I regularly get calls and questions from frustrated owners, telling me the reason for their dogs unruly behaviour is that they are ‘Dominant’ and trying to assert themselves as ‘Pack leader’. For many years these connotations have been used as a blueprint for understanding motives for our dog’s behaviour, with the relationship between human and pooch often being painted as a constant struggle to maintain rank and order. Throughout the 80s and 90s this came to prominence with the rise and popularity of dog training within the mainstream media. The dog growling at you on the sofa and pulling you down the street is battling for pack supremacy! You must show them who the boss is. It is most important that you eat before them and walk through doors first, as this is what the alpha does, right…? NOPE! This paints an almost cartoon depiction of you having to establish yourself as a ‘godly’ master and your dog as the obeying subordinate.
Yes it makes entertaining television viewing, but thankfully you (and your dog) will be happy to know this imagery is nonsensical and quite farcical. So please stop pretending to eat from their food bowl! Unlike some humans, dogs do not have ulterior motives :P! They do not possess the ability to plan and forward think… rest assured that they are not Pinky and the Brain, secretly scheming and trying to takeover your house!
Put simply, behaviours they show are motivated by consequences. They pull on walks because it gets them to where they want to go and it has been reinforced! Herein lies the key to understanding your pooch- motivation is the secret to training and getting the most out of your dog.
As humans we devise reward structures for ourselves. Its Friday – works over, so you think let’s have that glass of wine (that ends up being a bottle:P). Would you go to work if you didn’t get paid…..? Dogs are no different! Instead of the vino and that Cadbury chocolate bar.. their currency is more like a tennis ball or tasty treat.
The dominance model revolves around outdated “Pack Theory” that is scientifically inaccurate. When you train with aversive methods your using fear to punish and surpress behaviour, this damages not only the bond between owner and dog, it can be dangerous and problems become exacerbated!
When dealing with problematic behaviours there is a fundamental flaw with this type of training and ‘Punishing’ what we don’t want! As our favourite TV Mammy Mrs Brown says…. ‘That’s Niiice’!, but alas on a practical basis, no learning takes place. It is also illogical to expect dogs to possess Jedi mind skills and just know what we want from them! We have to teach and show them what is required. Our training philosophy at Pawfection is to ignore the bad and reward the good! Science (and common sense) says that the more you reward a behaviour the more likely it is to be repeated. I firmly believe that the foundation for a happy relationship with our dogs is best built on trust and co-operation. Patience and kindness goes a long way in life. Keep training fun, enjoyable and friendly and you will have a faithful pooch that is attentive and happy because they want to listen!! So metaphorically speaking, if this was a boxing match, I am firmly in the Science camp that advocates Positive reward based training method and have hopefully managed to KO this debate.