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Is my naughty dog trying to dominate me? Do I need to be more "alpha" or "leader of the pack"?

The short answer to these questions is a very firm no! If you're not convinced please read on.

In this blog post I tackle a topic that I'm often asked in dog training sessions. If my dog is disobedient, is he trying to be dominant? Do I need to train him to be more submissive? Do I need to be the "leader of the pack"? Should I exhibit more "alpha" type behaviours to create a well behaved dog.

This theory of dog training, popularized by TV shows such as The Dog Whisperer, has its origins in research done many years ago (1930's and 40's) on wolves held in captivity. Ideas about social structures and hierarchies were formed to explain competition among these wolves over resources such as food, mates and choice sleeping locations. However, subsequent research showed that wolves in the wild do not behave in similar ways to resolve conflict in their social structures. In fact, the more submissive members of the pack willingly offer up appeasement behaviours to resolve conflict, rather than it being forced by the alpha or dominant member of the group.

What does this mean for our pet dogs in the family home?

Firstly, dogs are not wolves. The wolves observed in these studies may share a common ancestor with our family pet, but this does not mean we should, or can, equate the two animals' behaviours. Wolves living in the wild (or captivity) competing for food, mates or comfortable beds, do not necessarily behave the same as our pet dogs to get what they want.

Secondly, showing dominance or alpha behaviours, often equates with scaring, hurting or being physically aggressive towards our dogs. For example, your dog growled because you tried to take his bone away, so you "alpha" rolled him to show him who is boss. This type of "training" (if it can be called that) is not only highly ineffective, in that it doesn't teach your dog anything, it also has inadvertent consequences on your dog's behaviour. Punishment based training can lead to increased aggression towards humans, increased resource guarding behaviours, and a lack of trust between you and your pet. This increases the likelihood that your dog will bite someone next time they try to take away a bone, or other valued resource.

Domestic dogs have evolved over thousands of years to co-exist peacefully with humans. They already know that you control access to all the fun stuff! They know that without you, they don't get food, walk time, play time, bed time and all the other stuff your loveable pooch enjoys.

When trying to modify your dog's behaviour, think instead about what your dog wants and then train him to offer up a more desirable behaviour to get that resource. For example, your dog wants you to open the door to go outside, teach her to sit and stay before she goes through the door (rather than barking or going beserk at the entryway). Your dog wants you to play ball? Teach him to bring you the ball and lay down quietly (rather than bark hysterically) before you throw the ball again. Teach desired behaviours so your dog learns to exhibit these behaviours more frequently to get what it wants. Not only will your dog have a more positive association with the training process itself, he will have a more positive association with you!

Not sure how to do this? Give me a shout and schedule a session. I'd love to help you out.


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