Dominance Behavior

Overview and Meaning

Mice are territorial creatures in nature, but they also live in kin groups within a territory called a deme. Within a deme mice show a range of dominance behaviors. In standard laboratory conditions mice tend to display a dominance hierarchy, and associated dominance behavior, rather than territorial behavior. Mice use scent marking from urine to designate established territories. The small cage sizes used to group house laboratory mice may be insufficient to map out territories. As a result most flight and submissive behavior, aggressive behaviors, and threat behavior occur in the context of dominance, rather than territoriality. For example mounting and submissive behavior, are typical dominance behaviors. Mice also communicate through urinary and plantar odor cues, which are very important in maintaining the dominance hierarchy. In particular, dominant mice will leave more urinary cues, and over-mark the urine of subordinates.  


Dominance is a ranking of individuals in a group. Ranking is in order of the number of other individuals, each dominates so that the highest ranking dominates all others in the group and the lowest ranking dominates none of the others. Dominance may not be completely linear, and involve complex social relationships, or uncertain rankings, particularly between mid-ranking individuals. For example see Howerton et al. 2008.


Agonistic Interactions


Territorial behavior and dominance behavior differ in both the context that they occur, the resources under competition, and the threat behavior that initiates the interaction.