Archive for the ‘Wolves’ Tag

Discarding Dominance and Leading with Love   6 comments

Everyone wants a well-trained dog, one they can walk down the street with to the envy of all around, who is calm and friendly in the house, and does all you ask of him in an instant. But as any dog owner can tell you, that’s not easy! How do we go about transforming our dog into that perfectly behaved pooch?

In our society today, it is considered common knowledge that any misbehavior by our dog comes from her trying to assert herself as “leader of the pack.” Our relationships with our dogs are looked at as power struggles. Any affection we show our dog or reward we give her is considered showing weakness, inviting her to take over. To maintain order, we are taught we must intimidate our dogs into submission, giving them painful corrections when they misbehave, and physically overpowering them until they comply with our wishes. This is the only way, we are told, that we can have a good relationship with man’s best friend.

In reality, this view of canine behavior is outdated and has been proven inaccurate. The theory comes from 1947 research which was done on unrelated wolves in captivity who were put together to form a pack and observed while hunting. With no supporting evidence, the research was then extrapolated to apply to free wolf packs, which are typically made up of a breeding pair and their offspring, to those wolf packs at all times, not just while hunting, and to domesticated dogs’ interactions with each other and with humans. We now know that the conclusion of this study is not applicable to the interactions of wild wolves, let along domesticated dogs who have been selectively bred for thousands of years. For more explanation of how this theory has been disproven, see the references at the end of this post.

This is good news for dog owners and lovers everywhere! Now we know that to have a happy and loving dog who is a joy to have in the family, we do not have to dominate or intimidate him. Rather, by using modern methods of conditioning, we can teach our dogs to follow the rules of our household. Using these methods not only do our dogs what we ask, they take joy in it!

Think of Pavlov’s dogs. Every time a bell rang, they salivated. This was an automatic and predictable response; the dogs heard the bell, and they eagerly anticipated food. Now imagine what Pavlov could have accomplished if he had asked his dogs to earn the sound of the bell. Say, for example, that every time a dog laid down, the bell was rang, and the food promised by the bell followed. You can imagine what would happen: pretty soon he’d barely be able to walk with all the dogs lying around his feet, hoping for the sound of that bell!

This is the principal on which clicker training works, but instead of a bell we use a “click.” By teaching the dog that the “click” means they get food, soon we have dogs who are excited and eager to figure out what we want them to do to earn the “click.” Once they have learned a cue, we stop using the “click,” but because that behavior has always been a fun thing they’ve wanted to do, they will continue to happily do it when asked. And wouldn’t you rather have a dog who gets excited when you ask him to do something rather than cringes?

Recently, Debbie of fearfuldogs.com wrote a post I absolutely love, illustrating the common perception among Americans that training your dog has to mean forcing him into submission. She points out that the good behavior she gets from dogs comes from teaching them the “culture of human,” rather than demeaning or punishing them until they figure it out. Her story is a great example of how powerful positive training can be, so that even those who don’t necessarily put stock in it recognize the results.

Modern research supports the power of positive training, as does the experience of trainers of all kinds of species, including chickens, cats, and dolphins (ever tried to give a dolphin a leash correction?). It is good for your dog, good for you, good for your family, good for your relationship, good for everyone! So give it a try, and discover how quickly and eagerly your dog can learn.

A Few Resources Debunking Wolf Pack/Dominance Theory

Position statement on dominance training by the American Veterinary  Society of Animal Behavior

Database of publications by recognized wolf expert L. David Mech

Specific article by L. David Mech through the United States Geological Survey (USGS) discussing the lack of a heirarchical system in wolf packs

Specific article by L. David Mech discussing modern science’s almost unilateral acceptance that “alpha wolves” do not exist

Article on dominance training by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Article on dominance theory by the head of the International Positive Dog Training Association

Discussion of 1947 wolf pack research compared to more recent dog pack research with conclusions

Interview with Ray and Lorna Coppinger, biologists, trainers, and authors

Article on the myth of dominance theory (no references but very accessible)

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