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Dominance Theory and Dog Training

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I have noticed that a lot of people seem to subscribe to dominance theory when training their dogs. I used to believe in this theory, but after interacting with a large number of dogs through rescue, watching dogs interact with each other, learning how to train and work successfully with my own dog who is fear aggressive, and learning and reading all I can on dog behavior, it seems to me that dominance theory is simply, well, inapplicable.

First, what I have seen when observing dog-dog interactions is that dogs do not have hierarchies nor do they vie for dominance with each other. How a dog interacts with others is based on its breed (some breeds are more scrappy than others, such as terriers), whether or not it was responsibly bred, training, socialization and innate personality. And, in a basic sense, these things also dictate how a dog will interact with humans. Dogs do not want to dominate humans, they just want to do what they want to do, and humans much teach them self control and good behavior.

I have included some links for those interested in reading.

"Using Dominance Theory to Explain Dog Behavior is Old Hat"
http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2009/6361.html

"Moving Beyond the Dominance Myth" (PDF document)
http://www.4pawsu.com/MOVING%20BEYON...NCE%20MYTH.pdf

"Whatever happened to the term Alpha Wolf" (PDF Document, posits that wolf packs are just family groups, not organized with a top wolf or pair of wolves.)
http://www.wolf.org/wolves/news/iwma.../alphawolf.pdf

"Debunking Dominance Theory in Dogs"
http://dog-training.suite101.com/art...theory_in_dogs

"Are Dogs Pack Animals?"
http://www.jeandonaldson.com/jeans-b...s-pack-animals

I hope you all find these articles interesting. Please lets keep this discussion civil and to the point, thanks.
post #2 of 13
An interesting aspect of these articles is that none of them share a common definition of what "dominance" means. I'd like to get your take on what you consider Dominance Theory to be.

IMO, dominance, where you physically force a dog to obey you in all matters, is flat out wrong. It is very different than what I'll call "leadership", where you gain sufficient respect with a dog so that they want to follow your lead. One of the articles actually classified "leadership" theory as "dominance" theory. That is why I ask for your definition.

I look at the differences between dominance and leadership as this: Who would you rather follow? Hitler (dominance) or Ghandi (leadership)?
post #3 of 13
First of all I want to say thanks for making this thread, it means I dont have to keep arguing on the one I made which was just for people to say what kind of training they've used. I didn't want to start a debate over there!

I haven't read all your links properly yet (I've just got up), but this one seems rather extreme: http://dog-training.suite101.com/art...theory_in_dogs

"What is Dominance Training Methodology?

Dominance training is based in the concept of making the dog submit in all circumstances. It is this trainer’s belief that if your dog is disobedient, never-mind the reasons, you are not the ‘leader of the pack.’

Methods for establishing dominance over dogs have included:

* The alpha roll or making your dog roll on its back for you
* Ear pinching
* Neck grabbing to simulate a bite
* Direct eye contact and staring
* Hanging by leash and collar to make the dog gasp for breath

All of these maneuvers are very threatening and can be frightening. Rather than submission, it is not uncommon for dogs to growl and/or bite to ward off these perceived attacks by their owners."

This is not what I've been taught it do! As with most things, there are extremes and this is at the very end of one side of the spectrum! Life isn't so black and white!
post #4 of 13
I do think that someone has to establish themselves as leader to a dog. Dogs are pack animals and need a leader, if the human doesn't do it then they will take over. They actually are, I believe, happier when the human is the leader and they can just be dogs. Some methods of accomplishing this are abusive though but then some dogs have a stronger personality than others and therefore needs a stronger leader. I don't believe there is one set way of training that works for all dogs and people.
post #5 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Denice View Post
I do think that someone has to establish themselves as leader to a dog. Dogs are pack animals and need a leader, if the human doesn't do it then they will take over. They actually are, I believe, happier when the human is the leader and they can just be dogs.
Yup, I just fostered and rehomed a dog who lied in a very unstuctured household where the kids were closer to being in charge than the adults. Even a dog could see that basically no one was in charge, so she tried to be. She became a happier, calmer girl in days with that responsibility removed from her.

There is a world of difference between dominant and domineering. Dominant can mean (and IMO should mean) simply the leader. Of my two dogs the older one, a male is dominant, but that doesn't mean he bullies the younger female. I strive to be the pack leader or dominant over both, but that doesn't require alpha rolls etc. It depends on rewards for them doing what I want them to, and ignoring them when they don't. As I am the one providing the treat or attention or whatever it is they want I am the one in charge.

Check out one of the NILIF websites, It's a training method that puts the human entirely in charge of the relationship, without any of the stuff mentioned earlier in this thread. I wish I had known about it when my dog first got here, it's a lot easier to live with a NILIF dog!
post #6 of 13
IMO, NILIF is the way to go.
post #7 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sweet72947 View Post
I
First, what I have seen when observing dog-dog interactions is that dogs do not have hierarchies nor do they vie for dominance with each other. How a dog interacts with others is based on its breed (some breeds are more scrappy than others, such as terriers), whether or not it was responsibly bred, training, socialization and innate personality. And, in a basic sense, these things also dictate how a dog will interact with humans. Dogs do not want to dominate humans, they just want to do what they want to do, and humans much teach them self control and good behavior.
I honestly don't see how you could say that dogs, as a group, don't have an hierarchy, or how that don't find their place in the pack. Dogs are pack animals so therefore, they need to know what place they have to be happy and know their role in that family. I think breed as some to do with how they interact, but it's more the dog's personality that leads them. For example, I have a Pug along with 3 big dogs (lab, lab/shephard mix and a Samoyed mix). The pug is the smallest but she tries to run the show. I would say it was the breed because she tries...but Brooke (the Samoyed) is the dominant one. The pug (Buttercup) is next because of her personality. Then Snickers (the first dog in the house) and finally Skuttles who is obviously the Omega.

I don't nomally agree with the physical "dominance" training method, but it did work when trying to get Snickers to stop jumping. Just a small pinch on the neck and a strong "no" let her know it wasn't acceptable. Now, she just sits, wags her butt (not just her tail, but her entire butt ) until I'm ready to give her lovins. So, it does work on some...but, not across the board. But I would never use physical abuse or the choke method on any dog. I tried that on my Samoyed when I tried to walk her, and it broke my heart after the first time.
post #8 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Denice View Post
I do think that someone has to establish themselves as leader to a dog. Dogs are pack animals and need a leader, if the human doesn't do it then they will take over. They actually are, I believe, happier when the human is the leader and they can just be dogs. Some methods of accomplishing this are abusive though but then some dogs have a stronger personality than others and therefore needs a stronger leader. I don't believe there is one set way of training that works for all dogs and people.
Excellent post!!!! I couldn't agree more!
I have dealt with all kinds of dogs and haven't been bit in over 45 years. They do respond to a firm respect-requirement.
The biggest problem that I have had with other people's dogs being disrespectful is the owner being too anthropocentric. They seem to have trouble accepting that it is cats whose brains have the closest emotional centers to those of humans. So I encounter a confused dog who just isn't clear about the boundaries.
post #9 of 13
My Poppy is definitely happier since we took charge!
post #10 of 13
I do disagree a little. First of all let me point out Wolves and Wolf Hybrids being wild and living in a pack structure will constantly challenge you for the role as the alpha in the household because they are wild pack animals, it's what they do. However although Dogs have been domesticated and changed, there are still many breeds who like the wolf or wolf hybrid will constantly challenge their owners to be in charge. Whether you say the dog is being dominant or simply "doing what it wants to do" for me they are one in the same. I have friends with dogs who are like this, constantly challenging them for leadership IE: handeling the situation instead of listening to the person.

I don't think you have to alpha roll your dog, I think that should be used to an extreme case. You shouldn't alpha roll a dog because it barked at someone, the dog will have no clue why it is being rolled over. I don't think you have to hit your dog. But I also don't think distracting the dog with treats or a reward is helpful either. I know a lot of people who distract their dogs in "scary" situations and the dog never becomes confident because they are constantly distracted from the thing they fear and when the thing they fear shows up they are scared without the distraction.

In my household I don't try to "dominate" my dogs. I do however show them leadership. I walk through the doorway first. When we walk, they walk at my side unless I give the "okay" command to walk ahead. I am the one who feeds them, they all wait until I say it is okay to eat. They are not allowed on the bed/furniture unless I invite them up there. Pretty much I want them to look to me before they make a decision about a person or a thing. Instead of running after the cat, I want them to ask me if it is okay to do so.

I should add as well I have seen dogs interact with each other and there is some dominance that does go on. I have a terrier mix that all she has to do is walk up to my other dog and give her the "stare" and the dog who is naturally insecure/submissive moves. I also have a dog who can get possesive of toys and he will have a stare down with another dog and then makes lots of scary noises and try to chomp the dog to get the toy. If dogs do not show dominance what about mounting? I'm not talking the "I don't know what to do so I'm going to hump you!" mounting, but when two dogs have had a mild spat, why does one mount the other?

I don't think their lives are as pack oriented as their wild counter parts but I do think dominance still exists in the dog's world. They just go by ear, they aren't planning a take over.
post #11 of 13
I think I know what you mean. I cringe every time I read someone post that their dog is peeing indoors to "spite them" or that walking out the door first or ahead of them onleash is a sign of a "dominant dog." It is not true that dogs will try to dominate humans and use of the lukomorphic theory to explain the behavior of domesticated canines has been disproved repeatedly. Still you keep seein people on the internet posting about "pack theory" as if it were true. And I am amazed that there are still people who call thmselves trainers out there who advise dog owners to use an "alpha roll" as a part of training.

Dogs are opportunists, they do not know right from wrong. They are good at getting what they want, and they are good at reading human body language and tone of voice. They do need rules and they need to have these rules communicated in a consistent way that they can understand. They do have hardwired tendencies and temperaments (just like humans) but in general respond to training and behavior modification.
post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jupeycat View Post

Methods for establishing dominance over dogs have included:

* The alpha roll or making your dog roll on its back for you
* Ear pinching
* Neck grabbing to simulate a bite
* Direct eye contact and staring
* Hanging by leash and collar to make the dog gasp for breath

All of these maneuvers are very threatening and can be frightening. Rather than submission, it is not uncommon for dogs to growl and/or bite to ward off these perceived attacks by their owners."
Many people believe in this theory, especially when you get into the world of guardian breeds and mastiff types. I recall one thread where a person posted about alpha rolling their Cane Corso and how he struggled and peed all over her; this thread was viewed as an amusing training anecdote by the others on the forum. Some might say "well with those breeds you need to be tough!" But I know a woman who was raised three Fila Brasiliero (probably one of the most hard core breeds on the planet) and has done so quite successfully without using any of these techniques.

Quote:
Originally Posted by calico2222 View Post
I honestly don't see how you could say that dogs, as a group, don't have an hierarchy, or how that don't find their place in the pack. Dogs are pack animals so therefore, they need to know what place they have to be happy and know their role in that family.
Because I have never observed a clear hierarchy in dogs, myself. As an example, I will use an experience I had petsitting for three huskies, and four horses. Horses definitely have a clear hierarchy in their herd. I have to feed them all in a certain order or risk ticked off horses. Once I fed them in the wrong order (before I realized that this was so important), and the gelding who was at the top of the pecking order put his ears back flat and gave me the nastiest look I've ever received from a horse in my life. And when he was done with his food he would attempt to take food from the others, and they would MOVE, posthaste, out of his way. He was KING and they dared not challenge this.

Now, we look at the dogs. They were two males and a female, (all fixed). They didn't care what order I fed them in as long as they got food. And you talk of walking in the door first, that is more about teaching your dog manners than being a leader. These huskies had a nice fenced in area to hang out in all day, and would come in the back door at night for a little while to hang out with me inside. There was no particular dog that would come in first always, it was just the dog who happened to be at the door first. (Typically it was the smaller male because he was much less independent and more human oriented than the other two). Some might say, well maybe the smaller male is alpha! But, sometimes the smaller male would try to mount the female and get corrected. This might make one think the female is then "alpha".

If dogs had a set hierarchy, wouldn't they care as much as the horses who got fed first (notwithstanding the fact that horses are gluttons)? And wouldn't there be a dog that always came inside the house first? Can you see how it is actually rather muddied when you try to work it all out? What I see is three animals interacting with each other in a social group, and none of them vying for "top dog".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Plebayo View Post
I do disagree a little. First of all let me point out Wolves and Wolf Hybrids being wild and living in a pack structure will constantly challenge you for the role as the alpha in the household because they are wild pack animals, it's what they do.
But if you read the article I posted in the OP titled "Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf?" (which is on the website Wolf.org, the formost web authority on wolves), this view has changed.

From the article:
"Rather than viewing a wolf pack as a group of animals organized with a “top dog†that fought its way to the top, or a male-female pair of such aggressive
wolves, science has come to understand that most wolf packs are merely
family groups formed exactly the same way as human families are
formed
. That is, maturing male and female wolves from different packs
disperse, travel around until they find each other and an area vacant of
other wolves but with adequate prey, court, mate, and produce their own
litter of pups."

And this, from same article (both on page 2):
"The parents then automatically fall into the leadership role
in the pack as they guide the pups throughout their territory. This leadership
role, however, does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the
group
, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally
follow their parents’ lead."

And if you read the brief article by Jean Donaldson, there is a question as to whether the domesticated dog is a "pack animal" at all. If you look at large populations of free ranging or "pariah" dogs in other countries such as Romania and India, these dogs do not pack up. They may be brought together by a food source or a female in heat, but otherwise they pretty much wander around by themselves.
post #13 of 13
Quote:
If dogs had a set hierarchy, wouldn't they care as much as the horses who got fed first (notwithstanding the fact that horses are gluttons)? And wouldn't there be a dog that always came inside the house first? Can you see how it is actually rather muddied when you try to work it all out? What I see is three animals interacting with each other in a social group, and none of them vying for "top dog".
Then why do so many people have problems with dogs fighting each other in the home? Fighting over posessions, fighting over a place to sleep? Everyone has oppinions on this, I don't think the dominance theory is an archaic one. Even if you compare their hierarchy to people, there are some people out there more dominant, more meant to lead, than others, period.

Quote:
"The parents then automatically fall into the leadership role
in the pack as they guide the pups throughout their territory. This leadership
role, however, does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the
group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally
follow their parents’ lead."
If an animal does fight for a higher position they are either killed by the alpha or kicked out of the pack. Wolves in the pack are NOT allowed to show aggression in front of the alpha or they get their butts kicked. I've seen it in dogs. Someone has two dogs, one easy going dog, one who will attack them over toys and food. The other dog will often times try to correct the possesive dog's behavior because showing aggression is not acceptable.

Quote:
Once I fed them in the wrong order (before I realized that this was so important), and the gelding who was at the top of the pecking order put his ears back flat and gave me the nastiest look I've ever received from a horse in my life. And when he was done with his food he would attempt to take food from the others, and they would MOVE, posthaste, out of his way. He was KING and they dared not challenge this.
Dogs do this as well. I have a very dominant dog in my household, and a very submissive dog in my household and then I have the opportunistic bossy one. The submissive dog will not eat until the dominant dog eats first. If the dominant dog comes over and starts eating her food, the submissive one will back off. The opportunistic dog will take from others if he thinks he can, and has challenged the "top dog" in our household and I forced him to back down because I didn't want them quarreling over food, and he outweighs her. Some dogs are super easy going about their food and their toys, but I know a lot of dogs who are extremely organized and have rules for feeding time and play time. What you observed in those huskies was rare, especially the fact that they had three nordic breeds living together without problems. That is a very rare situation for that breed of dog unless they are sled dogs doing what they were meant to do and burning off energy.
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