Dog Myths Debunked: Dominance

Yikes

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.

Myth #1

  • All dogs are dominant and should therefore be treated as such.

Truth:

  • 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.

Myth #2

  • Dog owners create dominance in their dogs.  If the dog is “raised right” the owners won’t have any problems.

Truth:

  • 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.

Myth #3

  • 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.

Truth:

  • 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.

I would like to see some of these bully type trainers work with large cats or marine mammals that cannot be forced to comply with commands they don’t want to do.

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!

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Comments

  1. Jana Rade says:

    I agree with you. I think that truly dominant dogs are few and far in between. Those I’ve met were actually exceptionally well behaved. They also never started trouble. Jasmine, while she is quite a queen of the universe loves dogs that are truly dominant. Jasmine, while having high confidence rules the world through positive reinforcement, as she learned that works best 🙂

    What I have seen a lot of lately though are ambitious wannabes. Jasmine does not like those. Very rude and pushy with nothing to back it up with.

    The worse case I’ve seen was a neighbor’s Rotty. Jasmine did not want to have anything to do with him when he was little–and we thought that it was because he was very excitable and high activity. But then she’d have no problem with another pup with the same activity level.

    I found that strange, until I met the Rotty in the park several months later. I could not believe what I was seeing. He was trying to bully every dog in sight. But when the dog stood up for himself, he would run away screaming (literally screaming as if somebody was killing him).

    Lot of empty ambition, rudeness and no confidence. What a mix. I then knew that Jasmine saw that from the first time she saw him.

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  2. Ashley says:

    I have very much enjoyed reading this article and the comment from Jana. i got a puppy 6 months ago and i have been having problems with his behavior and attitude everyone told me it was just puppy attitude but my experience working in boarding kennels and grooming salons i knew it wasn’t, i took him to our local dog trainer and told me i was being to strict to him, i should be nicer to him (which actually really upset me i dont know how much love i could give this dog with out letting him tear my house apart or hurt the people around him)any ways i did take his advice he got really bad and biting at my daughter face and pushing her down, out of the way and biting at me and being a jerk. so i started reading about dominance issues, the more i read about dominance and agresion the more i knew thats what it is. so i went back to being strict and stern but slight modifications he is 7 months now and he still a little SOB sometimes but much more enjoyable to be around, so much better behaved.

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  3. James Todd says:

    Thank you for some great information. I am the owner of a animal training company. I only use hands off training. I don’t believe that a animal needs a pronged, shock, or one of those plastic things I have seen on tv as a collar. Dogs want to please and fit in. I can tell if someone has done there homework as soon as I pull up to their house. I train one on one, so it’s easy for me to see more than classes. Happy training, and if your not having fun your not doing it right.

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