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 I’m not sure how that happens because you will never hear me recommend these outdated strategies.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