Tag Archive: how to show dominance to a dog


Dogs and Dominance

Many people arrive at my blog when they search terms such as “how to pin a dog down” and “how to show dominance to a dog.” I’m not sure how that happens because you will never hear me recommend these outdated strategies. There’s still a great deal of confusion about dogs and dominance. A study on wolves in captivity many years ago arrived at some false conclusions – that the alpha wolf showed he was in charge by using physical force. Some dog trainers took this information and assumed that since dogs are supposed to be descended from wolves, that this theory must also apply to the human-dog relationship. A dog training book by the Monks of New Skete taught people to be “dominant” over their dogs by using physical corrections and by holding the dog down until the dog stopped struggling, otherwise known as pinning the dog down, dominance down or an alpha roll. Television personality Cesar Millan further propagated this inaccurate dominance theory even more.

Over the years, the wolf dominance theory has been invalidated. In reality, the alpha wolf does NOT have to use physical force to show that he is the leader. It is the wolf with lesser status who is vying to be in charge who resorts to physical force. You can tell a true leader by the calmer demeanor. He only needs to give a glance or a posture to show the others that he is the leader. The alpha is confident and conveys it.

In the human world, we like our leaders to be calm and confident as well. It gives us more security to know that someone competent is in charge. Anyone in charge who resorts to physical challenges or who displays out of control behavior loses our respect. They are perceived of as bullies, incompetent, or insecure.

That’s exactly how our dogs perceive us. If we show physical force to them, raise our voices, or show any other behavior that is out of control, the dogs will not perceive us as the leaders and will feel less secure with us. When we show dominance by physical means, it may frighten the dogs. Some dogs may fight back and attack, while others may become very submission and will be fearful of you. The relationship between the human and the dog is destroyed. A true leader is in control and will not resort to physical methods to exert leadership.

Every dog has a different personality. Some dogs may not be disturbed by physical corrections. You may hear people say that they have alpha rolled their dog and it worked. Yes, it can work, but for the majority of dogs it will break down the bond of trust. I have seen many, many dogs whose behaviors have been permanently changed for the worse because of dominance moves. I worked with a family who purchased a Golden Retriever puppy. The husband watched Cesar Millan on TV and did an alpha roll on the dog every day to “show the dog who was boss.” I was called to work with the dog because he submissively urinated every time the husband came into the room. Sadly, the dog associated fear with the husband. The dog did not see the husband as in charge; he saw him as something that made him feel very scared.

I also worked with many people whose dogs were biting them. Of course, there are many reasons and situations for why dogs bite but quite a few of these cases involved owners who were trying to “teach the dog who is boss” by showing dominance. Dominance moves will only make any kind of aggression worse.

So, how can people be true leaders to their dogs? It’s so very simple and very humane. All it takes is good parenting skills. A good parent controls the resources fairly for a child. A good parent does not give in and give the child anything they want when they want it. A spoiled child rules the home and can become a behavior nightmare. And so it goes for dogs. Dogs must be taught not to be pushy and to have good manners. They need to be shown impulse control. They cannot get everything they want when they want it. All of this is accomplished by first training dogs to communicate with us: sit, stay, down, come, wait, etc. All dogs must know these basics.

The very best and easiest to understand way of being a leader to a dog is to ask the dog to wait for what he or she wants. Ask your dog to sit and wait before putting the food bowl down, sit and wait before going in and out of doors, sit and wait before going up and down steps, sit and wait before you throw his or her toy.

The bottom line: Never, ever pin your dog down or do anything physical to “show dominance” to your dog. Dogs are our partners and our friends, not our rivals. There is no competition, only love and respect.

Want to read more? I highly recommend the teachings of Dr. Sophia Yin, veterinary behaviorist. Here is a link to a great discussion of why the dominance theory is inaccurate and how Cesar Millan’s methods are so detrimental: http://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/dominance

Showing Dominance?

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!

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