Adopting and Caring for a new dog
Dogs that find themselves in rescue centres will often be confused and possibly frightened. Even stray dogs will be anxious finding themselves confined, despite access to food, water and shelter. Some dogs may have been rescued from abroad and endured a long journey by air. Some dogs may have never experienced living in a home. Humans need to feel safe, and this applies to animals too. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Rescue dogs usually have their physiological needs met, but we need to think about their safety needs too. Animal welfare involves both the physical health of the animals (e.g, preventing and treating illnesses and injuries), as well as psychological wellbeing.
Gaining “dominance” over dogs is detrimental. The dominance theory originated from a study on captive wolves, where their rigid social structure maintained by aggression was as a result of their forced pressured environment. A wild wolf family consist of a mating pair and their offspring; distinctly lacking in social struggles to do with hierarchy and with very little aggression. Indeed, dogs differ from wolves in many ways and have adapted to live with humans through their domestication in ways that wolves have not. When it comes to humans and dogs – the idea of dominance falls apart even more. Dogs are quite aware that we are not the same species as them. Dogs look to us for their food, walks, activities, sleeping spots, and so on. Behaviours are based on learning from their history, not a desire to gain any sort of power over us.
Asserting that a dog is trying to “be the boss” is not only factually incorrect, but it is incredibly harmful to the dog-human relationship. This type of belief typically leads to coercive training techniques, based on instilling fear and anxiety into dogs through punishment- techniques that have been shown to only increase behaviour problems within a dog, not help them. Instead, caregivers can, of course, be encouraged to be gentle leaders of their dogs, as a parent would to a child. We can promote cooperative and harmonious co-habitation by showing a dog how we would like them to behave via the science of positive reinforcement training.
Dog-human relationships are bidirectional – both species give and take from each other. Dogs can form attachments to humans as quickly as they can to conspecifics due to being domesticated to fulfil the needs of our species. In many cases, the owner has replaced conspecifics as the leading social partner.
Nowadays, dogs and humans foster cooperative relationships with each other for security, work (service dogs, police dogs etc.), or companionship - indeed, many dogs are more often than not considered to be a member of the family.