Dominance / Alpha theory

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Dominance / Alpha theory

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Old 02-22-2017, 11:34 AM
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Dominance / Alpha theory


I found this video from a trainer I recently stumbled upon that I am enjoying a lot. He has a series called raise the bone where he exposes trainers who abuse dogs and explains why it is an absolutely incorrect way of training (warning for language in other of his videos, the one linked is clean)

This video is on alpha and dominance theory. He uses clips from the man himself who wrote the book over 40 years ago that trainers like Cesar Milan still site today as reasons for using dominance based training, and the man who wrote the book discredits his own research and explains that wolves in the wild don't behave the way previously stated, and much more as family units than hierarchy.

He also explains it is very rare for wolf groups in the wild to form what we know as "alphas" and this happens only when random wolves are brought together, which is what his study all those years ago was based on - a couple wolves that were strangers being put together. Gage, the guy who made the video, points out that wild wolves and domesticated dogs have thousands and thousands of years separating them on top of that.

I'd also like to point out that this makes sense for stranger wolves to sort of decide for themselves who is going to be the leader, as they don't have the family structure to set the bar and this would happen if you threw together a group of humans as well. I think it's quite natural though I'd like to stress that it's mentioned that it rarely happens, and also how far domesticated dogs have come from wolves

What do you think of the video?
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Old 02-22-2017, 12:08 PM
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Interesting video.

I don't see social hierarchy as a training tool, we're not dogs. Alpha rolls and physical punishments give me chills because they seem to be only used by dogs if other signals aren't working. I'd like to think we are smarter and kinder than that.

I would posit that the original research does have some relevance to dogs today though.

- We often throw together unrelated dogs at dog parks, play sessions etc.. this seems analogous to the original set of circumstances. Understanding that bringing a new dog to interact with others can be a stressful or even tense experience means that people can adjust accordingly.

- Understanding a dog's character can be useful, part of this is where they feel comfortable in a social hierarchy and how they will react to a dominance contest. So designating Alpha, Beta or Omega could be handy. For instance Echo is what I'd class as an omega dog but is aggressively submissive. She is totally happy letting others have things but if she want's a resource she will throw appeasing signals until she gets it or gets told to bugger off. She's been really good with uncertain dogs especially resource guarders, despite the fact that she often steals the thing and runs off, I suspect she picks her moment really well. (We also managed the intros so that there was minimal chance for negative outcomes)

So while I think dominance theory has potential use in predicting dog behavior, I don't think it has a place as a guide for training.
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Old 02-22-2017, 01:02 PM
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I believe alpha and dominance exists in a wolf pack, but not in the traditional sense. David Mech debunked his own theories on pack hierarchy, and he was a huge influence on how hierarchy is viewed. Traditionally people see the alpha as a 'king', and the ones under the alpha 'serve' the alpha, but it is the other way around, the alpha is like a parent (and often is the parent of many of the pack members) who takes care of the other members before itself.

I think dogs inherited a lot of wolf traits and behavior, but wolves do what they do and form packs for the purpose of survival, strength in numbers. Dogs don't have to form packs in order to survive, but they still are driven to protect their territory. When all of my family's dogs are together and someone walks their dog down the street unleashed, they have pack mentality to protect their territory, but not aggression toward each other. Hypothetically, I believe that if they fought another 'pack' they would only target dogs they do not know and not each other. Just my theory though.

One of the most common behavior of pack animals is sticking together, and usually when dogs of the same family escape, they stick together. I was driving once and saw a dead dog on the road. I got out because his brother was standing by his side waiting for him to get up and continue their adventure. I got the deceased dog's collar and pulled him off the road, luckily the owners found the live dog and he was okay.

I think leadership is a better term than dominance, and I think that Cesar makes himself a leader. The results he has had with dogs needing rehabilitation, especially fearful dogs, is what impresses me. I can only judge based off of what I have seen and I have never seen him hurt a dog in any way, not even the Lab that latched onto his hand. But there are always people who say "he probably beats the dogs when the cameras are off".
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Old 02-22-2017, 02:31 PM
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I think it's wrong to say that dogs aren't pack animals. Anything with social structure with multiple individuals who form a social group could be viewed as a pack. That's essentially what makes dogs such loyal companions, is the fact that they are pack animals. They form social bonds with their families.

I think people misinterpret the word dominance as this looming omni-potent member of the group which I do not think is the case when Cesar tries to explain this to people. It's not a "I'm the boss" more than a "I'll handle this situation, don't worry about it" approach that I interpret in his methods. And again, this is not for your every day obedience training, this is behavioural issues like aggression that he's most commonly associated with and gets the most flack with.

In the same way both your mom and your dad are the boss (for the most part) when you're growing up, there is always a shift in situation where each one steps up as the leader, sometimes both, sometimes one more than the other, etc. When you also grow up, you can shift the leadership roles based on situation, etc. This is the way I've experienced with dogs. I see it as a partnership where sometimes one steps up more as a leader than the other. The whole alpha thing, I see as a very shifting role. I just think the way the TV show is portrayed and how people take things at face value instead of trying to understand is a lot of the reason Cesar gets a lot of flack for his methods.
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Old 02-23-2017, 03:33 PM
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Yeah except Cesar Milan is awful and has literally terrified, pinned down, hit, intimidated, flooded, and choked out dogs on television and called it training. Sorry but I don't like the man and I never will.

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Old 02-24-2017, 11:30 AM
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Fair enough, I just have never seen any physical abuse.
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Old 02-24-2017, 11:56 AM
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Here's a video of it with explanation

He is a bit of problem in more than just alleged mistreatment of dogs. One of the problems with aversive training is that unless there is a conditioned marker it's very difficult to correct in a way that targets the behavior. The time frame to correct is less than a second for the dog to be able to connect the behavior to the punishment. Add in a TV show that illustrates the use of these techniques without explaining in detail how they work and the potential for fallout is just awful Fallout from Use of Aversiveseileenanddogs. I don't think the average joe has a chance in hell of applying the more extreme techniques and I do think Cesar should do more to prevent people trying them.

Some of his ethos is alright, staying calm around dogs is great. Aiming for a calm dog also great. His interpretation of submissive/dominant isn't great, many of the submissive dogs are just shut down by the time he's done on the show.

I'd love to see more management and actual training on the show instead of forcing behavior and learned helplessness, which I've seen often. I've never seen him condition anything but a negative marker "cht".
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Old 02-24-2017, 01:09 PM
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I think a lot of his methods are distraction from a bad behavior or trigger. The disclaimer before the show is to NEVER do these methods yourself and seek a trainer. Which is ideal considering people make improper diagnosis of their pets behavior all the time and professional opinion in person is important.

Most dogs know the word 'no', and I think it's different than the negative way people say "BAD DOG BAD BAD" when their dog does something undesirable. With my dog I often say 'hey', which is just to get him to look at be and get his attention from what he is doing that he shouldn't, then depending on the behavior I will address it. Like if he is jumping on something I can give him the 'down' command, and tell him good.

I don't watch much dog whisperer, but from what I have seen I have never witnessed him hitting or beating dogs.
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Old 02-24-2017, 01:28 PM
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Eh, to me the disclaimer is just a legal thing I don't see many people actually paying attention to it because it's not said by Cesar.

The hitting I'm less familiar with, he 'touches' some dogs with his heel in their belly/thigh which I've seen people call kicking but I can't tell.

Your second paragraph raises an interesting point, for me there is a difference between trying to teach a dog by giving them negative feedback and distracting them in an instant of poor behavior. Your method seems similar to mine.

I use "Echo" because we have a whiplash turn established, she turns to look at me immediately most of the time. Then, I add the alternative behavior that I want in that situation to my list of things to teach. For example; she sits as a default at the side of the road because she has a history of running across them. I could have put a prong on her and corrected her at the side of the road but there was no need because it takes just as much skill and time to use that method as positive reinforcement.

I've never seen Cesar use positive reinforcement, when he uses food he seems to be working on the negative punishment system by building up pressure and releasing it when the dog does something he wants. He's such a role model for so many dog handlers that the pervasive nature of his methods worries me. I don't think he's evil just that he's illustrating a more dangerous less humane form of dog training than he could.
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Old 02-25-2017, 03:34 AM
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Cesar does hit dogs as a way to "asset dominance". He takes his fingers and stabs them into the dogs neck or side with a CHHH. Call it whatever you want - its intimidation and it's hitting the dog and scaring him into complying.

Instead of using a negative response word like "NO" you can use a POSITIVE interrupter (kikopup has a good video) which is a way to get the dog to associate your voice and your presence with good things. Dogs either ignore those that yell at them or it effects them mentally which can be very damaging for a dogs psyche.

His methods are also extremely dangerous. Pinning a fearful dog down is an easy way to get bit. Standing over a fearful dog is a good way to get bit as well. he's done both of these things.


Heres an example of his methods. This is a good example of what to NEVER DO TO A FEARFUL DOG. This is a good way to RUIN a dogs trust and mental stability. This is TERRIBLE. Cesar is mentally abusing this dog. He's also a COWARD as he is physically and mentally mistreating this poor dog but he's put a muzzle on the dog so he doesn't get bit while performing an extremely damaging and stupid method on this dog
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