By Dr. Anne McBride
Dominance is often used to explain aggressive behavior. People frequently describe a dog or rabbit as a dominant individual, suggesting that dominance is an integral part of its personality. This basic misunderstanding can increase a pet’s aggression if the owner believes they need to show their pet who is the boss. This article explains what dominance is, and how it relates to our bunnies and our interactions with them.
Dominance is not a personality trait. Rabbits, people and dogs are not born dominant, though they may have characteristics that enable them to acquire a high ranking or dominant status in their social group.
Dominance is a description of the relationship between two animals, one with higher ranking, the dominant animal, and one with lower ranking, the subordinate. For example, I consider myself to be dominant over my dog, rabbit and goddaughter. I also consider myself to be subordinate to my mother and my boss at work. Does this mean I am a dominant or a subordinate animal? Actually I am both, depending on the relationship under discussion.
An animal is not born with status but acquires it when others in the group recognize that animal’s greater qualities and give way to it. Dominance status is given by others, so relationships can change depending on an animal’s physical and mental health, and the environment in which it finds itself.
Being the dominant animal in any relationship has benefits, but is not necessarily a permanent position. Dominance status grants priority access to the good things in life, namely resources, such as food, a mate and the best places to live. **For the full article, pick up the 2008 issue of Rabbits USA or click here to buy the issue.**