No topic in the world of dog behavior is more controversial and misunderstood as the concept of dominance. It’s a complicated subject and not always easy to explain, observe and interpret. There are two perspectives on dominance: The human’s and the dog’s. This post will focus on the human interaction with the dog and I’ll tackle the dog’s side of the debate in a future post.
WordPress, the host of this blog, shows me the search phrases that people have entered to bring them here. It amazes me how many times this phrase appears: How to show dominance to a dog. Sounds like a lot of people didn’t get the memo – you don’t show dominance to a dog! In my post on February 21, 2011, I explained how the dominance theory was inaccurately developed and proliferated.
Instead of “being dominant” over dogs which is all-too-often misinterpreted as showing physical force, dog behavior experts have learned that being a leader is preferable. What’s the difference?
The dominance theory recommends using something called an alpha roll or a dominance down to control a dog and show the dog who is boss. People who still advocate the dominance methods say to pin a dog down if the dog growls, gets over-excited, tries to bite or just about any time that the dog needs to behave. I once worked with a family who had a Golden Retriever. The husband regularly alpha-rolled the dog and this sweet-natured pup grew into a highly stressed and fearful dog, especially around the husband. No wonder.
Other dominance techniques use force as well: Ensure that the human always goes through doors first and on walks, the dog must stay by the person’s side or walk behind. A power struggle is usually the result of both of these techniques.
Being a leader is preferable to showing dominance because no force is used. Force can harm the dog’s psyche and damage the bond between human and dog. And it can often make behavior issues worse.
Leadership is kinder, gentler, more effective and most aligned with how dogs really think. Dogs respect a leader who is calm, in control and does not need to resort to physical displays. Just as humans. Watch our most respected leaders and see that they are calm and in control. We certainly don’t like bullies and neither do dogs!
Being a dog’s leader is simply about controlling the dog’s resources. A resource is anything that a dog wants: Food, treats, toys, affection, access to furniture/the bed, going in/out of doors, going up/down steps, going out for walks, and anything else that the dog desires. As a leader, the human must ask the dog to either sit or wait before getting a resource. That’s it!
Let’s use an example to compare leadership to dominance techniques. Your dog wants to go out the door and gets very excited. The dominance theory recommends that the person goes through the door first which can turn into a physical battle of wills with the dog. Instead, showing leadership and controlling the resources would have you asking the dog to sit and wait calmly before getting the privilege to go out. The human doesn’t need to go first. Once the dog learns that he gets nothing without being calm and good, there is no power struggle. The dog can relax and not worry about getting forced to do anything and best of all, the dog is not in charge. With humans who are leaders, dogs feel less anxious and are less prone to behavior issues.
Try it, you and your dog will like it!