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Dominance Theory and Dog Training

Katarina December 7, 2012 Behaviour, Dog, Hot Topics, Katarina, Training
Dominance Theory and Dog Training

The dominance theory of dog training arose out of research conducted on captive wolves before the 1970’s. It asserts that your dogs behaviour comes from their preoccupation with achieving alpha status in the home. However, now because of new research, the trend is moving away from the dominance theory of dog training.

In the past, most dog trainers used the umbrella of dominance aggression and the dominant dog to explain problems, and that a general leadership program to reassert authority will fix problem behaviours. Understandably this stuck, because it was coming from the experts, and there was nothing to suggest that it was wrong. This is what an ‘old school’ leadership program looks like….

  • Always eat before your dog, even pretend to eat from their bowl before feeding them.
  • Never let your dog through a door before you.
  • Always move your dog if it is in your way, never go around them.
  • Never have your dog on the couch or on the bed with you, the best spaces and highest spaces, are reserved for the alpha.
  • If your dog has their paw resting on you, is leaning on you or sitting on your feet they are displaying dominant behaviour, do not let this happen.
  • You must always win a staring contest, even if you need to growl at your dog to make them turn away.
  • Never loose a tug of war contest, in fact do not even play tug.
  • Your dog should always walk beside or behind you on a walk. You can let them stop twice only during the walk to smell a scent.
  • If your dog challenges you, roll them on the ground and hold them down until they stop resisting, otherwise known as an alpha roll.
  • If your dog challenges you, grab the scruff of their neck and give them a good shake, get in their face and say “NO!”. You may even like to use your hand to close their muzzle.

This kind of leadership program, in my opinion, is far too general and can be harmful to your dog. It also means owners must focus on many tasks which can be overwhelming. Specific problem behaviours in dogs should have specific answers and be based on canine behaviour. Dogs cannot generalise so if you are having a problem with your dog jumping up, you will not fix it by making your dog move every time you need to walk past him.

Instead, consistency and confidence will achieve great results in training your dog. Practice regularly to reinforce routine and you will find your confidence will grow, dogs love a routine, it gives them stability and security because they can predict outcomes. Become familiar with how dogs learn and how to teach certain skills or manage certain behaviours, your dog trainer should work with you on this and develop a specific plan of action for your questions.

Using dominance theory exclusively as a way to run our dogs’ lives is all about exerting control. So then dog ownership becomes adversary and stressful by trying to maintain absolute control over all situations. Instead all that may be needed is to focus only on one specific skill or issue and have active control in certain situations.

It is important that our dogs defer to us regularly but this can be trained without the need to preoccupy ourselves with thoughts of our dogs trying to dominate us. Free your mind of this distraction and use the space to address specific problems with specific solutions.

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