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                                                         Dominance in Dogs


As a dog trainer I am often asked if the reason for a dog's behaviour is dominance. There are wide-ranging issues such as from “my dog jumps up” to “my dog has destroyed the sofa” all of which seem to be attributed to dominance, and this just isn't true.  But why then is it so pervasive in the dog world?

The concept of being the “pack leader” is a fairly old one. However, more recently it has been popularised on TV and in books and has spread like wildfire. One popular whisperer in particular has been the cause of a lot of publicity of this theory. Advocates of these methods tell us that in order to have a happy and balanced dog we must become the alpha or the “pack leader”. They promise that this, along with their Rank Reduction Programmes (more on this later), will solve all the dog’s problems and that they and their dog will be happier for it. This is simply not the case. For starters, it won’t fix the problems the dog is having; in fact it can actually make them worse and can cause a huge breakdown in the dog/owner relationship.

What is vitally important to point out is that the ideas about dominance in dogs have come from flawed research into wolves. In any case dogs are not wolves, thousands of years of domestication and selective breeding have led to the pet pooches that we have in our households.

So, what is your dog really telling you when it carries out one of these ‘problem’ behaviours? Well, that depends on the behaviour. Let’s take a common example. When you come home your dog may jump up at you. Dominance advocates would say “your dog is asserting his dominance over you”. Could there be another really simple explanation? Could it be that our dogs, which are social animals, are just really pleased to see us when we get home? This makes much more sense to me. Understandably many people do not want their dogs to jump up when they arrive home. Dogs can be taught a different greeting behaviour, such as bringing a toy, through kind, reward based methods.

The part of all this that makes me most upset are the methods that advocates of dominance theory recommend. Dogs should follow a Rank Reduction Programme where access to all resources must come from and through the owner. If using a Rank Reduction Programme caused no harm to a dog either physically (by the use of alpha-rolling, or damaging equipment such as chock collars) or psychologically, then perhaps it would be just a misguided notion.  However, this is not the case.  The programmes have been shown to cause dogs to spiral into depression, a state of learned helplessness, or in other cases to cause an increase in aggressive responses due to misunderstanding and confusion. In the words of Dr Ian Dunbar they are arduous task for owners to make their poor dogs’ lives a misery.


If you'd like specific advice for your own puppy or dog on the issues covered in this post or anything else please email me startright@angelpets.co.uk


StartRight@angelpets.co.uk

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