Dominance Epic

What is dominance theory?
For years many dog trainers have used domination and pack rules in training dogs. Many traditional trainers have followed the belief that given the chance our dogs would try to raise their status in the human pack. So trainers have advised owners to assert themselves as Top Dog or Alpha status to prevent this occuring. Over the years this has become a huge obsession in the dog world and has seemed to be the only answer to all training problems, for those that believe in it. In recent years the dominance theories have been explored and studied further and they have been proven invalid however there are still many trainers continuing to practice these methods. In my whole ten years of my training career I have never believed or practised anything suggested below. I am shocked that it is still continuing today and owners need to be aware of the damage that these methods can do. With the recent exposure of certain TV dog trainers advocating these methods I feel there is a drastic need for inreased awareness.

So where has the obsession that dogs want to be dominant come from? The Pack Rules actually originated from studies carried out on the social and hierachical structure of a captive wolf pack. It was found that the captive wolves made frequent challenges against each other to gain higher status. A hierachy was seen with a dominant, Alpha male and female, followed by the Beta and Omega etc. The younger wolves frequently appeared to challenge the others for higher status. This hierachical structure was directly transfered to the domestic dog and was thought that dogs would behave in the same way trying to raise their status in a human pack. In order to prevent dogs from becoming dominant Pack Rules were devised. Below are just some of the rules adopted:

- Alpha eats first- Always eat something before feeding your dog
- Alpha never shares its bed- Do not let the dog sleep on the bed or sofa
- Alpha leads the pack - Dogs that pull on the lead are dominant
- Alpha has privilage of being first - Dont let your dog go through the door first
- Alpha controls games - Never let the dog initiate or stop a game
- Use Alpha Roll overs to show who's boss. This is a where the owner physically forces their dog onto their back or side and holds the dog down with force until the dog submits.

Along with these pack rules frequently came heavy handed methods of training. Trainers would adopt the belief that the dogs should obey their owners when commanded no matter what. Misbehaving of anykind would be percieved as an attempt to be dominant and heavy correction is used to try and discurage the behaviour. Some of the methods adopted by these trainers include:

- The use of Choke Chains, Slip leads, Prong Collars, Electric Shock Collars, Rattle Cans, Newspapers, Tap on the nose, Ear pinching, Scruffing, Water Squirts - I have heard of scenarios of dogs recieving a brutal check of the chain to the degree that all four feet have lifted off the floor.

- Physical Force is used to get dogs into training positions. Pushing the bottom down to get a 'sit'. Pushing the bottom and the shoulders down, swiping the front legs from under the dog or pulling the front legs out are all ways used to get the dogs into a 'down' positon. To stop jumping up a quick knee in the chest or squeezing the paws hard was often used.

With these methods of training the dog is suffering from a substantial amount of stress. Pack Rules alone have been seen to cause depression and withdrawal from the dog. Aversive punishment in training can make dogs nervous of dogs and people and the world around them. Dogs learn through association and it is very easy for a dog to learn that every time it sees a dog approach the owner inflicts pain through a harsh check to stop pulling. As a result the dog will become nervous, and anxious on sight of another dog, very quickly developing into aggression, this could also happen to people and children and anything in the surrounding environment. In the training methods themselves the dog only displays the desired command or behaviour through learning to avoid the punishment. There tends to be very little reward maybe a little stroke when they get it right. Some trainers combine food with punishment and call themselves reward based trainers but they are clearly not. Dogs will be much more likely to become stressed, over aroused and appear distracted and dispondent when training. Physical signs of stress can be seen with this sort of training, including, Heavy panting, elongated tongue, increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, lips drawn back, lip licking, avoidance of owner, avoidance of trainer, scratching, sniffing, shying away, cowering, hiding, escaping. THIS IS NO FUN FOR OUR LIFELONG COMPANIONS AND JUST SHOULDN'T BE HAPPENING!!

How are Dominance Theories Disproven?
There are so many elements in this theory that are quite simply flawed. Where to start? Lets start at the origin, the Study on captive wolves, the operative word being 'captive'! This is a flaw in the study itself. A captive wolf pack is an unatural forced environment where social tensions are increased due unaquainted wolves forced to live together with no escape. Imagine if humans were put in the same situation it would not be a true representation of our normal behaviour.

A natural wild wolf pack is very different it is rare that there are challenges and contests and the wolf pack is more like a family unit working together. The head male and female are the breeders, group leadership is shared and labour divided. The bitches would look after the pups, males would hunt for food. All pack members would feed together unless rations were scarce at which point the young would feed first. According to David Mech in a natural wolf pack dominance is not manifested as a pecking order.

The second biggest flaw in the theory is that the domestic dog is naturally selected and evolved over many years into its own species. The domestic dog is not a wolf so why was the study carried out on wolves in the first place.

Thirdly the study was carried out examining and monitoring the interspecific behaviour of the wolf. How they behave towards each other. However somehow they transfered these behaviours to a human- dog relationship. How can a human behave or respond like a wolf? We don't look sound smell or behave anything like a wolf so how can we comunicate like one. An Alpha roll was derived from a dominant wolf forcing a subordinate wolf into submition. Firstly we are a different species we have hands and the behaviour seen was misinterpreted. The subordinate wolf appeases on its own free will, not forced! Anyone advocating or advising Alpha rolls in this day an age has a lot to answer for. This will cause dogs to be hand shy, nervous of their owners and strangers and damage the relationship between owner and dog.

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