In my last post, I gave you the real facts about the popular, but entirely mythological, “dominance theory” of dog behavior. I explained that dogs aren’t really pack animals; they aren’t out to dominate anyone; and they respond much better to positive incentives than they do to intimidation and harsh treatment. Here’s the rest of that story. Scientific studies tell us that training based on the outdated and discredited idea of dominance isn’t only ineffective, it can also be dangerous! Here’s why:

It keeps us from really understanding our dogs.

Wouldn’t you love to be like Dr. Doolittle and talk to the animals? Wouldn’t you love to know what your dogs think and why they do what they do? Most of us would. But how can we hope to figure out what they’re really trying to tell us if we base our interpretation of their behavior on the false assumption that they are trying to dominate us? In fact, the very word dominance sets us up for a combative relationship with our dog rather than one of mutual understanding and respect.

It’s confusing to our dogs.

Q. How would you like to be “dominated,” reprimanded and punished for normal behavior just because you didn’t realize there were times and places that behavior might not be appropriate? A. You wouldn’t. You’d be confused and maybe even afraid of trying to do anything because of unpredictable negative consequences. Yet this is exactly what we do to our dogs when we “correct” them harshly while they’re still learning the rules of living with us and our odd human ways.

It encourages aggression and fearfulness.

Dogs have different personalities, just like people. Some are bold and tough just by nature. Others tend to be timid, deferential or “soft.” When assertive dogs encounter harsh treatment from trainers who thinks they need to show dominance with force, the dogs often resist, causing the trainer to respond even more harshly. This can lead to cycle of rising tension, both for dog and trainer. Not surprisingly, these dogs can learn to become aggressive, purely in self-defense. Some end up being labeled as “vicious,” and many of these are euthanized. Softer dogs subjected to forceful treatment may become afraid of humans who, to them, seem unpredictably cruel for no good reason. These pups may remain neurotic and fearful for life. Want to read more about positive training vs. the dominance myth? I recommend the following articles:

Keep in mind that dogs are opportunists. They do what works. Period. If they score a tasty treat by begging at the table or jumping up on the counter, they’ll try that again. No treat? They’ll try something else. The secret to convincing dogs to live by our rules isn’t domination. Instead, it’s shaping their behavior by rewarding desirable actions and eliminating the payoff for inappropriate stunts. Love, respect and incentives work for us and our campers here at Cascade Pet Camp. That same approach to positive training can work for you, too. If you’d like support in training your dog, contact us and we’ll help you choose the right solution from our range of training opportunities.