Elevated Aggression is Associated with Uncertainty in a Network of Dog Dominance Interactions

Matthew J. Silk, Michael A. Cant, Simona Cafazzo, Eugenia Natoli and Robbie A. McDonald, 2019


Dominance hierarchies are widespread in animal societies and reduce the costs of within-group conflict over resources and reproduction. Variation in stability across a social hierarchy may result in asymmetries in the benefits obtained from hierarchy formation. However, variation in the stability and behavioural costs of dominance interactions with rank remain poorly understood. Previous theoretical models have predicted that the intensity of dominance interactions and aggression should increase with rank, but these models typically assume high reproductive skew, and so their generality remains untested. Here we show in a pack of free-living dogs with a sex–age-graded hierarchy that the central region of the hierarchy was dominated by more unstable social relationships and associated with elevated aggression. Our results reveal unavoidable costs of ascending a dominance hierarchy, run contrary to theoretical predictions for the relationship between aggression and social rank in high-skew societies, and widen our understanding of how heterogeneous benefits of hierarchy formation arise in animal societies.

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