Puppy Love vs. Dominance Dogma
Most of us are familiar with the conventional dog training doctrine that goes something like this: “Don’t treat your dog like a child. Don’t give too much unearned affection. Be dominant by eating before your dog does, and make sure you always walk in front of him and get through doorways first.” And the ever-classic, “If you let your dog on your bed you’re not being the alpha.”
The wolf-pack/alpha-dog/dominance theories about dog training and behavior have been around a long time. One of the many problems with this view is that it completely disregards the fact that domesticated dogs have been living alongside human beings and interacting with us for tens of thousands of years! While our pet dogs certainly have retained a variety of their wild ancestors’ instincts, when it comes to social intelligence, cognitive ability and how they learn, dogs have far more in common with young human children than they do with wolves:
“Study into canine behavior has found that dogs, while sharing some traits with their wolf cousins, have many more significant differences. The idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain human behavior. Unfortunately, this idea that dogs are basically ‘domesticated wolves’ living in our homes still persists among dog trainers and behavior counselors, as well as breeders, owners, and the media.”
– American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009, Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals
This emphasis on dominance and submission of dogs living with their human families vastly over-simplifies canine behavior and learning. The terms “alpha” and “dominant,” are frequently misused to describe dogs who aren’t behaving the way we would like. Sadly, this approach can lead people to misinterpret their dogs’ unwanted behavior as dominance or aggression, when in fact the “bad behavior” is more commonly rooted in fear, confusion, anxiety, or boredom.
As a certified professional dog trainer, it is my mission to replace coercive, dominance-based methods with humane, science-based positive training.
This is truly an exciting time in the world of dog behavior and training. In the past 10-20 years, fascinating discoveries have been made about dogs’ abilities, social intelligence and cognition. This compelling research supports what many dog lovers have known in their hearts all along- that being kind and loving pet parents, rather than fighting an imaginary battle to be the alpha, is a far more effective way to train our canine companions, and much more rewarding for us all.