Training Without Dominance: A Guest Post by Dr. Susan Wright

If you have had an interest in dogs for any length of time, you've no doubt heard the comment that dogs are a pack animal, and you need to be the alpha, or leader, in your dog's pack or it won't respect and obey you. This "dominance theory" method of training is popular with followers of some well known dog trainers who are often featured in the media. They use techniques such as the "alpha roll", where a dog is rolled over onto its back in a submissive position, to establish their position as pack leader. Certainly there are a number of ways to train a dog, and this method may appear to work in some cases, but do we need to use such an assertive, dominant method to teach our dogs to behave? Not according to the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior (AVSAB). Their position statement specifically states that the idea that dogs are pack animals and have a dominance based hierarchy just isn't true. Furthermore, research on wolves in the wild indicates that their pack isn't strictly controlled by one single alpha dog either. That's not to say dominance behavior between dogs doesn't happen. It does, but it occurs when two animals are competing for a scarce resource, such as food. So, unless you're trying to eat your dog's kibble before he does, there's no real place for a dominance type approach to your relationship with your dog. According to the AVSAB, training your dog using dominance methods may result in him being afraid of you. Your relationship will be antagonistic and adversarial, and it will be based on fear and intimidation. I know I don't want my dog to be afraid of me. I want to have a partnership with him, where I teach him what I want, and he does his best to do what I ask. I want a bond with him so when he sees me, he wags his tail with delight, rather than tuck it between his legs in anxiety. That give and take relationship is what makes a dog man's best friend. What's the alternative to dominance training? Think about the trained dolphins in the marine parks, jumping through hoops and somersaulting in the air. These dolphins in the wild also establish dominance between the members of their pod. Do the dolphin trainers use any dominance techniques to teach these mammals to jump? No, they use a positive training method known as operant conditioning, where the dolphin learns that doing the right thing results in a whistle and a fish. We can do the same thing with our dogs. Using a clicker, and food rewards, we can gently and positively shape our dog's behavior so that he learns exactly what we want from him. By doing this, rather than punishing or dominating him when he does the wrong thing, we'll learn to work together, with no relationship-destroying intimidation. There are other things you can do to maintain a close and mutually respectful relationship with your dog. Don't yell and scream when you're angry, it will frighten him. You should be the one to feed him because if he sees you as a source of food, he will regard you in a very positive light. Similarly, spending time grooming and playing with him will allow you to share pleasant times and good fun, both of which will bring you closer. If a trainer can teach a large marine mammal to jump into the air without force, compulsion or domination, we should be able to train our dogs in the same way. There's no place for dominance in our relationship with our dogs. Take the time to look for alternatives - your dog will appreciate it. This guest post is brought especially to you by Dog Fence DIY's staff veterinarian Dr. Susan Wright. Dog Fence DIY has a variety of electric fences for dogs at the best available prices. Dog Fence DIY helps you choose the right system for you and your pet, helps you install it, and helps train your pet to use the new system.