The Dominate Issue


Almost every time I meet up with a new client I hear some form of these words "my dog is trying to dominate me." There are books by people who can write much better than me and scientific studies conducted by people smarter that me but I am going to put my two cents in about this issue.

First let us explore what the word "dominate" means: the definition is "occupying or being in a commanding or elevated position." So when someone is dominate over you they are your boss. Your boss controls when you come to work, what you wear, when you eat and so on. Now at work does your boss have to hold you down on the ground when you do not do what he wants you to? I hope not. If you do not do what he wants you to a good boss will find out why you are not doing it and then try to work with you to solve the problem.

Next connecting it to the dogs. In the human to dog relationship the human is the boss 100% you decide when to feed her or walk her or let her out of her crate. You control her every minute. So guess what? you are already her boss. Now why does she do things like jump on you or pull the leash? why does a child have a tantrum when you tell them they cannot have that toy? Normally because having a tantrum in the past got them the toy. So when your dog jumps they get the attention they want (even if it negative attention). When they pull they get somewhere faster then if they don't pull. It is truly as simple as that. There is nothing else in their minds that is saying "if I pull on my owner I will be the leader and get to decide where I go and when I eat."

In fact most of the time there is nothing else in their minds then "gotta smell that smell" or "yay people!" Part of a good training program is impulse control. You want to get them to think before they act. Before they do anything (go out the door, get dinner, greet a person/dog) you want them to think first and even check in with you before they do it. So you teach them before you say hi you have to sit then the impulse to jump is reduced because they are thinking about what they should be doing instead. Just like when you are teaching your child to be polite and say "please" so they are not demanding a cookie.

"But that is how the wolves do it!" you may say. This is a good point there has been studies on wolves that show that in some wolf packs dominate rolls do happen. There is a problem with these studies though, they were done on captive wolves. Similar studies have been done with wolves in the wild and the results are very different. Here is why: family and freedom. Wolves in captivity are normally different individuals put together and unless they are raised by mom and dad from puppyhood (which often they are not) it is like moving into a house with roommates there is almost always arguments when changing the house dynamic.

In the wild wolves are found in family groups (similar to ours) Mom, Dad and children with the occasional elder or adopted child. Similar to our households, Mom and Dad decide what the pack will do each day, and although they do discipline unruly pups, they very rarely roll them on their backs. It is normally nothing more than a pinch. If the pup doesn't like their rules the pup is normally allowed to leave (which they can't really do in captivity.) Last kicker with this point: dogs are not wolves. Dogs are as much wolves as a monkey is a chimp or a finch is an eagle. Although they are close to each other genetically they have been removed for a very long time and have been bred to work and live with humans.

The last point I want to make is I am not a dog and it is highly likely you are not either. I cannot ask a dog why he does what he did. Dogs make terrible philosophers. So the possibility that it may just be dominance (which it isn't) there is no way to know for sure. So it is better to think of the behavior you want to change as the behavior you want to change and try to guess what your dog is thinking when they do it.

Let me repeat that: Think of it as a behavior they needs to be changed rather then trying to define it as something else.

Thank you and good day

(To find out more read: Animals in Translation and Animals Make us Human by Temple Grandin it where I got my info and she even has studies cited)


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