Why not dominance?
In a nutshell:
Pack theory as it has been interpreted and used is not scientifically valid. Dr. David Mech's early writings are the basis for many now-debunked myths in dog training. Dr. Mech himself has since retracted his early findings. Sadly for dogs, despite the best efforts of the scientific community, "be the pack leader" has become so ingrained in the practice of dog training, that it still persists today.
ARTICLE: "Dominance and Dog Training" - the Association of Professional Dog Trainers
This is is Dr. David Mech's statement:
“The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book "The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species," written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book's info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then [sic] in all of previous history.
One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. "Alpha" implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that's all we call them today, the "breeding male," "breeding female," or "male parent," "female parent," or the "adult male" or "adult female." In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the "dominant breeder" can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a "subordinate breeder."
Dr. L. David Mech talks about the terms "alpha" and "beta" wolves and why they are no longer scientifically accurate.
"Schenkel’s observations of captive wolf behavior were erroneously extrapolated to wild wolf behavior, and then to domestic dogs. It was postulated that wolves were in constant competition for higher rank in the hierarchy, and only the aggressive actions of the alpha male and female held the contenders in check. Other behaviorists following Schenkel’s lead also studied captive wolves and confirmed his findings: groups of unrelated wolves brought together in artificial captive environments do, indeed, engage in often-violent and bloody social struggles.
The problem is, that’s not normal wolf behavior. As David Mech stated in the introduction to his study of wild wolves (Mech, 2000), “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a ‘top dog’ ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading.”
What we know now, thanks to Mech and others, is that in the wild, a wolf pack is a family, consisting of a mated pair and their offspring of the past one to three years. Occasionally two or three families may group together. As the offspring mature they disperse from the pack; the only long-term members of the group are the breeding pair. By contrast, in captivity unrelated wolves are forced to live together for many years, creating tension between mature adults that doesn’t happen in a natural, wild pack."
by Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, CDBC
The Social Organization of the Domestic Dog -
A Longitudinal Study of Domestic Canine Behavior and the Ontogeny of Canine Social Systems
Source: University of Bristol's Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences
Published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.
Articles by Dr. Karen Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB:
You are the parental figure in your relationship with your dog. Your dog is like a child that you raise who never completely grows up. You take care of his needs and keep him safe. You teach him good manners and how to be polite. You make sure he has good food to eat and enough exercise and toys to play with - and the games he plays with you will be the highlight of his day.
He is not your "equal", but he is certainly not your subordinate. It isn't necessary to "dominate" your human child - or your dog. You don't need to eat before your child to show him you're the parent. You don't need to go out doors first, other than to look first to make sure it is safe. You teach him to "say please" because it's good manners, not to prove you're the boss. Such things aren't necessary in your relationship with your child or your dog. Your dog isn't trying to take over your life. He just wants to know he's safe and loved and how to fit in. He's your best friend. Treat him like one.