Do you ever feel like your dog runs your household? Are they pushy, demanding or even aggressive?
In the past, dog trainers, behaviourists and veterinarians would label some dogs as “dominant”. It was a commonly held belief that if you did not assert the “Alpha” role in your household, your dog would take your place as leader by default. In a household with too few rules and boundaries, they would become frustrated and act out.
The idea of the Alpha wolf came from the observations of one biologist, R. Schenkel. In 1947, Schenkel penned “Expression Studies On Wolves,” in which he described his observations of captive wolves: their social behaviours, territorial behaviours and pack hierarchies.
He noticed that some wolves were always first to eat, while lower-ranking wolves would get their leftovers. The dominant wolves would use aggression to secure their high ranking.
Now, biologists have access to tracking collars and cameras that allow them to observe wolves in the wild. While Schenkel’s captive wolves were an unrelated group of wolves that were forced to live with one another – much like your typical reality TV show – wild wolves rarely show the same “dominance” behaviours.
A wild wolf pack is actually made up of a breeding pair – a mother and a father – and their pups. No displays of dominance are necessary to keep the family in order. The adult wolves hunt and provide food for their puppies. By providing your dog with food, shelter and toys, technically, you’re already their pack leader.
What This Means For Dog Training
In the past, trainers would label certain behaviours as dominant. A dog that aggressively guarded food or toys, darted through doorways ahead of you, pulled at the leash, walked with their ears and tail held high, or even sat at a higher position than you, would be labeled as dominant or Alpha.
The “cure” to these dominant behaviours would be to grab the dog’s muzzle, force them onto their back and pin them down until they stopped struggling (known as an Alpha roll) or use a prong collar to simulate a mother dog biting her pup around the neck. You would even be recommended to eat before your dog, and ban them from sleeping on your furniture.
Now we know that every undesirable behaviour needs to be addressed individually. A dog that pulls at the leash is simply full of energy and not trained to have good leash manners. A dog that guards food or toys can be taught to trust you with fun trading games.
What has always rung true: your relationship with your dog comes first. But instead of creating a fear-based relationship, you can build a trust-based bond that makes your dog want to listen to you – instead of thinking they must obey, “or else.”
What You Should And Shouldn’t Worry About
Your dog will not think they are Alpha just because you let them go through doorways first. However, you may still want to train them to “wait” before going through a doorway so that they do not trip you, and so you are able to keep them from dashing out if they are not wearing a leash.
You do not need to eat before your dog eats. You can allow your dog to sleep on your bed if you want. And you definitely do not need to do anything to prove your role as your dog’s leader.
Force-free training with positive reinforcement does not mean being a pushover. Some of the strictest dog parents set boundaries by training with rewards. Dogs really do excel when they have rules, boundaries and routines, and you don’t have to use fear to earn their respect.
Want To Learn More About Becoming Your Dog’s Leader?
Healthy Houndz offers professional dog services in North York and throughout Toronto. We can help you accomplish any of your training goals with positive reinforcement based training that you’ll feel good about – and that your dog will love. Contact us today to get started!