family members and are important in some circumstances. A hierarchy is not static and situational circumstances can change everything. The same can be said for humans as well.We also have hierarchies in some situations, such as at work (e.g. our boss).
The important thing to understand is that our dogs do not exist on a constant treadmill of dominance and submission. To describe a dog as a “dominant dog” simply because of their personality or actions, is to label a dog and not truly look at who that dog really is or what may or may not be happening in that dog’s life (Excerpt from: Indecent Exposure - Understanding And Reducing Stress For The Modern Dog)
The kind of hierarchy we will see in a multi-dog family, is generally one that is based on age. For example a new puppy born into the current family or brought into the current family, will use appeasement toward the elder dogs and learn routines and structure of the canine family as a unit. This can change as the pup matures and becomes influenced by sexual hormones, and one of the reasons that the hierarchy in a canine family is not static. Puppy-hood, adolescence and becoming elderly all have an impact on the canine family in a multi-dog household. There are also other reasons that the social structure in multi-dog home is not static, such as who is present (human and canine), at any given time, and what is happening in the environment at any given time.
Seeing our multi-dogs as our family members, can and will help us better understand the dynamics that come into play within the canine family in our home. We, as humans, have control of our dogs because we choose when they eat, when they go outside, when they get walked and so on. This means there is no need to be dominant with our dogs, because we already are, by default. Our dog family reflects the children in the family and the hierarchy that exists with siblings. And it is not wrong or bizarre to look at our multiple dogs this way, because the human adults in the family are the caregivers of the dogs.
This is not to say that looking at our dogs through the lens of them being part of our family, means that we should be treating them as humans, absolutely not. However, it more simply means that we should respect them as we would our human family members, while respecting that they are a different species and that they look at their world through the lens of dogdom.
The bottom line is, we need to respect our dogs as part of our family, and just as importantly respect that when there are multiple dogs in the family, the dogs, among themselves will have a non-static form of canine hierarchy.
And finally as my good friend and mentor Turid Rugaas, once said when asked about dominant dogs - "dominance! forget about it!"