Has anyone told you that you need to be the leader of your dog? Or maybe you read an article somewhere that said you need to make your dog submit to you, and you need to dominate him?
This advice makes me cringe! I don’t even want to share with you all the bad advice I read out there in the world. But I want to talk about how it is just that.
Today I’m going to share with you why that advice is NOT going to help you build a relationship with your dog, and what you CAN do to make this a loving, lasting relationship that meets both canine and human needs. Ok, I hate that people are still using and even teaching that outdated training theory
Let us Just Say a Few Things.
- You do NOT have to assert dominance or be the alpha.
- You do NOT have to make your dog earn privileges.
- You do NOT have to make your dog submit to you.
- You do NOT have to withhold attention or affection.
- You do NOT have to walk through doors before your dog, eat before your dog or keep your
- Dog strictly at your side for the entire walk.
Not only do you not have to do these things, but you also should not! Nope nope and nope! We can’t say that enough… just NO! And let me just do a quick mention of Alpha Rolls.
This is an outdated and seriously damaging practice. By rolling and pinning your pup on her back, you make an association that people can be scary and hands coming towards her are likely not something she is going to enjoy. This can lead to fear and aggression towards people. Instead, we should be focusing on building trust and bonding with our puppy.
And I’m going to dig a little deeper into that today too. Since I’m not going to talk any more about this horrible advice – and believe me there’s a lot more that I didn’t mention, I will talk about where these theories came from and why they are all so wrong!
I want you to know why these things are such a bad idea, so stick with me through the science and I think you’re going to learn a lot. Don’t worry, I’m not JUST going to tell you what NOT to do.
I’m going to give you some sound advice and tips on what you SHOULD do, so hang on for that part. That’s what we always want to do for our dogs – teach them what we DO want them to do, so I’ll do the same for you!
Ok here goes…The dominance theory – the one that says your dog and you have to compete for the alpha role – is based on a study of wolves in captivity.
Let’s break that theory down a little bit more. For one, we’re talking about wolves here, WOLVES.
Not domesticated dogs Take a look at your pup. Does she seem like a wolf to you? Not only that, the wolves being studied were in captivity. This is not natural! Wolf packs are not led by a dominant leader. They are more like a family, and that includes a mated pair (the adults) and offspring.
That sounds familiar, right!?
Yep! More like humans. Adult wolves spend time caring for and teaching their young, And vying for dominance is not a priority to them. In natural wolf families, hierarchy is generational. Similar to a healthy human family where parents take care of children, and children listen to, watch, and learn from adults. So you can see that we were basing a whole lot of advice on a very flawed study.
The man who did it even says so!
His name was David Mech. He even went so far as to retract his entire study and rewrite the theory to better reflect the true dynamics of the pack We all live and learn so we don’t blame him for some missteps – we are glad he’s spreading the word that his study was not supposed to be used for dog training concepts!
Unfortunately, a whole lotta people haven’t continued their education and haven’t changed their methodology when it comes to teaching and training so alas this myth still lingers out there Another reason why this study was so flawed is that it was taking information from adult wolves from various locations and lineages forced to live nearby.
This resulted in unnatural behavior from wolves. This would be like taking strangers to a deserted island with limited food and water and telling them to fend for themselves. Things are going to get hairy and scary pretty quickly. Unfortunately, this information stuck and somehow translated to dogs living with humans.
Comparing dogs to wolves is like saying house cats are lions or basing human behavior off of apes.
We may have similar behaviors but that doesn’t mean we are the same. Can you imagine getting advice from your pediatrician based on how apes care for their young? You’d say “no thank you, I’ll consult another doctor”.
Ok, without really giving any more lip service to bad advice, maybe you’ve heard the advice that you need to act like the mama dog. Or maybe you were wondering if your puppy sees you – or your kids – as their littermates. Nope! To both of those! There is no evidence that dogs see humans as their species. Let’s face it, we humans are not the best at recognizing the nuances of canine body language, let alone able to replicate it. If we are running into trouble with our dog, it’s not because they think you are another
dog. Believe me, you do not smell like any dog they have ever met! So now you’re thinking “Ok Michele, we get it. No more on the crazy outdated theories.
How do we teach our dogs?
“What will work better will be to create an open line of communication between our pups and humans. I like to use the term Guide. You know when you show up somewhere new and there’s a big historical site or museum to explore?
What do some people do?
Hire a guide! Is this person going to dominate or become the alpha over you? Nope. They are going to teach and educate you. And you’ll probably, hopefully, enjoy it and learn lots of new things! As mentioned in this video *How to Correct Unwanted Behaviors,* puppies don’t come equipped with an understanding of human behaviors or expectations. Our job is to teach our pups the rules for living in our home and build the behaviors that we want to see from them over and over.
Of course, it is also our job to understand how our dog’s thing and works and to let go of the notion that we need to control their every move. We already have a lot of control over our dogs. We control when they eat, what they eat when they go outside, what toys they play with. The list goes on! What time they can play and with who Dogs must be enriched and healthy to thrive and there must be a diversity of behaviors offered and encouraged to have a healthy dog.
Now, some things are out of our control and that is a good thing!
There are several species-specific behaviors that we can’t take out of our pups. These are behaviors like digging, chasing, sniffing, shredding, chewing, jumping, foraging (OH MY!). But wait, don’t those sound like behaviors that we don’t like? If a dog is only limited to a short, setlist of behaviors (sit, down, stay, come) and not encouraged to engage in a variety of those species-specific behaviors inappropriate ways, we see these behaviors pop up in destructive and potentially harmful ways later on.
When we provide things like pits to dig in, flirt poles to chase, and decompression walks for sniffing, then we cut down on the chance that our pup will do those things when we don’t want them to.
Let’s use counter surfing as an example.
Practice saying yes and tossing a treat to your pup when they have all four paws on the floor in the kitchen. Use baby gates or pens to block access to the kitchen when there is food or other items on the counter that your dog may be interested in. When your dog is physically sound and old enough, provide an acceptable outlet for jumping like agility obstacles or objects out on walking and hiking trails.
Now, you have a pup that has learned that staying on the ground produces treats and positive attention has not practiced jumping up on counters for food, and has the opportunity to jump in appropriate contexts if they enjoy it! There’s a little more to properly address counter surfing than that but you get the idea. I’m going to do a lightning round recap for you, just to make sure you take away the most important points of this article.
Alright, ready for lightning round?
Hang on, I’m going to go fast but I know you’re with me! Your dog is not a wolf, You are not a dog. Dogs are not packed animals and do not behave according to a linear dominance hierarchy. Dogs are members of the family, You are your dog’s guide through the human world.
- Reinforce what you want to see more
- Prevent reinforcement of the behaviors that you want to see
- Provide enrichment – consisting of the things your dog loves.
It doesn’t sound so hard once I break it down, right? But maybe you’re thinking “OK, but where do I begin?”
Well, you’re in the right place, you are on our website
That’s a great spot to begin! If you’re just starting with a brand new puppy, begin with my New Puppy Starter Kit.
That’ll teach you how to get off on the right paw with potty training and what to do as a new puppy parent. From there, we’ll start to work on other things like crate training, chewing and biting, then jumping and leash skills!