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Dominance Theory: Not A Thing

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It may surprise many of my clients to know that at one point in time I firmly believed that dog behavior and training was firmly rooted in dominance. In order to have a well behaved dog you needed to establish yourself as the “alpha”. Dogs were “pack animals” and any dog who was difficult to handle/train required firmer leadership. I grew up believing that dominance based training methods were not only normal, but a required piece of training. It wasn’t until the last decade after bringing home my first dog did I begin to dive head first into the world of dog training and animal behavior and consequently uncovered the truth about these outdated practices and their origins. Everything I thought I knew about dog behavior was a lie.

The truth? Dominance theory and the training methods that often go along with it are based on a deep rooted misunderstanding and misinterpretation of canine behavior. Not only are these methods unnecessary for effective training and behavior modification, they are disrespectful to our dogs.

The overwhelming scientific evidence clearly shows us that no only do all animals, regardless of species, learn best through reinforcement of behavior, but that punishment almost always results in fallout (whether you are aware of it or not). Punishment, by definition, works, there’s no doubt about that, but it isn’t necessary to train dogs or change behavior (even in the most difficult of cases). I can open a door by breaking it down with a sledgehammer, but why would I choose to do that if I have the door code? Training should be fun for you and your dog, and your relationship should be built on mutual respect and understanding.

What we know?

*Dogs do not view us a members of their pack. There is no scientific evidence to support inter-species dominance.

*You are not a dog, your dog knows you are not a dog.

*You are not a dog.

*Still not a dog.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding. It is important to note that all of the major governing/certifying bodies in dog behavior and training do not support dominance theory and the frequently associated training methods that go along with it. These organizations (featured below) include the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and the Pet Professionals Guild. My sincere hope is that by putting this information out there and making it more accessible to pet dog owners everywhere, we can help more dogs and their families live happier and more fulfilled lives.

Curious about the history behind dominance theory? Check out this 5 Minute Read from Pat Miller and The Whole Dog Journal:

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (Dominance Theory Position Statement):

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (Dominance Theory Position Statement):

Association of Professional Dog Trainers (Dominance Theory Position Statement):

Pet Professionals Guild (Dominance Theory Position Statement):

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