The D Word…

Following a couple of high profile companies issuing disappointing and outdated articles related to dog behaviour I thought I’d write a blog all about the D word… dominance.

How many times have you been told (from probably well-meaning individuals) that your dog is behaving in a certain way because they are exerting dominance over you? They want to show who’s top dog? To show you who’s boss?  Many times, I’m guessing?

As a dog trainer I often hear this on an initial consultation as the owner’s justification as to why a behaviour is taking place and who can blame them given how this was the common guidance in the dog training world (and unfortunately still can be) for many years?

So where did this, now scientifically disproved, theory come from?

In (a very small) nutshell it was the result of studies carried out in the 1960’s related to wolf behaviour and how they work as a pack with the lead wolves exerting dominance over the lower ranking wolves.   As dogs are related to wolves then the assumption was that they must behave in the same way and everything is a fight to become head of a pack.

Sadly, this misguided research (carried out on captive, non-related wolves as opposed to wolves living in a natural environment in a family unit) was adopted by many high-profile dog trainers at the time and has since stuck.

However, in 1990’s and again in 2008, the same author who carried out the original studies publicly acknowledged that following further studies on wolves disproved his original conclusions around dominance and alpha statuses.

So, if you dog isn’t strategising to take over the household, what it is doing when it performs certain behaviours?

Quite simply dogs do what works from them. If a behaviour achieves an outcome that is favourable to the dog, then it will repeat it.   That outcome may not be favourable to us humans, but we must learn to look at things from a dog’s point of view to change behaviours.   We must learn to identify WHY a dog is exhibiting a behaviour and change our training and/or the environment to achieve a different outcome.

Positive reinforcement training takes the view that REINFORCING behaviours you DO want through reward rather than PUNISHING behaviours you DON’T want not only achieves success but also builds trust with your dog.

Think about it, if someone paid you £100 every time you did something would you not repeat it and feel great at the same time?

How about if someone beat you with a stick every time you did something?   You might stop because it hurts, or you’re scared but how would it make you feel towards that person?

Often dogs that are “misbehaving” do so out of fear, anxiety and frustration.  Therefore exerting ‘dominance’ through force or intimidation serves only to exacerbate those feelings rather than resolve.

It’s time we worked with our dogs to understand why they do want they do and if us humans don’t find it acceptable then show them a different way, positively.

“In a world where you can be anything…be kind” ?