Say Goodbye to the Dominatrix

January 30, 2015

Yes it’s true and for many of you this may be very sad – but it may be very good for your dog!

For many years dominance has been a key term in dog training: you need to be the dominant one if your dog is going to respect you. Well without a safe word how good could this approach be? It turns out maybe not so good at all.  In the January edition of DogWatch the folks at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine take on the Monks of New Skete and Cesar Milan and the dominance approach to dog training.  DogWatch asserts that the dominance dog training theory is based on bad science and puts pet parents at serious risk of harm. Here’s a summary of the findings at Cornell:

Dogs Are Not Wolves: While wolves and dogs may have come from a common ancestor that doesn’t mean that they are the same animal. Why should a common ancestor mean that we use one animal as an example of how to interact with or train the other?  Dr. Ian Dunbar says that the idea that we should learn from wolves how to interact with pet dogs makes as much sense as saying, “I want to improve my parenting – let’s see how chimps do it.”

We’re Not Part of Our Dog’s Pack: There just isn’t scientific proof to show that dogs think that the humans they live with are part of the pack. Sure, we control access to resources (food, toys etc.), but that’s not necessarily the same as being part of the pack.

Dominance Training Theories Were Based on Inaccurate Wolf Studies: The entire dominance theory was based on observations of wolves in captivity and from different families. When observing a wolf pack in the wild, a coherent family structure is present. The alpha pair is more like parents than a dominant alpha wolf.

A Dominant or Alpha Dog Doesn’t Exist: Yes, one dog can dominate another, but that’s a relationship between two individual dogs and not a relationship between one dog and a group of dogs.

It’s Too Generalized of a Theory: The very idea of “you need to be the boss” when training your dog doesn’t correlate or explain why humans consider certain dog behavior good or bad. Likewise, it doesn’t relate how a human would reinforce positive behavior.

It Doesn’t Allow for Mistakes: Always punishing your dog for doing something wrong won’t yield good results. For example, if after calling your dog to come 10 times your dog finally comes should you punish her for not coming the previous 9 times or reward her for coming on the 10th? Punishing her means she may never come (who wants to come only to be punished) while rewarding might incent her to come again.

Dogs are better at using force than humans: Face it, for most of their lives our dogs are faster and often stronger than we are. How can we possibly use force as an effective tool in this situation?

What are Your Thoughts on Dominance in Dog Training?
So what do you think about establishing dominance in dog training? Is it possible that the Monks of New Skete and Cesar Millan are both wrong? Should we really let a group of veterinarians take away the fun of being or having a dominatrix?

Thanks for reading!

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