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I would like to start an open discussion about the discrediting of Dominance Theory in dog training. All of the "scientific experts" feel that the argument is over. Yet, some dogs still exhibit the behaviors. I insist on positive reinforcement training methods. I agree that aversive punishment is counterproductive (not to mention inhumane) in pet-dog training and behavior modification. But, is it possible that some dogs behave like captive wolves because by domesticating them, that is exactly what we made them into? I'm not trying to assert that this applies to all dogs, as each dog is an individual. I'm not trying to start a fight. I'm just REALLY interested in any feedback that I can get. Any thoughts?
 

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A huge part of why the dominance theory was debunked is not only because dogs are not wolves, there are thousands of years of evolution on steroids between them. But because the original study on the wolves proved incorrect as it was observing a group of unrelated wolves. A family pack behaves very differently. The scientist of penned the original research has admitted that mistake.

Dominance also means something very different to biologists than it does to us laypeople. The word dominance has lost all meaning in regards to dogs.
 

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But, is it possible that some dogs behave like captive wolves because by domesticating them, that is exactly what we made them into?Any thoughts?
In "Animals Make Us Human" Temple Grandin discussed this idea a little. She said are we creating an artificial pack by keeping adult dogs in our families, or are those adult dogs more like neotenous wolves and view us as "parents" rather than pseudo "packmates"? Or maybe their behavior is completely different from wolves.

I personally haven't seen dominance (in terms of social hierarchy) apply in human-dog relationships as we control the resources and therefore are "dominant" by default. I have seen some dogs, especially adolescents, try to see how much they can get away with even if they seemingly already know the rules and cues. This is often mistaken for dominance but I don't know about that. To me it just seems like they're animals with minds of their own testing out their own independence; taking over the world isn't their motive. :p

I have seen behaviors that are described as dominant and submissive indog-dog interactions and I'd believe that. There could be other explanations behind it as well. I personally believe that a group of dogs has a fluid social hierarchy but there are some dogs that tend to be dominant and some that tend to be submissive- most dogs can be either depending on the situation, the other dogs involved, mood, health, resources involved, etc. There are lots of factors.

I've never seen any definitive studies for or against dominance- nothing that has "proven" it wrong so I would be interested to read those if anyone knows any specific studies about that. In fact, I even read one once about why the dominance debate will never be settled "Why Nobody Will Ever Agree About Dominance in Dogs" (Westgarth, 2015). Also, two contradictory studies, "Dominance in Dogs- Useful Construct or Bad Habit?" (Bradshaw, Blackwell, Casey; 2009) and the reply to that study, "Dominance in Domestic Dogs Revisitied: Useful Habit and Useful Contruct" (Schilder, Vinke, van der Borg; 2014). All very interesting and all analyze a number of different studies on the subject. You can really make a case either way.
 

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I couldn't get the link to work. Look up the paper below. Then discuss.

Bradshaw, Blackwell, Casey paper.
 

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My two cents regarding this subject may not be that well received by some in here but since you asked... First, and most importantly there probably is a wonderful debate as to what behavior by the human exactly constitutes dominating a dog. Most would probably agree that the use of brute physical force and other forms of aversive training methods would be considered dominance based training. However, I would contend that there are numerous other forms of dominance based training which go unnoticed or are considered -P such as withholding a reward while the dog is not behaving properly. The simple notion of withholding something valued by the dog is in fact dominance based because the human is in control of the reward and the dog learns it must capitulate in order to achieve the reward. In my opinion this is a form of dominance.

Now, with that being said, I subscribe to the age old axiom that a dog will either lead or be led, it has no choice but these two options. Most dogs learn which path they will choose shortly after they are born based on the competition among their litter mates and the resulting interaction. The leader(s) in a litter discover their position throughout this process with their peers just as the followers ( subordinate ) pups learn their position.

So, how does this equate to the relationship between human and dog? I would suggest that a dog knows a human is not a dog but yet a human can communicate to a dog in "dogspeak " and other forms of physical posturing. The bottom line to this ability we humans have in this department is creating our leadership position which the dog will gladly welcome if we earn this position properly. If the human earns the leadership position through fair and evenhanded behavior the dog learns to rely on the human as it's confident leader. The flip side of this coin is a human which does not deserve or has not earned the dog's trust properly and in this case the dog is compelled to fall back on it's desire to lead and all the ensuing problems which come with this lacking in the dog's life. Personally, I believe by being your dog's worthy leader it takes a ton of pressure off the dog and allows the dog to be at its very best.

So, is being your dog's confident leader the same as being the dominant entity in the relationship? One can argue this all they choose but at the end of the day, a dog which is led in the human/dog relationship is a much better creature with so much pressure taken off of the dog and the dog thrives just as the relationship thrives.
 

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I've never met a dog who desired to be a leader of a human or another dog. Common misunderstanding of dog behavior. We teach behavior we want to see repeated. Dogs don't really care much about our rules of behavior. They rarely mesh with a dog's concept of correct behavior. It's fairly easy to get the behavior you want or need without thinking of yourself as a leader and the dog as your follower.
 

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I've never met a dog who desired to be a leader of a human or another dog. Common misunderstanding of dog behavior. We teach behavior we want to see repeated. Dogs don't really care much about our rules of behavior. They rarely mesh with a dog's concept of correct behavior. It's fairly easy to get the behavior you want or need without thinking of yourself as a leader and the dog as your follower.
With all due respect : Every time I see a human being pulled around the neighborhood by their furry companion, I see a dog which has been left to it's own devices with the human being an unwilling follower and by no means a leader of any type.

But most importantly and perhaps my failing by not mentioning it in my original post is the significance of the human in the leadership role because when it is done properly, the synergy created between human and dog is maximized. The dog and human exist as a team and both entities have their place, neither is better than the other as there is no dominance just wonderful coexistence, two halves making a wonderful whole.

FWIW, I think of myself as the "leader" because it is/was my responsibility to the dog, to guide the dog toward the best life it can possibly have because it is my role. Therefore, taking my leadership responsibility seriously, I train the dog to have proper behavior amongst many other duties which are incumbent upon me. And I would strongly suggest my current dog cares much about "our rules of behavior". It didn't start off that way but over time the dog has certainly learned and also come to enjoy my rules of behavior. It started off as you have suggested as in my case the process started through obedience training and consistency. The dog learned because it was given a reward, a reward which the dog worked for but this particular reward was temporary as the dog wasn't working for me, it was working for a treat. Today, my dog works for the team and the dog's reward is our combined successes and engagement together. The dog thrives as do I on our evolution towards rules of behavior because we flourish.

Don't know that it matters but all my dogs have been German Shepherds, perhaps the breed is capable of understanding the best reward is pleasing it's teammate who earlier in life was it's "leader".

Training a dog certain behaviors with a food scrap is one thing, living with a dog which conducts itself properly for a much higher reward ( coexistence ) is what it's all about IMHO.
 

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Okay, I think we all need this link. Especially for those who still are trying to back the "alpha/dominance" theory. :p

De-Bunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal Article

I'm kind of surprised that belief in this whole "dominance/alpha" nonsense is still so prevalent on the forum, though mostly among new/novice dog owners.

No, when your dog is pulling you, it's not showing it's "dominance/leadership" over you. Dogs learn through conditioning and reinforcement. The dog has simply learned: "I want to go forward, and no one is stopping me or training me not to, I get to smell things and do fun stuff on my own when I pull forward, so I pull forward more."
 

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How do you define Dominance? People seem to use it to mean so many different things, is there like a scientific definition? Also same question for pack animals, what exactly is a pack animal?
Sorry if these are silly questions x)
I know dominance is a real thing but I'm just not exactly sure what it is and if it is really that important or relevant when it comes to training.
 

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How do you define Dominance? People seem to use it to mean so many different things, is there like a scientific definition? Also same question for pack animals, what exactly is a pack animal?
Sorry if these are silly questions x)
I know dominance is a real thing but I'm just not exactly sure what it is and if it is really that important or relevant when it comes to training.
It's not the scientific definition of the word or not, but the training theory and methods of the "alpha/dominance theory" that's come back to spread misinformation among novice dog owners, ever since Cesar Millan's "Dog Whisperer" silliness. It's essentially founded on punishment and intimidation-based obedience training.

The same link I posted above: De-Bunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal Article
 

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I don't know... i think the story of the "dominant dog" is a myth.
No dog is inheritently dominant or dominant in all situations of their life.
dominance does exist in certain situations though, and is most of the time question of communication not of agressively attacking a "non-dominant" part.
A dog can show dominant behaviour in one situation and and appeasing or submissive behaviour in another one.
And for sure, it isn't something bad that can be used as a simple excuse for the bahaviour of an untrained dog.
untrained != dominant.
 

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Okay, I think we all need this link. Especially for those who still are trying to back the "alpha/dominance" theory. :p

De-Bunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal Article

I'm kind of surprised that belief in this whole "dominance/alpha" nonsense is still so prevalent on the forum, though mostly among new/novice dog owners.

No, when your dog is pulling you, it's not showing it's "dominance/leadership" over you. Dogs learn through conditioning and reinforcement. The dog has simply learned: "I want to go forward, and no one is stopping me or training me not to, I get to smell things and do fun stuff on my own when I pull forward, so I pull forward more."
Dominance theory in a nutshell suggests to use force and intimidation to overpower your dog into submission. I think most all of us agree that this is what we disagree with however "dominance"/leadership can be utilized in many other forms which are not construed as aversive. The human intellect gives us a huge advantage over our canine companions in regards to earning the leadership role. In my eyes, putting a collar and lead on a dog is a dominant action as you are restricting or controlling the dog's motion with archaic devices. For those who train over a food bowl, it's a protocol involving dominance. I fail to see it otherwise.

CoyotePro makes a great point : " How do you define Dominance?" If one describes "dominance" as my original assertion as the use of force and intimidation to get a dog to submit then I am in agreement that the dominance theory is baloney. However, if a human uses it's intellect and insight as a wise leader to shape a dog's behavior, I would still contend this is a form of dominance. Dominance is defined as power and influence AKA command and control. It is the human's responsibility to have command and control of their dog, every dog park I have been to has a big sign stating that every owner must have command and control of their dog while off leash.

When a dog is pulling it's human around, the dog is exhibiting learned behavior which was permitted from day one. When a dog is heeling properly it is exhibiting trained behavior by it's leader/guide/teacher. When my dog is on a long lead tracking and pulling out in front of me this is completely different than a simple walk through the neighborhood with the dog in proper heel position. However both are learned processes which were taught to the dog via my requirements and guidance.

All of us have been influenced by "dominant" figures, in good ways and in negative ways, and THAT is were the HUGE difference lies. If a person thinks they are not dominating their dog by training over a food bowl or withholding a treat they are sadly mistaken. Using a dog's food drive to obtain a desired result is nothing less than the human taking advantage of a dog's innate drive and if it continues over time all you end up with is a dog which works for food. Personally, I view this practice as somewhat harsh because the basic tenet of this protocol is based on regulating a necessity of life, it does not make for the best dog/human relationship by any means.

I'm beginning to think certain breeds of dogs and the intelligence they possess is integral in the overall process. I have never beat my dog but have used my leadership position in a dominating fashion to obtain the desired results. The human controls most all of a dog's resources, for example NILIF is a great example and many all positive trainers will employ this tactic. All I see with NILIF is the human using a reward in a fashion which reeks of dominance. In essence, controlling a dog's resources to obtain a result is completely a dominating protocol but it's just more palatable to many who suggest they are all positive.

I'm not quite getting why some people feel that a dog having a worthy leader team leader is such a negative thing ? Perhaps it has to do with the breed and nature of the dog. I would guess most people who have performance dogs appreciate how their dog looks to them for guidance and instruction.

Dominance comes in many forms, if you choose to really think about it.
 

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Dominance theory in a nutshell suggests to use force and intimidation to overpower your dog into submission. I think most all of us agree that this is what we disagree with however "dominance"/leadership can be utilized in many other forms which are not construed as aversive. The human intellect gives us a huge advantage over our canine companions in regards to earning the leadership role. In my eyes, putting a collar and lead on a dog is a dominant action as you are restricting or controlling the dog's motion with archaic devices. For those who train over a food bowl, it's a protocol involving dominance. I fail to see it otherwise.

CoyotePro makes a great point : " How do you define Dominance?" If one describes "dominance" as my original assertion as the use of force and intimidation to get a dog to submit then I am in agreement that the dominance theory is baloney. However, if a human uses it's intellect and insight as a wise leader to shape a dog's behavior, I would still contend this is a form of dominance. Dominance is defined as power and influence AKA command and control. It is the human's responsibility to have command and control of their dog, every dog park I have been to has a big sign stating that every owner must have command and control of their dog while off leash.

When a dog is pulling it's human around, the dog is exhibiting learned behavior which was permitted from day one. When a dog is heeling properly it is exhibiting trained behavior by it's leader/guide/teacher. When my dog is on a long lead tracking and pulling out in front of me this is completely different than a simple walk through the neighborhood with the dog in proper heel position. However both are learned processes which were taught to the dog via my requirements and guidance.

All of us have been influenced by "dominant" figures, in good ways and in negative ways, and THAT is were the HUGE difference lies. If a person thinks they are not dominating their dog by training over a food bowl or withholding a treat they are sadly mistaken. Using a dog's food drive to obtain a desired result is nothing less than the human taking advantage of a dog's innate drive and if it continues over time all you end up with is a dog which works for food. Personally, I view this practice as somewhat harsh because the basic tenet of this protocol is based on regulating a necessity of life, it does not make for the best dog/human relationship by any means.

I'm beginning to think certain breeds of dogs and the intelligence they possess is integral in the overall process. I have never beat my dog but have used my leadership position in a dominating fashion to obtain the desired results. The human controls most all of a dog's resources, for example NILIF is a great example and many all positive trainers will employ this tactic. All I see with NILIF is the human using a reward in a fashion which reeks of dominance. In essence, controlling a dog's resources to obtain a result is completely a dominating protocol but it's just more palatable to many who suggest they are all positive.

I'm not quite getting why some people feel that a dog having a worthy leader team leader is such a negative thing ? Perhaps it has to do with the breed and nature of the dog. I would guess most people who have performance dogs appreciate how their dog looks to them for guidance and instruction.

Dominance comes in many forms, if you choose to really think about it.
I agree, a positive, healthy leadership is totally necessary. But the reason why I think it's better to avoid the use of the word "dominance" as a whole, is because that the majority of the time, it's still used in correlation to the alpha dog theory. Novice owners can be easily confused by the word, especially since googling "dominance dogs" often brings up links that supports the alpha dog theory.

We can define it correctly all we want on this thread, and everyone can mutually agree that leadership is necessary and some dogs are more "dominant/pushy to see what they can get away with", but I don't believe it's the best word to use if we want to encourage searching for information about conditioning and positive reinforcement training.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Dominance theory in a nutshell suggests to use force and intimidation to overpower your dog into submission. I think most all of us agree that this is what we disagree with however "dominance"/leadership can be utilized in many other forms which are not construed as aversive. The human intellect gives us a huge advantage over our canine companions in regards to earning the leadership role. In my eyes, putting a collar and lead on a dog is a dominant action as you are restricting or controlling the dog's motion with archaic devices. For those who train over a food bowl, it's a protocol involving dominance. I fail to see it otherwise.

CoyotePro makes a great point : " How do you define Dominance?" If one describes "dominance" as my original assertion as the use of force and intimidation to get a dog to submit then I am in agreement that the dominance theory is baloney. However, if a human uses it's intellect and insight as a wise leader to shape a dog's behavior, I would still contend this is a form of dominance. Dominance is defined as power and influence AKA command and control. It is the human's responsibility to have command and control of their dog, every dog park I have been to has a big sign stating that every owner must have command and control of their dog while off leash.

When a dog is pulling it's human around, the dog is exhibiting learned behavior which was permitted from day one. When a dog is heeling properly it is exhibiting trained behavior by it's leader/guide/teacher. When my dog is on a long lead tracking and pulling out in front of me this is completely different than a simple walk through the neighborhood with the dog in proper heel position. However both are learned processes which were taught to the dog via my requirements and guidance.

All of us have been influenced by "dominant" figures, in good ways and in negative ways, and THAT is were the HUGE difference lies. If a person thinks they are not dominating their dog by training over a food bowl or withholding a treat they are sadly mistaken. Using a dog's food drive to obtain a desired result is nothing less than the human taking advantage of a dog's innate drive and if it continues over time all you end up with is a dog which works for food. Personally, I view this practice as somewhat harsh because the basic tenet of this protocol is based on regulating a necessity of life, it does not make for the best dog/human relationship by any means.

I'm beginning to think certain breeds of dogs and the intelligence they possess is integral in the overall process. I have never beat my dog but have used my leadership position in a dominating fashion to obtain the desired results. The human controls most all of a dog's resources, for example NILIF is a great example and many all positive trainers will employ this tactic. All I see with NILIF is the human using a reward in a fashion which reeks of dominance. In essence, controlling a dog's resources to obtain a result is completely a dominating protocol but it's just more palatable to many who suggest they are all positive.

I'm not quite getting why some people feel that a dog having a worthy leader team leader is such a negative thing ? Perhaps it has to do with the breed and nature of the dog. I would guess most people who have performance dogs appreciate how their dog looks to them for guidance and instruction.

Dominance comes in many forms, if you choose to really think about it.
Wow, I start a thread just to bounce around a thought and the whole thing explodes. I getting was ready to jump in but you did such a great job of expressing my argument that all I can do is offer kudos. Seems like it all comes down to one's perception and the Dominance of fluffy-feel-gooders involved in Dog Behavior now days. After working with dogs for the better part of 40 years (most of my adult life), I have evolved from the "alpha dog theory" into a true love for dogs in all of their grungy and goofy ways. I can't imagine a life not surrounded by dogs but they do look to us for leadership and the responsible owner/trainer will provide that for them. But if one enjoys being drug around on the end of a leash, I guess that is a viable choice, just not one that I would make. Too many dogs are injured or killed by poor management from their owners not to mention giving us a bad reputation with "Cat People."
 

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At this point, it just sounds like a matter of semantics. If "dominating your dog" means taking good care of it, setting it up to make good decisions, and controlling access to valuable reinforcement so that we can shape behavior, then there's zero difference between that phrase and the one I'd use: being a responsible dog owner. Which seems to me to make the use of the term "dominating your dog" completely useless. If "dominance" can literally mean "whatever the person using the term wants it to mean," then how can it be at all useful in a discussion of dog training and behavior? Especially if you have to add a caveat every time about how you don't mean "dominant" the way most people do.

Take the example above, that dogs pull on leashes because they think they are "leaders." In the entirety of natural history, only one species on earth has tried to pull another animal around by a string as a way of "showing dominance," and it sure wasn't dogs...that's a human trait. So in other words, you're projecting a human motivation onto a canine, and I'm at a loss to understand how that helps anything. I guess it's sort of an attempt to shame the dog owner, by saying they aren't "being a good leader," but why not just do the same thing by saying they aren't being an especially effective trainer? Or maybe skip shame-based approaches altogether.

There are many other explanations for why dogs pull on leashes that do draw from the study of canine behavior. For instance, dogs (and other canines) never walk at the pace required by most leash walks...walking at that pace is observably non-natural behavior. So it is reasonable to assume that many dogs wish to go faster during a walk, and may head out at speed until checked by a leash. Dogs tend to instinctively pull against pressure (opposition reflex, demonstrable via experiments). So it is reasonable to assume that a dog who hits the end of a leash will instinctively pull. We also know from experiments that most animals will continue to perform behaviors that are rewarding, so it's probably reasonable to assume that pulling on a leash is rewarding to many dogs (perhaps because the dog gains access to new things to sniff by pulling). So dogs pull because that's a natural canine behavior that's been reinforced via a learning process.

If I think my dog pulls because it is a natural instinct and a learned behavior, then my training plan is fairly straightforward: find a way to go from this (a measurable amount of time the dog currently spends pulling) to that (a measurable amount of time the dog will spend pulling, in this case, zero). I can track my progress! I can know when I achieve my goal! I can know when a protocol isn't having any results, and try something different!

But if I think dogs pull because they "think they are leaders," then my training job must be to "make my dog think something else." What our dogs are thinking is completely invisible and immeasurable. So my new job is to try to change a thing I cannot see or measure into something new that I cannot see or measure. Which is just pointless, as far as I'm concerned. This is how you end up with trainers suggesting that the crucial key to all dog training is to make sure you always eat before your dog, or always go through doors ahead of your dog, or never use food to train your dog, or all the other totally goofy, useless, made-up stuff that people come up with. None of which addresses the problematic behavior, except maybe by accident, some of which is actively harmful.

If we're talking about "dominance" as something that means whatever the person using it wants, or as a sort of invisible state of mind of our dogs, then all we're really talking about are the stories we tell about our dogs. Which typically tell us FAR more about the person doing the telling than about the dog. All that the persistent use of the term "dominant" tells me is that there are people who find the idea that their relationship with their dog is largely status-based very compelling. Okay, got it.

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with telling stories about our dogs, provided that the stories don't stop us from actually seeing the dog in front of us (which, all-too-often, they do). If a particular story I tell about my dog motivates me to treat her more kindly, play more fun games with her, or has other positive results, then good for me. But that's not how the story called "dominance" actually plays out for most dogs.

@the OP: I suggest actually reading some of the articles linked, since you claim an interest in the topic.
 

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Novice owners can be easily confused by the word, especially since googling "dominance dogs" often brings up links that supports the alpha dog theory.

We can define it correctly all we want on this thread, and everyone can mutually agree that leadership is necessary and some dogs are more "dominant/pushy to see what they can get away with", but I don't believe it's the best word to use if we want to encourage searching for information about conditioning and positive reinforcement training.
I agree with this, especially in today's environment where there are so many problematic dogs. However, our culture at times has a tendency of going overboard in a particular direction and I somewhat believe this has happened in the arena of dog training and the responsibility of sharing one's life with a dog. I feel fairly confident in suggesting that the dog has remained more consistent to its nature over the years versus the human. There are times when I see so many people missing out on the greatest part of having a dog in their life and that is the powerful bond which can be created if the human chooses to develop it properly. To me, when that bond ( team ) has been created, a dog is at its absolute best and all involved benefit to the greatest degree.

TheDoggyDudeKC, hey, I'm glad you started this thread because it has offered some to give their opinions regarding a great topic. Even though I have my strong opinions, it does not make me any less right or wrong than someone else giving a countering opinion. This is what I like about topics which might be considered volatile. If you would have asked this question 20 plus years ago, I would bet the responses would have been much more in tune with each other but the times have changed, for better or worse.
 

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I agree with this, especially in today's environment where there are so many problematic dogs. However, our culture at times has a tendency of going overboard in a particular direction and I somewhat believe this has happened in the arena of dog training and the responsibility of sharing one's life with a dog. I feel fairly confident in suggesting that the dog has remained more consistent to its nature over the years versus the human. There are times when I see so many people missing out on the greatest part of having a dog in their life and that is the powerful bond which can be created if the human chooses to develop it properly. To me, when that bond ( team ) has been created, a dog is at its absolute best and all involved benefit to the greatest degree.

TheDoggyDudeKC, hey, I'm glad you started this thread because it has offered some to give their opinions regarding a great topic. Even though I have my strong opinions, it does not make me any less right or wrong than someone else giving a countering opinion. This is what I like about topics which might be considered volatile. If you would have asked this question 20 plus years ago, I would bet the responses would have been much more in tune with each other but the times have changed, for better or worse.
Exactly TheDoggyDudeKC, I don't think it's exploded or anything. We're having a good discussion of information, and I also think we're all of the same understanding/on the same side here. :D Like SnackRat said, it's just become an issue of semantics (on this thread).
 

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Take the example above, that dogs pull on leashes because they think they are "leaders." In the entirety of natural history, only one species on earth has tried to pull another animal around by a string as a way of "showing dominance," and it sure wasn't dogs...that's a human trait. So in other words, you're projecting a human motivation onto a canine, and I'm at a loss to understand how that helps anything. I guess it's sort of an attempt to shame the dog owner, by saying they aren't "being a good leader," but why not just do the same thing by saying they aren't being an especially effective trainer? Or maybe skip shame-based approaches altogether.

There are many other explanations for why dogs pull on leashes that do draw from the study of canine behavior. For instance, dogs (and other canines) never walk at the pace required by most leash walks...walking at that pace is observably non-natural behavior. So it is reasonable to assume that many dogs wish to go faster during a walk, and may head out at speed until checked by a leash. Dogs tend to instinctively pull against pressure (opposition reflex, demonstrable via experiments). So it is reasonable to assume that a dog who hits the end of a leash will instinctively pull. We also know from experiments that most animals will continue to perform behaviors that are rewarding, so it's probably reasonable to assume that pulling on a leash is rewarding to many dogs (perhaps because the dog gains access to new things to sniff by pulling). So dogs pull because that's a natural canine behavior that's been reinforced via a learning process.

If I think my dog pulls because it is a natural instinct and a learned behavior, then my training plan is fairly straightforward: find a way to go from this (a measurable amount of time the dog currently spends pulling) to that (a measurable amount of time the dog will spend pulling, in this case, zero). I can track my progress! I can know when I achieve my goal! I can know when a protocol isn't having any results, and try something different!

But if I think dogs pull because they "think they are leaders," then my training job must be to "make my dog think something else." What our dogs are thinking is completely invisible and immeasurable. So my new job is to try to change a thing I cannot see or measure into something new that I cannot see or measure. Which is just pointless, as far as I'm concerned. This is how you end up with trainers suggesting that the crucial key to all dog training is to make sure you always eat before your dog, or always go through doors ahead of your dog, or never use food to train your dog, or all the other totally goofy, useless, made-up stuff that people come up with. None of which addresses the problematic behavior, except maybe by accident, some of which is actively harmful.

If we're talking about "dominance" as something that means whatever the person using it wants, or as a sort of invisible state of mind of our dogs, then all we're really talking about are the stories we tell about our dogs. Which typically tell us FAR more about the person doing the telling than about the dog. All that the persistent use of the term "dominant" tells me is that there are people who find the idea that their relationship with their dog is largely status-based very compelling. Okay, got it.

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with telling stories about our dogs, provided that the stories don't stop us from actually seeing the dog in front of us (which, all-too-often, they do). If a particular story I tell about my dog motivates me to treat her more kindly, play more fun games with her, or has other positive results, then good for me. But that's not how the story called "dominance" actually plays out for most dogs.
The fact that a dog is allowed to pull its human around ( if not desired ) definitely describes a situation where the human has failed to take ownership of the problem and properly correct it hence the dog is left to its own devices and compromises the overall dog/human relationship. Is the dog the leader? Beats me but this much I do know, the dog is doing what it wants and the human has shown no leadership qualities to correct the problem hence the human has failed NOT the dog. So, I hold the human culpable. Call it lack of leadership, laziness, complacency whatever, it's all the same to me but it generally defines a human who most likely has not taken their responsibility seriously in the dog/human relationship. Plug and play dogs are a rarity I guess.

As far as a dog walking at a different pace than a human and all the other physical differences you cited, that's all fine and dandy but changes nothing in my estimation because as we all know, a dog can pace beside a human at any speed one desires. Many people should regard the "walk" as an exercise in obedience not a jaunt around the neighborhood. Those with the forging dogs usually end up getting frustrated and the relationship suffers.

Oh, to clear up the caveats and use of the word "dominance". In most all realms of life those who lead are generally dominant individuals. If you connote that "dominance or dominant" strictly means being a bully then we would have a hard time communicating and understanding each others opinions. I just try and be completely honest to myself in the methods I have used to train my dogs over the decades and if I were to say I never used my position of advantage or control, I would be a liar.
 

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I'm not quite getting why some people feel that a dog having a worthy leader team leader is such a negative thing ? Perhaps it has to do with the breed and nature of the dog. I would guess most people who have performance dogs appreciate how their dog looks to them for guidance and instruction.
I don't spend any time worrying about whether my dog views me as a leader. This doesn't have anything to do with my dog's breed or nature, but probably does have something to do with my nature. Like I said, the stories we tell about our dogs usually do. I'm certainly a responsible dog owner, and like any responsible dog owner, I make most of the decisions. But I also set things up so that my dog gets to make decisions all the time, in an increasingly unconstrained manner. If my dog is uncomfortable about something, I listen to her, which often includes stopping altogether until I can figure out a way to help her feel safer. And if I ask her to do something and she does not comply, I look for a reason. That reason is almost always that something else is important to my dog in right then, NOT that she "failed to respect me as a leader." What happens in that moment tells me a great deal about my dog, and almost nothing about what my dog thinks of me. So it's good information, not a challenge to our relationship.

In a nutshell, that is exactly why I avoid the concept and terminology. Because it implies that a dog's motivation is mainly based around her relationship with her owner(s). In that, I think it goes significantly beyond a semantics issue, and becomes a determiner of how we train and act toward our dogs. Because a lot of the time, viewing things through a "leadership" or "dominance" lens turns behavior into an indictment of a relationship ("my dog did ___ because she doesn't respect me") instead of a useful data point ("my dog did ___, which tells me that ___ was the higher value activity available to her at that time"). I know how to change the value of different activities; I know how to build a massive amount of engagement, enthusiasm, and drive for the things I play with my dog; I don't know how to magically alter an invisible state of mind (respect?) into a different invisible state of mind (more respect?).

By making everything about us, we miss the chance to see our dogs clearly. We set ourselves up to respond inappropriately or ineffectively, to perceive an insult where there was none. My dog behaves the way she does because she is a dog, and because of her particular combination of genetic inheritance and learned experience. By acknowledging that, and not inventing a complicated framework to explain my dog's behavior in terms of me (or of how she views me), I think I'm respecting my dog.

Frankly, dog behavior and cognition research is so far beyond this point by now. There are so many amazing books and articles that explore dog behavior, and out of all that, anything having to do with social status is a tiny footnote. A fascinating footnote, sure, especially if you happen to be a primate and thus inherently predisposed to be outrageously fascinated by power dynamics. But if someone thinks "dominance" is the most interesting thing to talk about when it comes to dog behavior, I recommend a crash course in good books!
 
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