Dog’s are not trying to be dominant. Any trainer who talks about wolves as the basis for their instruction, turn and walk away quickly. You will be damaging your dog, emotionally, mentally and in the worse cases, physically. Likely the trainer is not up to date on new studies on dog behavior, emotion, and cognition. There have been many breakthroughs of late, where science has disproven many of these old beliefs. What is very clear is that the dominant dog theory is outdated, disproven and dead. Dog's are very similar in an emotional sense to a 2-year old child. Pause for a moment and think about a 2-year old child. What are you doing to your dog when you act aggressively to dominate them? Would it be appropriate to dominate a 2-year old child, or does it make more sense and feel better to provide calm guidance and guardianship?
Often we continue to hold onto beliefs because they had satisfied questions about our dog when no other answers were available. It is especially true if your dog went through bad behavior during adolescence (6-18 months) – the roughest time in a caregiver's life. It is a sensitive time and a trying time where every dog will push boundaries and formulate their place in this world. Similar to 'the terrible twos' in our world, it is a time where character and personality are shaped. Conversely, the dominance theory regulates a dog as the lowest valued member of the pack. To a dog, you are telling them they are of low value while the shaping is going on. Thank goodness we now know that being a valued and confident member of the family makes for a well-balanced and delightful dog.
You may ask if it is not dominance that is motivating my dog, then why does my dog jump on me, bite me, chew my special things...., etc.? Here are some proven and current facts on how dogs understand and interact with their world:
Recently, a Behavior Client I was consulting with told me that she didn’t feel right about the training advice she had received from a local Trainer. She said to me an example the Trainer's ground-rules was not to feed her puppy until after she ate. Apparently, this was to reinforce that she was the boss and the alpha, therefore the first to eat. The dog went unfed for 12-14 hours since she would prepare her dinner first and eat it after arriving home from a full-day. Finally, she just couldn’t do it anymore. I cannot imagine not eating for this long, then to watch my Caregiver eating before I am fed. I certainly would not feel like a well-balanced and valued member of the family afterward. When you put it into the context of a 2-year old child emotional needs you can see the damage this created. The dog is now an adolescent, who is pushing boundaries and formulating his place in this world. Continuing on this track with the trainer would have jeopardized establishing a strong trust relationship between him and his caregiver during this tricky time.
The point of this blog - please tell everyone you know who says, “I have a dominance issue,” or provides advice to dominate your dog, that it is an outdated premise. If they resist the facts, direct them to reputable force-free training books, like The Heartbeat at Your Feet. Also, suggest updating their working knowledge with force-free modern courses as found in the International School of Canine Psychology.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.