Dog Myths Debunked: Dominance
There are a lot of myths that surround dogs and dog training. Some of the basic ideas that lead to the myths are true, but there are still a lot of ancient concepts that abound in the world of working with and training animals.
Dominance is a very emotionally charged subject, especially in dog training. Although I know it exists and can in some cases lead to extreme aggression, I do not believe it is a problem for all or even most dogs.
To understand dogs, we must understand the hierarchy they live by in the wild. In a dog’s world, there is always a leader or an alpha and the other members are ranked after that, no one in a wolf pack or a dog pack is ever equal. Even in our dog’s domesticated lives, this remains true, and can therefore cause problems if the dog does not recognize the human as a strong leader. These are facts, but how people deal with dogs and the problems of dominance as they arise have created a number of myths.
- All dogs are dominant and should therefore be treated as such.
- Not all dogs are dominant or show dominant traits to their humans and not all dogs should be treated equally, even within the same family.
- Some dogs easily recognize their human as alpha leader.
- Some dogs have no desire to be the alpha.
I am not a dog trainer that subscribes to the idea that all dogs should be treated as if they are vying for my top spot in the family. I live with 3 dogs and only one of them (the youngest and the only female) has any dominant traits, therefore they are treated differently. Having NEVER had a problem with either of my neutered males, they are allowed on the furniture and in my lap and enjoy more privileges.
- Dog owners create dominance in their dogs. If the dog is “raised right” the owners won’t have any problems.
- You can see marked dominant and sometimes aggressive traits in puppies that are 6 weeks old.
- Sometimes unknowing and uninformed owners can make a dominant dog worse by catering to all of its desires, putting it on a pedestal and requiring little to no obedience, but they don’t usually create dominance in their dogs.
This myth is the most distressing to me as a dog trainer. It simply blames all problems on the owners of a dominant or aggressive dog. Whereas it is true; some people abuse and neglect their dogs and create problems, I have also seen owners who have done all the right things and still suffer from the problems and heartache a dominant, and/or aggressive dog can cause.
I believe in nature first and nurture second. I believe you can see personality traits in pups at a very young age and how we treat and nurture those puppies is important, but cannot change an inherent personality.
- Dominant dogs must be treated with physical dominance and aggression and should be forced or compelled to complete commands. Prong collars, shock collars, and alpha rolls are all ways to keep a dominant dog under control.
- You should not even have to touch your dog physically to train him.
- Compulsion and physical force often exacerbates aggression and challenges dominant dogs to bite.
It seems the tide of dog training is shifting again to physical force, prong collars (although now made of plastic and seemingly less intimidating) are again making rise through the field. Some well known dog trainers are seen on TV forcing biting and snarling dogs to the ground and holding them there waiting for the dog to comply. They are professionals (or so they call themselves) and they are not only doing these moves for television suspense and ratings, they are risking their viewers safety by expecting them to do the same.
You should NEVER physically force a dominant or aggressive dog to comply or aggravate an already aggressive situation. Intensifying circumstances can lead to severe aggression and biting.
Dominant and even aggressive dogs often effortlessly comprehend and even enjoy positive reinforcement training. Instead of using physical force, use your mind and your intelligence to convince your dog to comply. You may be the stronger animal but you should prove you are the smarter animal.
Not all dogs are dominant, some are submissive and most are somewhere in-between, there is no reason to treat every dog the same even within the same family. Hopefully you are lucky and you live with a dog that does not have any dominance issues, but recognize that good people sometimes get difficult dogs. All dogs, but especially dominant dogs take to positive reinforcement training. Use your brain to reward good behaviors you want to continue to see and get your dog to behave the way you want!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.