Dominance theory training? No thanks!
For 26 years, I have consulted and worked with clients that own dogs that are either fearful, reactive, confident, resource or human aggressive. During our consultations, the owner generally states they are “alpha” to their dogs, or that they want to learn how to be an “alpha” to their dogs.
I listen to the concerns about their dogs behaviors, and generally they are similar: the dog reacts to strangers or other dogs, redirects on the owner in an excited state, guards it’s food or bones, hides under items, has severe anxiety, or shows fear aggression when corrected. After listening to the presenting problem, I normally ask, how they have become an “alpha”, or what they think an alpha truly is.
The response is usually the same, “I correct them if they don’t listen, I correct them for being ‘dominant” or I hear “An alpha is the ‘boss’ of the pack.”
My question is, when does society praise? Do we endure so much “correction” from others in our lives, that we too feel the need to correct our dogs in order to feel superior?
The corrections I have seen over the years range from physically rolling the dog, spanking the dog, using a prong or shock collar, and some tie a dog to an object and walk away. All of these so-called solutions are what we call dominance or “alpha” dog training.
Dominance or “alpha” dog training is purely based on fear and pain, with the use of prong collars, shock collars, “alpha rolls”, abandonment and physical punishment to get the behavior the human would like. The problem is, with pain and fear the behavior we would like is not really going to happen. You are going to achieve fear, anxiety, lack of trust, and a dog that needs to protect itself from you, or the variables that caused the corrections in the first place.
With pain and fear, you will be successful in making your dog an omega (the “punching bag” of the pack) in front of other dogs and people. This will make a dog try to display their strength even more to avoid being viewed as weak. You will also achieve increased reactiveness, and a dog with a high frustration level. This in turn results in a dog that shows extreme anxiety, and destruction of their surroundings (or sometimes themselves).
If you were to observe a natural pack of stray domestic dogs, there is no full mouth biting for corrections, they are not inflicting pain on each other while they are walking together, and they are not attacking each other when another dog comes into sight. They are working together to protect each other, period.
Spanking, prong collars, shock collars, rolling dogs, and thinking “a dog needs to understand you can take their life away” are not training techniques, they are fear and pain causing techniques used by humans that like to project their thoughts on canine behavior.
Most times, dominance or train with pain trainers will explain the dog is aggressive because they are “power hungry”; when in fact they are not fighting for rank, they are fighting to survive. Survival is achieved with a strong protector in charge, not an unstable, confrontational one.
Protective/positive based training, is all about teaching your dog that you can protect them, and that you recognize they did an awesome job. You show your dog his successes, repeat those successes, and build on his trust and confidence that you are a fair and understanding protector. This tells your dog you are not looking to make them an omega, you are not asking for “submission or fear”, but rather you welcome them to make mistakes, let them learn from them, and praise them for their success.
Protective/positive based training teaches your dog exactly what you are looking for; there is no guessing on their end, it is clear through praise and reward.
That reward can be anything, verbal praise, affection, playtime, massage, and yes treats. There is nothing wrong with using treats to pay a dog for doing a job well done. For those that feel treats should not be used, I ask you to work free of charge. You obviously do not need to be paid either, except with praise. Makes sense if this is what your belief is.
So, when someone asks you what an “alpha” would do, or how they should become an alpha, tell them; “they would protect their pack with loyalty and dignity”. Dominance training is human, not canine.
Tara Stermer and the pack