Who calls the shots in your house? Who’s the leader of the pack when it comes to taking charge? Are you or your dog the ‘alpha dog’ in your household? Some pet owners feel the need for control, thinking that ‘dominance training’ is an important step in teaching your dog who’s the boss.
Alpha Dog Misconception
The thing is, training of this type might do more harm than good as there is new evidence that debunks the alpha dog theory.
Some new research claims the alpha dog dynamic in the wild is a myth. This is contrary to what we were told growing up — that one wolf, for instance becomes a pack leader, demanding to eat, mate, and have his demands met first, while the rest of the pack acknowledges and accepts his dominance.
However, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers asserts that wolves in the wild don’t typically act in this fashion. Instead, they prefer to conduct themselves in ways, which are for the good of the whole pack. Coupled with that, it is important to note that dogs are not wolves. They should be bred to be our companions because they have different needs than their ancestors.
Alpha Doggin’ it in the Household
If you are the owner of two or more dogs, you may wonder why one appears to be “dominant." You may see this displayed in a number of ways. One will pick toys first and seemingly make what we may perceive as selfish demands. But for the most part, this kind of dominance is not because one dog forces his will on others.
Instead, one dog peacefully acquiesces to another as humans are often known to do. This is done because we and our dogs feel comfortable in doing so or we defer to others who we assume are more knowledgeable on certain matters. Sometimes, it's just easier. You might see this displayed when dogs wait in line for food, while being given priority on other things, like leading the way on a walk. When dogs aggressively demand these things over other dogs, it is more an issue of anxiety and insecurity rather than a show of dominance.
Promblematic Dominance Training
Dominance training is problematic for the dog-human relationship, because it incorrectly sends a message to the canine that he or she should bend to the demands of his master — in a word — be obedient.
While obediency is important in the master-dog dynamic, it should never be taken to the extreme. That will only cause your pooch to be more anxious and afraid of consequences, rather than one who trusts and obeys because it builds a strong bond between pet owners and their pets. It may also exacerbate the behavior of a dog, who seems like he or she is trying to be dominant, but is really acting out of anxiety and insecurity.
Other Forms of Training
So you may question which training techniques should be used that isn’t predicated on the alpha dog theory. Well many 21st Century dog trainers say you should first assess your dog’s inherent traits. As with human interactions, reading our dogs' body language and cues is essential in communicating with them, and it will help you express your desires to your dog in a more meaningful way.
Then next is to provide basic routines, which are positive and reinforce structure. When your dog behaves properly, they should always get a reward. If not, hold back on reward-giving until the desired behavior is learned. This training method builds trust, leadership, and communication between humans and their pups.
For dogs with behavior problems, trainers employ programs such as "Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)" which works along the principal that the dog must "do" something to earn what he wants (i.e. sit to get dinner, walk on a loose leash to move forward, etc.)
These programs are effective because the dog is issued a structured set of rules, which are consistently reinforced. Dogs learn what they need to do in order to obtain the things wanted, such as food, petting and playtime. Because dogs do not have the power of human speech and language, behavior problems and anxiety can result when they are left to fend for themselves in deciding how to live in our world without guidance that makes sense. Just like with people, we behave better and thrive in a world that "makes sense" to us and has an understandable format.
So what kind of training methods do you employ with your dog? And what are your feelings regarding dominance theory? Does your dog rule the household or do you? Our ex-President seems to have had his own issues regarding who was the leader of the pack in the White House!