Thursday, February 19, 2009

Training Rant - Dominance

You know how I love the controversial topics! It's been a while since I posted a Training Rant so I thought I may as well put one of these up here. This one may get a few feathers ruffled.

Please feel free to post your opinion whether you agree with me or not - it's good to hear different sides of topics. I'm going to post my opinion on this topic. There will probably be many that don't agree with me ... I hope you post not only your opinion but also why you believe what you do.


We've all heard about it. It's on the dog training TV shows, it's on the web ... it's everywhere. If the dog doesn't do what the owner tells it to do (or if he goes the opposite way than the owner), than we blame it on the fact that the dog is "dominant". What a load of ... well, you know.

For most owners, you could ask the following questions: why in the world should the dog listen to you? What have you done to make that dog trust you or do what you ask? What have you done to earn this trust (trust is not simply given - it must be earned)?

My opinion ... it has absolutely nothing to do with dominance. Dogs are pack animals, right? Ok, so how many leaders are in a pack?? One leader. The rest are followers.

Believe it or not, Nature is a smart-cookie. Most puppies born are born to be followers, not leaders. If they were all born to be leaders, they would be more like cats; they would be solitary animals.

Ok, so take that thought and expand on it a bit.

Dogs need a leader. That's the way a pack works. Someone is the boss. Is this role going to be filled by you or the dog? It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. Most dogs don't want this job, but if their owners refuse to pony-up, than someone has to and guess where that leaves the dog? You've got it - making decisions.

Most of the time, your dog is not dominant - he's not trying to take over the world. He's just making the decisions that you don't seem to want to make.

After a while, he gets used to making these decisions because you haven't made them for 6 months or a year. Suddenly when you go to teach the dog something, you're upset that he won't do what you ask! Then you say "oh, well he's such a dominant dog and that's why he is the way he is - we're lucky to teach him to sit on command" ... *headdesk*

NO your dog is Not dominant! He's the way he is because you are a lazy asshat owner and you made him that way. He makes decisions because you either couldn't be bothered or didn't know how ... he makes them because someone needed to, you didn't and so he did.

If you don't show the dog that you can make the decisions for the pack, than someone's got to step up to the plate! He'll do it because you haven't bothered.

Dominance ... it's a convenient excuse.


Rebecca said...

Amen! You know, I was at an adopt-a-thon the other day with my foster BC and I ran into the strangest lady. While she was petting on my foster she kept commenting that he seemed to be doing well even with all the stimulus around him (he was, and I was proud of the little guy). I started thinking that I may have run into one of those people who actually know what they are talking about.

Then her husband and son walk up. My foster is scared of men but sociable so he crawls on his belly over to them (blinking a thousand times a minute, yawning, tail between his legs, visibly shaking, etc.). He was obviously very scared. The lady says brightly "oh look, he is submitting to you! He is obviously not dominant at all!"

o_O Really? You have enough sense to know that a shy dog like him is doing well to not shut down in this environment, but you read dog language so poorly that you think he is crawling because he thinks your hubby is the pack leader? Must be a Cesar Milan fan. ;)

She also told me later that I shouldn't keep doling out hot dog pieces to strange men who came to meet him to give to him or he would "come to expect them and behave poorly". Lol? The whole point is to get him to where he expects good things to come around when men show up. That wouldn't encourage bad behavior unless I reward bad behavior just because a guy is present. It is basic behavior modification, c'mon.

Dog_geek said...

Totally agree - the dominance theory is a convenient and much overused excuse. Most of what dogs do, they do because it is rewarding to them (ie - dogs rush out the door ahead of you because that behavior is rewarded by chasing the squirrels or getting run, not because they are trying to be dominant to you.) Most of what dogs *don't* do is because they have not been consistently rewarded for that behavior, and not because they are trying to show you up or be willfull.

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

This is very true. With 3 dogs in the house mom and Dad have to be the leaders.. Callie is testing but she is learning..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Anonymous said...

Dogs are who you make them! Every dog just like children need to know their place; and they will test you to no end. If your dog does something inappropriate let him know at that instant and follow through with a positive interaction like a sit and praise. Every time a dog does something "wrong" it is the opportunity to teach it. If I see my dog do some thing I disapprove of she is immedately corrected and when she does what I want her to do she is immediately praised. She makes positive associations with the things I want her to do again. Training dogs is easy just takes patience. It is one of the most rewarding things in my life. never make excuses just fix it.

GoLightly said...

Hey, you already changed my mind, ages ago.
I totally agree.
Great rant.
I cower before your power:)

Brother's girlfriend has a five year old uncontrollable male basset hound. She's written Cesar five times. yeah THAT helped..
Be the leader!
ALL animals respect and follow a calm assertive leader.
I agree with Cesar there. My attitude to my dogs makes ALL the difference. But my attitude is always fair, and kind and respects the dog for what she is.
Well, except when Flip eats poo, aGain. Back to vet tomorrow.
Don't think it will help.
She needs a shrink, or maybe I do.
yeah, that's it.

all the best,good luck with your fight for good people and gr8 dogs.

GoLightly said...

DDF, you have dominated your readers into submission.

You have alpha rolled us:)
I KNOW, that's a JOKE:)

I know you hate the alpha roll Cesar does with his worst casers.

Do you, or have you, ever used it?

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Rebecca, I've had days like that - and potential adopters like that too! One of the questions I ask people is how they would handle certain situations. I don't care if they have the wrong answer - the thing I'm looking for is to see if they are interested in learning better ways that have been proven to work with that dog.

Dog_Geek - you're right ... they're self-rewarding behaviours

Gus, Louie and Callie - keep training ... have patience. It'll all come together at some point and the issues of now will seem like ancient history

Anon - yes, patience and time. Provided you are willing to give both, you will generally end up with a well rounded dog.

GoLightly - Yes, there are certain parts of Cesar's theories that I really like (such as the bits about calm leaders). You made me laugh with you comments - good thing I'd already swallowed my coffee :)

Regarding the alpha roll? I've spent a lot of time reading, studying and testing different training techniques including the alpha roll ... much as I hate to admit it, yes, a few years ago I tried it so I might see if it was a training technique that worked or not. After all, how would I know if it doesn't work if I don't try it?

I'm not the type of person who can accept things that people tell me simply because they tell me so - otherwise, I'd probably believe everything I'm told.

At this point in my studies, I don't try everything anymore - I have enough background now to be able to estimate what the results would be were I to try certain things and others. I do try some things to see what works and what doesn't (for example, I'm currently working through "Click to Calm: Healing the Agressive Dog" because I want to know if specific clicker training can resolve agression). This is the reason I started to work through a Behaviour Analysis and Modification course from a local college as well as other things along these lines - so I don't try things that are detrimental to the mental health and capacities of my dogs ... both permanent and foster.

Dog Gone Walkin said...

About the alpha roll comment. When used with an aggressive dog it can be useful. I found my dog Darkness at the park. She was a very insecure dog that used the biting technique to defend herself. To get her used to people i took her to my local club and chated with the door guy all night and when people asked to pet her i made them sit and let her go to them then told em she could scratch her back. This helped a lot with her fear towards people. As far as leash aggression goes that's a whole nother story.

We taught her an "on your side" command cause alpha rolling proved impossible with this one. She is short and all muscle. she wouldn't budge. But the "on your side" command worked like magic. It's a alpha roll move with out force. I highly suggest you try it for all leash aggro dogs.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Dog Gone Walkin - I'm glad you found something that worked well for your dog. To see my full opinion of the Alpha Roll, check out my previous posting here:

Alpha Roll or Omega Roll?

I have found that the Alpha Roll is not a good way to train dogs (especially leash aggressive dogs), but that is my opinion.