Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why Dominance Theory is Useless for Training Dogs

The senior wolf does not send the junior wolf three hundred yards away to bring him a dead duck. If the junior wolf finds a dead duck three hundred yards away from the senior wolf, he eats the fucking duck.

Assuming performing the actions typically prescribed in dominance theory (always eat before your dog, always pass through a doorway before your dog, always be situated higher than your dog) will cause your dog to respect you as the natural leader of the pack, it is completely irrelevant to dog training. The point of training dogs is to get them to do distinctly unnatural things. Wolves do not march in formation.


  1. Yes, useless for obedience work, but it can make it a lot easier for Average Joe to get Fido to quit jumping on the couch or growling at the kids.
    Balance, balance, balance.
    It's a shame a useful tool has become a fad. You don't use a saw to hang a picture, that doesn't mean saws are useless and hammers the only tool you'll ever need.

  2. I agree that Joe Dogowner needs more instruction on how to interact with a dog. So many times the actual dog is lost to a hazy vision of what a dog should be based on a conglomeration of Disney movies, Jack London books, and snatches of the Dog Whisperer between the Kardashians and Shark Week.

    Most dominance problems are solved by the people using their great big primate brains and opposable thumbs and acting like someone worth listening to, not by taking the dog down a notch. My problem with conventional dominance based advice is that it centers on doing things to the /dog/, not the human changing /his/ behavior.

    1. That makes a lot of sense to me. I think that viewing everything through filter of dominance also leads to seeing your dog as an adversary, and makes it much easier to be annoyed with them, at least in my experience, as well as to ignore what they're telling you. My recent foster dog was very active and also very needy, and I noticed that when I found myself feeling like she was trying to push me around, I missed important signals. (No, Kelly, the dog is not jumping and whining because she's demanding attention, she has to go to the bathroom, take her the heck out already.)

      My own dog is shy and easily frightened, and I'm pretty sure that trying to be dominant would undo all the progress we've made on getting her to trust us and feel secure in her universe.