Hey, Old School Dominance Theory: School’s Out!

Nic Phantom posingA pediatrician is attempting to examine an infant. He holds the stethescope to the tiny chest but the baby won’t stop squirming. It’s difficult to get an accurate listen. The doctor informs the mother that the baby can’t be allowed to run the show; he needs to show her who’s boss. He slams the baby on her back, places a hand around her neck, and nearly chokes her until she lies still. Does this sound absolutely crazy? Of course it does, because it is. Now replace the words pediatrician with veterinarian and baby with dog. Although the species is different, the dynamic is the same. The difference is that treating dogs this way is all too common.

The story that was partially responsible for inspiring this blog involved a nine-week-old puppy who had been nearly choked by the family vet. Unfortunately, there seens to be an endless supply of similar stories. Just last week, I had a conversation with a woman who’d adopted a large German Shepherd mix. She’d hired a trainer to address a few minor issues including jumping on people and grabbing things around the house. The trainer had told her the dog was clearly trying to dominate her, and that she needed to growl in his face and stare him down. Fortunately, the woman didn’t feel the plan of action was wise, and never saw the trainer again.

Others, however, simply do as their trainers advise. I know a woman whose trainer informed her in no uncertain terms that the only way to cure her bull terrier of his “dominance issues” (which, by the way, were actually minor behavior problems such as mouthing and jumping) was to force him on his back and sit on top of him, staring into his eyes, until he submitted by looking away or, even better, urinating. Eager to help her dog, she tried it. Guess what? The dog bit her in the face. The woman was shocked. The dog was euthanised.

Every time I hear this type of story—and believe me, it’s on an almost daily basis—my heart sinks. My head hurts. My teeth hurt, probably from being gritted so hard. With all the progress we’ve made culturally, how is it possible that so many people are still stuck in the old school mentality where everything from jumping up to pulling on leash is seen as a canine bid to overthrow the kingdom? We don’t believe that a child who pulls at his mother’s arm repeatedly for attention or destroys something of value is trying to be dominant, nor do we advise those parents to use physical force or scare the pants off the kid to prove who’s boss. So why do we continue to do this with dogs? Dogs are not children (though they are like children to many of us), but the psychology is the same. Just like kids, in most cases rude canine behavior stems not from a desire to be in charge, but from an emotional state such as anxiety or overexcitement, a lack of knowing what’s expected, or not having been appropriately trained.

It’s true that there are some very pushy, ill-mannered dogs out there. And there are some who truly do have what would be described as a dominant type of temperament. But trainers who make the effort to learn about canine psychology and body language, and who understand how to apply training and feedback fairly and appropriately, can easily work with even those dogs without causing harm to either party. And lest you think this only applies to “easy” dogs or puppies, I’ve worked effectively with severely people-aggressive dogs (including dogs who multiply puncture wounded multiple people) for many years without using harsh physical corrections. Show me a trainer who stares a dog down, rolls him on his back, or uses any type of physical force to show a dog who’s in charge, and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t know a better way. Besides, while the trainer might be able to get away with that sort of physical coercion, owners are often not.

Not all of the fallout from the use of physical force to dominate dogs is immediately obvious. Seeing your dog as an adversary and acting accordingly causes damage to the dog-owner relationship, and can cause lingering and sometimes chronic stress in the dog. That stress and frustration is very likely to surface in other ways. I’ve seen one particular scenario more times than I can count: The husband (sorry, guys, but it is usually the man) uses physical force to intimidate the dog. The dog submits and the problem ends—at least when the husband’s around. The dog then begins to behave even more poorly around the wife, or the kids. Perhaps there’s even an increase in aggressive behavior.

I can’t argue that strong-arming a dog won’t stop the undesirable behavior right then and there. If you hit me with a two-by-four to get me to stop biting my nails, I’d stop immediately. But how would I feel about you after that? And would your correction stop the underlying reason I bit my nails in the first place? Maybe I was nervous or anxious, and the nail biting was simply a symptom. Now I’m even more anxious, thank you very much!

I remember all too well Bodhi’s behavior when we first adopted him. A whirlwhind of manic adolescence, he’d been surrendered to the shelter by a college kid who “could no longer afford his upkeep.” (One disembowled couch and one mangled, dismantled mini-fridge later, I understood what the kid meant, but that’s another story.) We couldn’t so much as take a few steps without Bodhi jumping up and grabbing our arms and legs and biting down fairly hard. It wasn’t aggressive but it was frantic, and more than a little disturbing. It would have been all too easy to see this behavior as an attempt at dominance. Fortunately, I realized Bodhi was anxious and insecure. Of course his actions weren’t acceptable, and I used my own body language and voice to administer non-violent but effective consequences. I shudder to think how Bodhi, who has a strong startle reflex and a problem trusting people (along with a suspected history of abuse) would have done with someone forcefully “putting him in his place.”

The dominance issue is not only a matter of faulty philosophy, but a lack of basic understanding of canine communiation. Consider this scenario: A dog is chewing on something his owner considers valuable. The owner yells at the dog and hits him on the rump. The dog, frightened, growls a warning. The growl is viewed as insubordination. The person, now outraged, shakes the dog by his scruff. The dog, feeling trapped and frightened, becomes even more defensive. At this point some dogs will “submit” but others, in a state of high emotional arousal, will bite. Escalating a physical confrontation with a dog, or starting one in the first place, is such a ridiculous way to establish leadership that if it weren’t so widespread, it would be laughable.

Don’t misunderstand; of course we want dogs to respond appropriately when when we ask them to do something, or to stop doing something. But lest you think teaching gently means being permissive or lax, please know that my training methods do not include prancing through the posies tossing cookies hither and yon, hoping dogs will follow and do what I want. Dogs need clear direction, rules and structure, and consequences for their actions, just like kids do. But to achieve better canine behavior, I use my brain instead of my brawn (okay, not so much brawn here, but you get my point). In all my years of working with wolves and wolfdogs—and believe me, nowhere is the old school, dominance-is-everything mindset more alive than in the wolf/wolfdog world—I never once stared a wolf down, growled in one’s face, or performed the alpha roll. Guess what? I still have all my fingers and toes, and I was able to effective train and socialize some very large, strong, potentially dangerous animals. When Phantom (the big black wolf in the photo) first came to me as a rescue at age three, he was skittish about being handled. But I needed to be able to look between his toes, examine his teeth, and do whatever else needed being done to care for him. Did I alpha roll him? Stare into his eyes? Threaten to blow his house down? No. I worked with him kindly and calmly until he learned to trust me and cooperated of his own free will. I would most certainly not have gotten the same results had I tried to scare him into submission.

As Abraham Maslow says, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.” And if all we see when we look at ill-behaved dogs is a bid for dominance, perhaps where we really need to look is in the mirror. I’ll say it again: Old school dominance theory? School’s out! It’s time to enter the Age of Enlightenment. Humans should be seen as leaders because dogs respect us, not because they fear us. Training and communication should result in a dog’s eyes lighting with joy and enthusiasm, not smothering that light under the threat of violence. Anyone can scare and intimidate dogs. It takes a better trainer, and a better human being, to be able to work with dogs and to get the same, or dare I say, even better results.

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93 Responses to Hey, Old School Dominance Theory: School’s Out!

  1. Deb Sanford says:

    Years ago my vet manhandled my labx while cutting his nails, slammed him down on the table and finished, but also cut a couple of the quicks. Needless to say I never went back there for any of my animals. I still to this day cannot cut my dogs nails. He shakes in fear when I get the clippers out even just setting them on the table or on the floor. I have not gotten to where I can handle his paws, but still no to the clippers.

    • Susan & The Pack says:

      I had a vet quick 1 nail my Airedale years ago. We were outta there right then. It was with a LOT of patience and a TON of treats that we were able to get back to clipping them without fear.

    • In my classes I tell people to cut there own nails next to the puppy/dog then give a treat. Hold the dogs paw/feel the toes and give a treat. Then hold the dogs paw and cut your nails. Moving on only as fast as the individual dog can cope with. Maybe just cut one nail and give a treat and repeat 2 hours later. The speed of e
      ach stage is geared to the individual.

    • Virginia says:

      Nice article, Nicole!

    • mcknight@gmx.net says:

      I think it is a question about how we trat one another and pets. I think, to act in order fight dominance, expressed an inner aggressive behavior of human. what humens need is therapy.

    • jamanda says:

      I used this technique on my vet’s recommendation. It is a video of Dr Sophia Yin using positive reinforcement to train a clipper aggressive dog so that the dog is happy to have its nails clipped. This is the only thing that worked for me and it worked really easily with no stress for me or my dog (who was so clipper aggressive he would bite) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWZUcLfHXLE

    • Evelyn Haskins says:

      Re cutting nails:
      Most of my other dogs have been very iffy about their nails being clipped regardless of ‘previous experience”. Unfortunately therefore their behaviour during nail-clippng time makes it far more likely that I’ll clip badly (and end up feeling cranky with them :-(

      I tried Sopfia Yin’s method wtih a marked lack of success. — “If you’ve got those clipper in your hand, I want none of those treats!”

      I finally realised that what was distressing the dogs most was me holding their hands ‘firmly’ (to stop them pulling them away, So I spent a LOT of time with each dog — having them put their hand on my open palm and keep it there, let me massage the webbing up between every toe, and between ther pads of the hand/foot..

      Then clipping became *almost* :-) easy-peasy :-)

  2. Caryn says:

    Oh Nicole…I love you just a little bit more for this one. LOL

    I’m printing this and it’s going in every single new client package for the rest of time with links to your site/books.

    Thanks.

    I hope you’re well.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks, Caryn! If you or anyone else would like to share any of these blog posts, please just put this copyright notice on the bottom: © 2013 Nicole Wilde. Nicole’s books, DVDs and blog can be found at http://www.nicolewilde.com

      Thanks! :)

  3. Gargirl says:

    Excellent post, thank you so much for sharing. ^_^

  4. Love this post! I will be sharing far and wide – Thank you, Nicole.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Thank you.

  6. I love this and am sharing it far and wide! Looking forward to your seminar here in Colorado in August!!!

  7. Malamute Mom says:

    Awesome post once again, Nicole. Yes, it is incredible how much people still cling to this idea and some people in dog circles I’ve known for years (and to whom I’ve sent information to show them they don’t need to believe all this old school stuff) just can’t help but explain any problem behavior as a ploy to “take over the situation or be dominant”. Well done and thank you for all you do! :)

  8. Great article. As much as I have read and written about this problem I unfortunately don’t think much will change until there is a standardized national licensing board (similar to medical doctors and lawyers) to uphold a basic humane treatment, ethics, best practices and competency in this largely unregulated, zero barriers to entry dog training and behavior world we live in.

    Russell Hartstein CPDT

  9. Tina Vial says:

    Bravo!!!!!

  10. Matthew says:

    I don’t believe babying your dog or being overly dominate is the way. Going to the extreme either way is unhealthy. Sometimes my energy dominates my dog but he is rewarded well when something is done correctly. You wouldn’t raise your child on only positive reenforcement same with your dog. A healthy balance of correction and praise is how I work with former abused or fought dogs. That’s how I do it but like with everything you have to find what works. But it’s a great article and I do believe some people take dominate behavior and turn it to abuse.

    • Matthew (a different one) says:

      I wish people would worry a bit less about “babying” or “dominance” etc, and focus more on learning to understand dog behavior, to read dog signals, and training and learning principles.

      I have a people fearful and dog fearful dog. I do a lot of things that old school thinking would consider “babying”. but you know what….he the dog he is today and the dog he was….night and day. his confidence is growing, he is approaching people and taking risks and soliciting attention from complete strangers. he goes to large public events with lots of dogs and lots of people. And this was a dog who’s threshold distance started around 200 yards for dogs.

      to achieve the success, I did not worry about dominance, or correction etc. I focused on what was the root issue, fear and worked to build his confidence and change established associations. he wasn’t being bad. his behavior was undesired, needed to be changed yes…but that isn’t the same as bad, or disobedient, or rebellious etc and thus “needed correction” . we all to often think because our dogs aren’t doing what we want that they are being “bad”, or blowing us off, and that is often NOT the case.

      If you think you need to be “dominate” with a dog. Read this paper, then I challenge you explain how being “dominate” with a dog is a concept with a sound basis. And how it helps you explain, train or change behavior.

      http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/beh/1993/00000125/f0020003/art00009

    • monsteroyd says:

      Yeah you go on and ‘correct’ your dog. But please understand that I respectfully submit that you don’t grok the article. Monty

      • Catherine says:

        Monty, are you just respectfully disagreeing with the article or you actually saying something? (go on and “correct” your dog… “grok” ???)

      • sadiquechienne says:

        Catherine, “grok” is a word from the book Stranger In A Strange Land. It has many meanings, but a very basic one would be “to have a thorough understanding.” So Monty is saying that the Matthew above who is talking about correction clearly didn’t understand the article (and from his post also doesn’t actually understand dominance theory, classical conditioning, positive training, etc).

    • Melissa says:

      Matthew, how does your energy dominate your dog? Does your energy dominate others in your world as well? What do your corrections look and feel like? Would you prefer others to use the same methodologies when teaching you something new? I do recognize that each scenario may be different, but I always ask myself if there might be a better way. As I read earlier today, you don’t have to be controlling to be in control. Thoughts?

      • monsteroyd says:

        Dogs are not wolves. Feral dogs don’t live in packs. There is no pack hierarchy. Any rules you have made up that demonstrate how a dog is trying to express pack hierarchy over you (dominance) is a fiction is your head. So belief whatever you want about ‘energy’ and dominance. Me I’m going back to Earth where the scientist live.

        Bye Monty

  11. monsteroyd says:

    I love the pediatrician analogy. Perfect logic, Thanks for posting this. One more thing to link to to try to change the world in a forum.

    Monty

  12. Patricia says:

    Excellent article! I’ve been advocating against this dominance business for years. Research has long shown that positive reinforcement produces far better results than punishment or negative reinforcement. Simple principle of learning theory.

  13. 00james says:

    If somebody ever did any of this to my dog (or cats), I’d flat out punch them in the face and/or kick them in the balls. Exactly the same if someone did this to my kids.

  14. Merle says:

    It is not perfect logic to compare a baby to a dog.I know that you wrote that for effect but you are encouraging false ideas about behavior while trying to dispeal them. Human babies do not react to being held down like puppies. This is why you should not leave babies with dogs unsupervised. A good dog can kill a baby because the baby does not act like a puppy. The dog does not know any better. People should. People need to understand behavior and ways to modify it. There is not one way to do things.

    • Merle, it struck me at first, too, that a 9 week old pup and a baby are not developmentally equal (although I think you’re speaking to the behavioral differences?), but then I realized that the point is really about whether to punish the baby/puppy simply because their behavior is being deemed not only wrong/inappropriate but also as dominant or purposefully trying to take control. Why is it so easy to imbue all dogs, starting as early as 9 weeks or so, with the desire to take over or show us who’s boss? Which behaviors, exactly, are the indicators of that and which are merely ones that “feel good” and are reinforced? All that being said, I’ve seen some VERY controlling 3 year old kids who I know ARE trying to run the show. But that doesn’t mean that they need corporal punishment. In fact, as Nicole advocates, Gentle Guidance is what we all need to get from point A to point B. Not really directing this directly at you Merle, just adding my thoughts to your point.

  15. Lisa says:

    Using pain and intimidation is never an option when handling dogs. Period. I agree that there is more than one way to do things, but force isn’t one of them if you are informed and compassionate.

  16. Gizmo says:

    This was great reading and I’ve shared it around as i think it would benefit other dog owners especially new or first timers who are afraid of contradicting a so called expert trainer

  17. Dinky's Mom says:

    I loved your article. I wanted to share a story that happened 2 years ago at Rundell Vet in Monroe La…I took my small dog in who would turn and look at her back as if to say “I am hurting here.” The lady vet, (did not get her name,) while examining my dog, DISLOCATED her right front leg, Then she stepped back and said” this is what is wrong with her.” My dog began screaming in pain and I said “What did you do?” She stated she dislocated her leg. I said you are hurting her please please put it back. she said “Well wouldn’t you hurt if your leg was dislocated?” I said why did you do that and she said I had told her the dog couldn’t jump up. I never said that. I believe she did this to SHOW me that a dog is not a person because as I had entered the building I had been talking about how I loved this little dog so very much and she was like my baby. I later went back to the head Vet to complain but my complaint was met with no comment or apology. It was one of those moments where you feel like you are in The Twilight Zone and this can’t be happening. I have no way of knowing if this sadistic person is still practicing but I hope to God she is not.

  18. Very, very well put. It’s going to my customers, too (with copyright info) and also to the prisoners in the new rescue dog training program I’m developing there.

  19. I wish I could re-blog this but I can’t seem to figure it out. Beautiful blog.

  20. Reblogged this on Lady Chauncey Barkington III's Finishing School For Dogs and Other Beasts and commented:
    Nicole Wilde makes some excellent points about the dominance theory being misunderstood and misapplied by many professional dog trainers. Be care who’s advice you follow and look for someone who understands the psychology of the species they’re training. Continuing education is MUST for any competant dog trainer.
    © 2013 Nicole Wilde. Nicole’s books, DVDs and blog can be found at http://www.nicolewilde.com

  21. kellsdiynails says:

    I get a feeling you are referring to Cesar Millan’s training methods here. I don’t consider dominance as severe as you portray it. Are there some people who misconstrue dominance with fear and agression? Of course there are. However, I don’t think encouraging people to see dominance as a bad thing is very smart. Dominance is simply using discipline. Do you also see discipline as a negative? I think that ultimately people see dominance and discipline as a bad thing because it scares them so they retreat to a stance that its mean or hurtful. At least Cesar stays positive and moves forward instead if focusing on the negative. I’ve raised my dogs (both are small poodle mixes) using the dominance theory and I’ve never had to slam them down, never had them urinate from submission, never had to hit them. One of them can be a handful too. They both have their individual personalities and are very balanced and happy pups. The hardest part of training is getting out if your own head and becoming connected to nature and your dogs.

    • Reisa Stone says:

      The Monks of New Skete, who have a renowned GSD breeding and training operation and two bestselling books, have recommended dominance training for decades. I tried it briefly when I was a teenager (despite having been taught better), and succeeded only in frightening dogs. I dropped it.

      • It’s all in the interpretation, I guess. I used the Monks of New Skete “How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” and did not take it as dominance training. I thought it was a great learning tool for raising my GSD. My Dad had a K9 police dog, so I used info learned from him too. I did positive reinforcement obedience training with him also. Your dog needs to know and feel you are ‘in charge’ as part of their self confidence. This does not mean he needs to be afraid of you. Anyway, have a great day :)

    • Rebecca Rice says:

      If you really want to see some examples of dominance training, take a look at how many gun dogs are trained. I’d heard about things like ear pinches to train forced retrieves, but only when I actually read about how it was done did I realize that I really had no idea what people were talking about when they mentioned negative reinforcement (I think that’s the right term… increasing the likelihood of an action by removing an aversive?). And when the person advocating doing this says that forced retrieve training is not fun for the dog, is not fun for the trainer, but “has to be done”, even for a dog that is a natural retriever, because otherwise the dog might decide one day to do a wonky retrieve rather than the nice clean one YOU want him to do…. well, that gives you the whole mindset of the style. Then there is the “dominant dog collar”, which, I will grant, is only intended for dog-agressive and handler-agressive dogs by the designer, which is intended to “take the air away from the dog”. They describe how, in extreme cases, the dog is lifted off the ground by this collar until it passes out, and that this generally only needs to be done 2 to 3 times before the dog “gets it”. I am of two minds about that, since, as they rightfully point out, these are the dogs that are so aggressive that most people put them down. Is it appropriate to use such extreme training methods with the dog, if it means that the dog gets to continue living? Or are these dogs better off being put down? I turn up my nose at a trainer on a forum, because he would have put down my fearful Katie and would consider her not worth working with when there are so many “better tempermented” dogs out there that need homes. Am I guilty of doing the same thing when I think that perhaps that the owner would be better off putting dogs that are that aggressive down, rather than using something like a dominant dog collar?

    • MatthewC says:

      Rebecca, knowing what I know today…. IF my only choice was the “dominate dog collar” and putting my dog down, I would be putting my dog down.

      Why? because most aggression issues (not all of course, but most) are due to fear issues. And I refuse to punish, correct, choke, inflict pain etc on a fearful dog…well any dog for that matter… as a means of training/behavior modification.

      Fortunately the good news is, I nor you nor anyone else has choose between inflicting pain or fear on a dog to modify unwanted behavior such as fear based aggression.

      Shameless pitch for Nicole…she wrote a wonderful book about helping fearful and fear aggressive dogs. I would encourage you to check it out.

      this is yet another example of how thinking or viewing everything as a “dominance” issues blinds us to the real problems or issues and real solutions.

  22. David says:

    You wrote:
    “Dogs need clear direction, rules and structure, and consequences for their actions, just like kids do”

    David:
    Clear directions is all I have ever needed. I don’t know where the rest of that phrase is headed. But, if you are implying that dogs can evaluate right and wrong then I am in disaggreement. I really feel this sentence needs to be broken down further before I could share as a link.

  23. Dani says:

    I have a large husky/hybrid who is the nicest and kindness that i can bring him in a shopping center and he loves the little old ladies who run with a walker to pet the doggie ….i went to a store to get a few raw necessities and a gentleman comes in with a order of bones and frozen fish and such…while he waits for the salesperson he crotches down and stares my obviously large and wondering dog and exclaim …oh he is vicious when my dog barks/howl at him ..WHAT…you just confronted him when he is with me and the DOG is vicious …dufous

  24. Let me open by saying, dominance as a training method does have its place. I firmly believe that. BUT the caveat is that is should not be applied to all dogs in all instances. Also, what gets overlooked a lot are the smaller, quieter aspects of dominance training. Making a dog wait to let you go through a doorway first. not taking food off your plate because it is your’s not his. Making him wait before he eats, or feeding him after you eat. What you are trying to do is allow your dog to relax, because he knows you have the situation under control. Always. A dog is a natural follower. But you as a human need to make them feel like you are worth following.
    Are there moments you pin the dog down or tap him to remind you are there? Yea. Are there times you risk hurting the dog by cutting off their airflow, hitting, or kicking them? NO. Dominance is about being a better leader, being someone worth following, NOT being scary or mean. You need to maintain a level of zen and inner peace to apply dominance training, touching your dog in any way out of anger is dangerous to both of you.
    The problem is, as mentioned in the article, a lot of physical force and abuse gets used by calling it “dominance training.” This method is physical, but if you feel there is any chance you are putting your dog in danger, YOU SHOULD NOT DO IT. There are a real lack of good trainers to consult though, its hard to see who knows what they are doing, and who is just swinging the metaphorical two-by-four.
    I can honestly say I practice dominance training with my dog. I have worked with trainers to try other methods, but this works best for BOTH OF US. He feels better knowing I am looking out for him. He trusts me to evaluate the environment and the creatures in it and be sure things are safe. When he misbehaves, I know its because I am out of sorts or preoccupied.
    To close, I think the most generally applicable training method is food/reward based training, but I think there are times to work by dominance, but most of the dominance training is in the details and everyday actions. You can not be dominant unless your dog trusts you.

    • monsteroyd says:

      What scientific study exactly says that you going out the door before the dog shows it who the boss is? Where did you learn that feeding order between dogs means anything? We know for a fact that the leader of the wolf pack,(the Dad) doesn’t always eat first, so where do you get all these ‘truths’. Quite frankly, those are all examples of things that people do to show dominance over other people, but where is the scientific evidence that any of those things mean the same to a dog. I mean come on, you control EVERYTHING in a dog’s life, when he eats, when he pees, if he gets to go outside, if he gets to come in, etc. etc. I think the dog knows 1) you are not a dog, and 2) that you are in charge. You don’t need to go out a door before they do for them to get the idea. Come on.

      Monty

    • David says:

      Gar wrote:
      “… But you as a human need to make them feel like you are worth following.
      Are there moments you pin the dog down or tap him to remind you are there? Yea…”

      Me:
      My dog follow me everywhere and know I’m worth following and I have NEVER tapped or pinned them. I’ve never even said the word NO to any of them. One is an awesome agility dog and the other is a search dog. So they are well trained and trained by me.

      Your treatment plan goes against all logic. If I come over to your house and pin you down till you say uncle will you follow me everywhere I go. I really doubt it. That’s the rationale you are using.

      dt

      • Lauren says:

        I don’t get why we keep comparing dogs to people. That is half of the populations problem when it comes to a proper behaving controlled dog to a out of control dog. Same goes with their health (overweight, fed only table food, etc).
        Dogs are still dogs at the end of the day. I refer to one of my dogs as my soulmate. He is is reliable and intuitive and very smart. But hes still a dog.
        Most of the problem is people get dogs that they did not think out well. I am a vet tech also trainer, but a lady came in the other day with her 8 month old wild lab. She also had 2 wild young girls. After talking to her for a bit I found out that the dog came from working stock! Well thats your first problem!
        You can compare dogs to maybe 3 yr olds. They need punishment, whether it be to stop walking because they are being obnoxious, or put in a down stay to rewind their brain. Praise for jobs well done. But never walking all over you whenever they want! I see that far too often. Dogs that won’t get on scales, and you can tell they never make their dog follow through with the way the dog is acting.
        The new trend is medications to calm the dog. When they havent even tried more exercise or training of any kind.
        A tired dog is still always a good dog in my mind.
        And about vets quicking dogs, its a mistake most times and it happens. I have done it rarely to my own dogs from time to time.
        And most dogs that go to the vet for nail trims and trying to eat the staff and we don’t have time to give treats and wait 30 minutes for the dog to realize its just a nail trim. If you don’t want your dog hurt, accidentally or not learn how to trim nails yourself! Thats why my dogs will never visit a groomer unless I am right there with them.
        All dogs need different training. Im not a hitter or choker. But if I say sit I mean sit. Not sit when you want or just don’t do it at all.
        I use electronic collars for off leash work and my fence jumper (which cured the problem).
        I don’t pin my dogs or scruff them.
        I don’t believe one training is acceptable for all dogs. I think this article highlighted alot of great ideas. And hurting dogs is not how you train them.

    • Nikki says:

      Actually dominance is about controlling resources. That is the proper terminology. We, because of our lovely thumbs, have this without a doubt. Anything more is a arbitrary rationalization of positive punishment and negative reinforcement. For which there is never a need. Trust is earned through respect. And respect goes both ways. You cannot punish a dog and expect them to trust that punishment is not going to come again without warning. Dogs don’t know when they are doing something we consider wrong. They only know the consequences. It’s up to us to teach them that what we want and make what we don’t want necessary, not put them down when they make a mistake and do what comes naturally.

    • Jenny says:

      Nathalie .. I could not agree with you more. Balance in all things and it is impossible to generalize a training tool that works on all dogs. A dog needs a leader and small steps like going through the door first, eating your food without the dog feeling he can interrupt you by begging etc etc tells the dog very clearly who is in charge, something all dogs need. You have a happier animal who is eager to please and be trained, no forced discipline is usually necessary .. it is the natural order of things.

    • MatthewC says:

      Nathalie, sounds like you try and be a good caretaker for you dog, use gentle methods and such.

      however, what you describe you are doing is not what dominance or more correctly “Social Dominance” is about.

      Your post perfectly illustrates one of many problems with the whole “dominance” concept in dog training.

      The problem your post illustrates is that EVERYONE has their own definition of what “dominance” means. And as typically used by many in the dog world, there is no such thing as “dominance”. it ends up being a made up definition to try and stuffy your personal training views into one word that is meant to explain why your training methods work. why your dog does whatever it happens to be doing at the moment. why training failed etc, etc.

      And since “everyone” basically has their own definition, the concept becomes completely useless. If for example, you are talking to another dog owner and you say “I use dominance to train my dog”, and the other person says “so do I”. and nothing else is said, how can you be 100% sure your both on the same page. you may mean you use dominance in the gentle terms you describe above, but the other person may not. Rather they use the objectionable methods Nicole’s blog is talking against. you both walk away feeling on the same page, but the other person is now validated in using harsh methods and may continue on that path.

      There is absolutely a valid concept known as Social Dominance, but has little if anything to do with the human dog relationship, training or explaining why our dogs do what they do in most cases.

      For anyone wanting to learn what Social Dominance is really about, I would strongly encourage looking the following article. “The Concept and Definition of Dominance in Animal Behaviour by Carlos Drews, 1993)

  25. Thank you for a wonderful article. I long for the day that humane training is the ONLY way considered. It already is for many… I loved the statement about it’s not just for “easy” dogs…if I had a nickel for every… well you get the idea. Keep up the good work, let’s spread the word!!!

  26. Mel says:

    I hope for a day when you don’t have to say this again and again and again. It’s coming, but not soon enough for me. Sharing this one Nicole.

    • Nikki says:

      I feel ya. I look forward to the day someone doesn’t say something about dominance when my dog decides another smells sexy.

  27. Kim Baker says:

    Interesting reading. I have to say that although I cannot speak for every veterinary clinic, I have worked as a veterinary nurse for 16 years and have NEVER treated a patient in the way that is described above. In our line of work we do have to restrain animals for things such as blood collection, IV catheter placement, xrays, etc. The methods used in places that I have worked are not designed to intimidate our patients but are necessary for us to do our job. There is no procedure that I wouldn’t be happy to demonstrate in front of the owner.
    Veterinary staff are work in this type of job because we love animals.. I find it offensive that we are categorised this way when you state that it is a common occurrence within vet clinics.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Kim,
      Having been on a veterinary staff myself and having many vet tech friends, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that harsh handling methods are used commonly within vet clinics. But unfortunately, there are countless stories out there (a few of which have been shared in the comments here) about dogs being roughly handled by vets who still have that old dominance philosophy firmly intact. I’ve seen and heard about it around here where I live way too often. I love that your clinic would never intimidate dogs in order to do your job, and I hope things turn around so that we don’t have to keep hearing stories about the ones who are not as enlightened.
      Take care,
      Nicole

  28. julie says:

    when I ask my dogs to sit and stay I mean it. When I ask my children to sit and stay I mean it. I am quite a dominant person. I do not hit my dogs or hold them down and I have never done this with my children. They just know that when I ask they do. My children and my dogs respect me and love me as much as I love them. I would kill for all of them.

    • Evelyn Haskins says:

      Lucky you! :-)

      When I had my first baby, people used to congratulate me o my mothering :-) And i was happy to take all the credit for her good behaviour. I simply “did not tolerate” bad behaviour.

      And then I got my come-uppance. I had my son. All my beautiful mothering skill were useless. He was (and still is 45 years later) a tear-away. And THEN I had Cranky-Pants. My second daughter. Different problems, but problems never-the-less.

      When I got Surprise Number Four — my second son, he was another perfect baby like his eldest sister, and people once again began congratualting me on my mothering skills.

      No, I told them — he’s my reward for managing to survive the middle two.

      So do I take credit for my well-behaved dogs? Yes, up to a point — which is that I chose breeds that suit me, and puppies that naturally seek social contact ;-)

  29. Marie Kerchner says:

    There is no one size fits all m.ethod of dog training. There are hard dogs who require hard training. There are soft dogs who would do not need it. There are many dogs put down because the wrong training method was used and the dog’s problems with humans were not addressed. I think you create as many problems by claiming hard methods should never be used as are created by using too much force. Actually I saw the Kohler method used for a lot of years and never saw any dog ruined by the correct application of his methods. I don’t think the newer methods are any more effective. Positive reinforcement always has been an excellent method of teaching a new behaviour but not nearly as effective in breaking a bad habit.

  30. manda says:

    Excellent article. I’ve never needed to do the dominance thing with either of my dogs. When I first adopted them, one of them had real issues letting me trim his nails and was extremely clipper aggressive, but instead of forcing him, I just worked up to it a bit at a time, rewarding him for letting me play with his feet, then rewarding him for letting me touch his foot with the clippers and so on. It’s less stressful for him and me. Yes, it took longer, but both of us are happier. My vet is very good and even though my dogs have both had traumatic experiences because of injuries, they still get excited going to see the vet because she always gives them a treat if they are good boys and let her examine them.

    Thanks again for a great article.

  31. Eileen says:

    Thank you for such a well written article. I always love to have something more to refer to when having “the discussion” with uneducated people.

    I work for a pet resort that has dominance in the water. Unfortunately, economics is keeping me there, but I do try to educate without losing my job. The other day a puppy snapped at a groomer while being restrained for a nail trim. The groomer grabbed the dog’s throat and screamed in his face. After all the usual discussion of what a bad, dominant puppy he was, I said, “So do you think he is going to like nail trims NOW?”

  32. TheresaMC says:

    Reblogged this on Rescued Mutts.

  33. wildewmn says:

    Since a few of you have mentioned The Monks of New Skete, I wanted to share this information from an excellent article by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal:

    “Fast-forward several years to 1978 and the emergence of the Monks of New Skete as the new model for dog training, asserting a philosophy that “understanding is the key to communication, compassion, and communion” with your dog. Sounds great, yes? The Monks were considered cutting edge at the time – but contrary to their benevolent image, they were in fact responsible for the widespread popularization of the “Alpha-Wolf Roll-Over” (now shortened to the alpha roll). Reviewing the early observations of captive wolves, the Monks concluded that the alpha roll is a useful tool for demonstrating one’s authority over a dog. Unfortunately, this is a complete and utter misinterpretation of the submissive roll-over that is voluntarily offered by less assertive dogs, not forcibly commanded by stronger ones.

    The Monks also advocated the frequent use of other physical punishments such as the scruff shake (grab both sides of the dog’s face and shake, lifting the dog off the ground) and cuffing under the dog’s chin with an open hand several times, hard enough to cause the dog to yelp.” (If you’d like to read the article in its entirety, go to http://bit.ly/17mIOeC)

    Job Michael Evans, the monk who popularized the “alpha roll” later recanted and said he wished he’d never written about it, and that he felt it had led to widespread abuse.

    To anyone who persists in saying that some dogs need to be handled this way because they’re especially difficult, dominant, etc., I will persist in saying that the more you know and the more training and behavior modification options you have, the more effectively you can train ANY dog without resorting to alpha rolls, scruff shakes, or other strong-arm methods.

  34. wildewmn says:

    Thank you to all of you for your kind words about this article. I realize that for some it’s a bit of a hot-button topic, but the word needs to get out and things need to change. And thanks to the many of you who indicated that you’re sharing the article online, and with clients and others.

  35. Peggy says:

    I like your article. I get it. But nowhere in the article do you give alternative advice–you only say what not to do, which for some of us is common sense, but you give no examples of replacement training methods. Just sayin’…

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Peggy, thanks, and good point. That’s probably because I’ve been writing about training methods for the last few years on this blog. Stay tuned, as there will surely be more to come! :)

  36. lisatenzindolma says:

    Well said, Nicole!

  37. DogMom says:

    I had a veterinarian hit my 6 month old shep/lab pup in the face after he had given him a shot. My Jerry Lee was so afraid prior to getting the shot… the vet cornered him in the room to vaccinate him (or should I say “overvaccinate him”.. that’s another issue) and was so frustrated from Jerry Lee being afraid, that after the shot was administered, the vet hit Jerry Lee in the face! Freaking piece of shit! My Jerry had fear in him the rest of his life when anyone put their hands towards his head. I hope Karma repays this worthless vet.

  38. We are all reinforced by what we do with dogs because it works for us, which conversely means we can never tell another trainer that “that won’t work” because it does. The key is to get to the true aspect of what it is that IS working. That requires first a definition of desired outcome in terms of behavior and in terms of philosophy behind it (such as means vs ends). That is much easier said than done. Then there is the need to better define all terms, such as “training” and “dominance” and “aggression,” the jargon of our business. In academic circles of any discipline, these things are hotly debated and altered over time, which is annoying, but which is also just the way theories are developed. Sometimes we forget that we may be doing the same thing (dominating, leading, guiding, parenting) using similar or same approaches but calling it something different, while other times we are doing different things, such as alpha rolling vs. controlling resources and call it the same thing – dominance. Without definition of terms generally understood and without descriptions of our actions and dog’s responses, we might as well be speaking different languages.

    If a client or co-worker says a dog is nervous we are a) assuming a state of the dog’s mind, and b) relying on the judgement of the person making that determination. If they instead describe what the dog looked like we can assess for ourselves. Similarly, we have to describe our training clearly so that others can decide what in fact was taking place. One poster did that pretty well, the one who said there was a rescue dog, think it was a Shepherd, that was aggressive until the vet pinned her down and then she was calm and submissive and allowed handling, treatment and affection from him, he came pretty close to describing a situation without using jargon while putting a picture in our minds, except we do not know any specifics of how the dog was man-handled into that pinned position. He did say that the dog was held until it was calm. He did not only say the dog was fine afterwards, but described what fine meant (calm, allowing handling, etc.) which are terms that, with a tiny bit more tweaking, could be really, really clear that she wasn’t submitting because her personal physical safety was at issue (fear) but because she had needed a limit, a slap in the face so-to-speak, in order to assess what behavior was needed in this situation and was then actually comforted by the letting go of control.

    I am a very “positive” trainer, and yet I have done this pin/hold to help a dog get composure (or whatever, I’m just assuming) and seen other handlers do it as well. That does NOT mean that pinning is a great method, but rather that, with certain variables, pinning CAN have that outcome. The question is what are those variables? What about when we have guessed wrong and it’s the wrong approach for that situation? What if this is one of those times where the dog will be calmer if they feel more in control of the situation? What if “pinning to gain control” is the only way we know how to gain control? What if “control” is our ultimate, philosophical raison-de-etre as a dog trainer and we didn’t even know it, can’t admit it?

    I have been at this for 25 years and have switched from a choke and jerk + lure reward method to mostly clicker, however almost all that I learned about how to set limits and develop a good relationship with a dog has come post jumping into the clicker pool. When I used corrections as part of the method and dominance as the reason to train (in the 80’s) I did not ask questions of myself for the dog’s misbehavior, I simply corrected it, followed through, and was more competent than the average person (and loved it) and did well with all but the most aggressive or clinically symptomatic dogs (like sep anxiety, real resource guarding, coprophagia, etc.). Clicker training opened me up to the brilliant minds that the dogs have, that they are bringing so much to the training equation that I never realized, never gave credence to and now i do. But I was left with undisciplined dogs (and I had a daycare full at the time)! So I had to learn how to provide info that I was competent to call the shots without demeaning the dog and without assuming the dog “knew better” and deserved a punishment. I now teach those things to my students and they find them more helpful than teaching commands! (always have the upper hand and always follow through with management, body blocking and a trained-in “settle” hold). I call it parenting, not dominating, again, that’s just words. It helps owners set limits and control access to resources, SAME AS ONE NEEDS TO DO WITH KIDS (even though with kids we do it with other skills), thus it makes us leaders, or at least leaders when it matters, which comes down to respect.

    For those who feel dog deserves a correction when it fails to comply with known command, I say this: That dog needs more motivation one way or the other. One way is to re-create the dog’s decision-making moment in a training session and then correct them at the right moment (+P or -R or whatever). Another way is to re-create the situation at a slightly lower/easier criteria level, heavily reward the correct decision (managing carefully against self-rewarding/ignoring) and raise the criteria over time. Either way, the real trainer’s way is to go back and re-teach by giving info (correction or reward) at the right moment. It does not matter what your philosophy is if you are setting reachable goals, making a plan for changing criteria, accepting responsibility for the dog’s shortcomings (by changing your plan) and giving the right information at the right moment. That is why there are some pretty decent e-collar trainers out there. On the other hand, the “bad” trainers way is to simply set the dog up for failure and keep correcting (with ever worsening corrections) or letting it go and complaining over time or to blame the dog and not the training. That is why there are some pretty awful weenie-slingers out there as well as some pretty nasty, mean folks at the end of a choke collar to e-collar.

    I take Nicole’s meaning about dominance to be that of having to be in control as an end in itself, as an “I’m the army sergeant and you will ask how high when I say jump, no questions asked.” That DOES work for some people and some dogs, but there is fallout even with those highly-skilled military men and trainers leading their packs. That philosophical approach is out of date and was never very well-grounded in science anyway. That does not mean that discipline goes out the window, merely that getting angry with the dog and ramping up the punishment as legitimate training does. On that note, Cesar is great at setting these limits and is getting much better at doing it for behavioral reasons rather than for control, but he still puts himself at odds with dogs who he does not need to push into that arena. Bill Koehler’s methods are like being in the military. If you are good at applying them consistently without emotion and the dog is not clinically a behavior case (again, anxieties, fears, etc.) then the outcome will generally be fine. I was surprised when I read Konrad Most’s book to find how much he came from the heart despite his methods. The heart part got lost when Koehler interpreted it, in my opinion. For those who say hard dogs need hard methods, I can only say that you are totally wrong. I know that sounds harsh, but as Nicole has said here, she has accomplished behavior modification using non-harsh methods and I know of many, many others who have done so with aggression, anxieties, etc. You can no longer say some dogs just need that, you can only say that it works for you….you do not know what else might work with that dog. But it wouldn’t work for YOU with that dog because you are a novice at that method. And, as a pet dog trainer, my question always has to be: Will it work for that OWNER and that dog.

    Summary: Need to define desired outcome, philosophical rationale, actual application of methods and actual outcome, THEN we can discuss. Need to understand that what words are not informative if definitions aren’t solidified. Need to know that what we DO may be the same, though we name it differently. While what we name the same we may DO differently. Need to remember that what we do works works for us, but others have different approaches (and we really haven’t yet defined “works”). Need to not abuse dogs due to our lack of understanding them and training. Need to not have appearance of respect, but really due to fear of us as, in any way, shape or form meaning “good” training.

    Are they removing me from the room with a shepherd’s crook at this point…………….exit stage left……….

  39. wildewmn says:

    Thank you Marilyn, for your well thought out reply. Although we don’t agree on everything, what you have said here is so spot on: “You can no longer say some dogs just need that, you can only say that it works for you….you do not know what else might work with that dog. But it wouldn’t work for YOU with that dog because you are a novice at that method. And, as a pet dog trainer, my question always has to be: Will it work for that OWNER and that dog.” And this as well: “That does not mean that discipline goes out the window, merely that getting angry with the dog and ramping up the punishment as legitimate training does.”

    And I for one would not be one removing you with the shepherd’s crook! ;)

  40. Chris says:

    I love your article. More people need to be talking about the misuse of dominance theory in dog training and educating the public about this important issue. However, I respectfully disagree with your statement, “And there are some who truly do have what would be described as a dominant type of temperament.” By definition, dominance is not a personality trait.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thank you, Chris. And thank you for catching that. You are correct that dominance is not a personality (or temperament) trait. It really should have said pushy, or non-biddable, or something of the sort.

      • Evelyn Haskins says:

        I have been pondering the question of just what it is in a dog that makes peope describe it as ‘dominant’.

        It might definitely be the wrong word, but I believe that it is a true personality trait.

        Generally it seems to apply to a confident dog that is not dependent on human social rewards or even really acceptance. The sort of dog that looks at you and says. “You and Who’s Army?” or just shrugs and says, “Yeah, Whatever!” and proceeds to do its own thing.

        I do not see it as equating in any way to aggressive behaviour.

  41. Amy G says:

    I just wanted to say I love your article and your wolves are absolutely gorgeous.

  42. Shoe says:

    I work with and train gorillas. The male is a VERY dominant force. The old school methods of showing the animals who is boss by negative means created animals who did what was asked of them, but were extremely resentful and often angry. On the other hand, positive reinforcement methods create animals who are happy to do almost anything for you. It also translates into the animals who are not threatened by new things and are confident and content. They know the rules and know when they will get rewarded. You have to be patient and consistent. We’ve been able to give our 500 lb silverback injections. Zookeepers have trained their gorillas to sit still for cardiac or maternal ultrasounds. All through positive methods and relationship building. This advanced training is just not possible through negative means. We don’t go in with our gorillas so we need them to trust us and volunteer to do what is needed to take the best care of them. I’ve been surprised so many times by what these animals will allow us to do all out of trust. Yes, primates are different than dogs, but these methods are used throughout the zoo and work for almost any species of animal, including wolves and even Komodo dragons. Its really very fun when they begin to understand and work with you. Just food for thought.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Shoe. I often wonder how people whose training methods rely on strong-arming dogs would go about training a wolf, or a gorilla, or a killer whale. When you’re suddenly not physically stronger, you HAVE to use your brain and your skills to figure out a better way. Although zoo animals are different than dogs, gentle, scientifically sound training methods work for both.

  43. Rebecca Rice says:

    I think, aside from the discussion of what exactly people mean when they talk about “dominance training”, that the other point of the article was to challenge the entire mindset that everything a dog does is based on “wanting to move up in rank” and “be in charge”. Does my 10-pound dog jump up on me when I come home? Yes, she does. Does she charge out the door in front of me sometimes? Yes, she does. Is this a sign of a dog who wants to challenge me for leadership? Absolutely not. It’s a sign of a dog who is delighted that her favorite person is home, because she REALLY needs to go out and pee, thanks! So I model what I do about the situation based on my understanding that this isn’t a sign that she’s about to go hire the doberman down the road to take me out one day so that she can rule the roost. (Do I contribute to the jumping problem by reinforcing it by bending over when she does that? Absolutely. Would I let my 65-pound greyhound get away with doing that? Absolutely not. However, the greyhound doesn’t need to do it in order to get her head at my hand level, and little Pixie does. So I let her do it, briefly, so that we can say hi. I am, however, working on the door charging, since that could be a safety issue if I ever move or take her some place without a fenced yard.) If, however, I subscribed to the dominance theory mindset, I would have to react very differently to those perceived signs of challenge. Even if the behavior was coming from a 9-week-old pup, instead of an adult dog, because that’s what my belief system would require in order to “ensure the puppy grows up to be a dog that knows its place”.

    • Rebecca Rice says:

      Because I think sometimes pictures do a lot more than words, I am going to link to a video of a dog that is being taught a force retrieve and one that is being taught a positive reinforcement retrieve. This isn’t so much to discuss the methods, as it is the view of the trainer. In the force retrieve, the view is that the dog is going to learn what you want, do it perfectly, and what the dog wants is entirely immaterial. (I’ll admit, watching these videos is hard on me, especially if you can read a dog’s stress signals.) But, to a certain extent, I can see why a trainer that uses this method does what they do. In this video, the dog has been trained on a force table, on which the trainer says he does very well. Now they are transitioning to outside, and an e-collar, and all that training is out the window. So what do you do? Increase the “pressure”, so the dog learns that it HAS to do what you want, even with the higher distractions. It’s the only way, if you follow this belief system, to make sure that the dog is going to be reliable and perform they way you need it to. His last line pretty much sums up the approach: He thinks he should be doing what he wants to do. We’re telling him that’s not the way it is. http://youtu.be/wjRNIf9yMEo

      Contrast that to this video from Kikopup: http://youtu.be/8KhMiQMahYw From something she says, it sounds like this is the first session of teaching retrieve to this dog (as opposed to the weeks on the table that the previous dog went through). The emphasis is on working WITH the dog, not forcing the dog to do something. The dog is happy, eager, and fast to learn what works.

      And yet, I am pretty sure that if I were to show that video to the first trainer, their response would be “that’s ok for some things… but I need a dog who is 100% reliable, not one who can CHOOSE whether they want to do something or not” and stick with their method. Which seems to tie in to my previous post… if you think that your dog is always plotting on how to be “alpha”, of course the first thing you are going think is that a dog, given a choice to do something for you or not do it, is going to choose not to. Because, after all, the dog wants to be dominant over you, and what better way to show it? And, in that first video, I am pretty sure that the trainer is probably thinking that the dog is just being stubborn and defiant, i.e. dominant.

      (If you are, as I am, sometimes fascinated by this, much like slowing down at accidents, take a look at his other videos on starting the force fetch on the table. There he’s using very young, very soft dogs, and doesn’t do anything to make them associate retrieving with being fun or enjoyable. Frankly, after watching several of these videos, I am amazed that there are any gun dogs that actually appear to like doing what they have been bred to do!)

  44. wildewmn says:

    Rebecca, thank you for further clarifying the main point of this article. You have put your finger on it. :)

  45. Bronwyn Montesi says:

    I’m sorry, you had me reading and listening up to the stage I read “I’ve worked effectively with severely people-aggressive dogs (including dogs who multiply puncture wounded multiple people) for many years”.

    Why in ‘all the Gods in the universe’ would someone have been allowed to keep a dog who had bitten multiple people????? You’re kidding me – right??

    So if this was my neighbours dog, I should just hope that it ‘eventually’ gets trained correctly and not bite more people whilst thus process occurs???

    • Arlene says:

      This was not said nor put forward. Perhaps people whose dog had bitten many membors of a family and wanted to still keep the dog wanted the behaviour addressed.

    • wildewmn says:

      Bronwyn, although this isn’t the focus of the post I wanted to answer, because I see your point. Think of it this way. You raise a dog from a puppy. You love the dog very much. At a few years old, he develops aggression issues. He ends up biting more than one person. You hire a trainer, but the trainer’s methods seem to make it worse. I give you this scenario because it’s one I’ve heard numerous times. So what do you do with this dog whom you love so much? You could manage the situation, meaning you are extremely careful not to allow him contact with anyone, while still providing him with a good quality of life. You can euthanize him, which most owners would only consider as a last resort. Or, you could work with a trainer to modify his behavior. Any trainer who handles aggression cases and who has been in business long enough will come across dogs like this. It’s true that there is a line where a dog is so dangerous that it’s beyond the point of training (I’m talking mauling a child, etc.); that dog should be euthanized. But in many cases, a lot of progress can be made so long as people are motivated and follow through. It’s much easier to judge something like this when you’re not emotionally involved.

  46. Evelyn Haskins says:

    “The husband (sorry, guys, but it is usually the man) uses physical force to intimidate the dog. The dog submits and the problem ends—at least when the husband’s around. The dog then begins to behave even more poorly around the wife, or the kids.”

    This is a scenario which far too familiar to me :-(

    Usually the wife is also cowed by the husband. The husband happily denounces the female trainer as not knowing what she’s talking about, and makes the wife afraid to even try to follow the trainer’s advice.

    I used to wish I could refer the couple on to a marriage Guidance Councellor.

  47. Eileen says:

    I have a fantasy, it is a when I win the lottery fantasy. I would love to fund a study in which trainers who use aversive, dominant theory training methods, go through a course with a highly skilled R+ trainer. They don’t have to like what they are learning, they don’t have to want to change how they train (in fact, the more resistant to changing the better) they only have to be willing to train, while in the course, exactly as they are being told. It would be all mechanics. Give them dogs they dub “dominant” and difficult to train. The training would be highly controlled of course, the subjects would not be able to use any of “their” methods, only do exactly as the instructor says, and of course the dogs wouldn’t go home with them.

    What I would like to see is how many of the subjects change their view, or more importantly, are willing to admit their view has changed. I wonder if trainers have so much vested in their methods, and have been reinforced for them for so long, that they will never change no matter what evidence is put before them, or if maybe some would say, hmmm, maybe there is something to this. I know there are many cross over trainers out there, I just wonder what the difference is between them and the ones who aren’t.

    I’m no scientist and couldn’t run a scientific study if my life depended on it, but maybe someone out there is.

  48. […] Yup, you'll find vets know medicine, but often do not know much about behavior or training. You are going to find some of the members here are professional dog trainers/behaviorists (not me though… I'm a novice) and they all know far more about how to deal with behavior issues than most vets. Its hard not to listen to voices of authority whom we respect, but as you learn more, you'll be able to distinguish good and bad advice better. Here is an interesting post. […]

  49. Irrespective of whether the “Cesar Milan” school of dog training works or not, comparing babies and dogs is inherently misleading: They are different beasts and there is no guarantee that the reactions to and consequences from the actions of a trainer/parent/whatnot will be the same—or even remotely similar. As a consequence, it is also dubious to judge right and wrong from an ethical perspective based on what would apply to another species.

    Of course, a particular treatment of dogs can still be very wrong—but the argument for this must base on the standards a dog would apply. (I stretch the meaning of “apply” considerably, but my intent should be clear.)

  50. I am so happy to see this article. As a trainer in Central Texas I get lots of flack from those that prescribe to the dominate the dog no matter what theory. I have actually been told that it is almost creepy the silence I use and the dog listen but better yet we both respect one another. My comment to folks who say –well my trainer said to hold the dog down, choke the dog with a choker collar etc. I say to them–that was not a trainer but an abuser. Again –so good with words your articles are — keep them coming.

  51. Lindsayface47 says:

    The most I have ever “manhandled” my very strong willed Anatolian Shepherd is when I lightly tug on his collar for a redirect.

    We got him when I was ten, and when I was eleven, I got sick. He became extremely defensive of me around other dogs. He would never bite or be aggressive towards them, but he would push me away and refuse to let them near me, with the exception of our black lab. Recently, I’ve been working on being more of a dominant figure to him, so he doesn’t have to worry about protecting me so fiercely anymore. I’ve been using a combination of NILIF and positive reinforcement. He’s never responded to my commands so quickly or so excitedly. I’ve always been “his kid,” but now, I’m his adult kid who can take care of us both. I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made so far, but there’s still a long way to go. He’s apathetic to my best friend’s female pomeranian, and is perfectly fine with leashed female dogs. Next, on to being okay with male dogs! I’ve learned that mostly it’s about showing him that the other dog is not a threat he needs to worry about. He’s been much calmer and happier since we began, likely because the stress of having to protect me so thoroughly has been alleviated. I only wish I’d began this years ago.

  52. Me says:

    I haven’t heard ANY of the advocates for “dominance” training use the term dominance correctly YET. Ironic that they claim it works for them but they don’t even seem to know what social dominance actually is. I’m guessing they also don’t know what response depression means either, even though that seems to be the desired end goal.

  53. Paul Todd says:

    Just share this blog with my favorite Great Pyrenees forum. I am currently owned by two of them, (along with a few other dogs) and the Pyrenees breed really epitomizes the subject at hand. They just really don’t respond well to being handled with a heavy hand.

  54. Paul says:

    I still find holding them by the scruff of the neck, at the back where Mother picks them up as a puppy to carry them, (not suspending them like Mother did of course!!) works really well to calm them for an injection or eardrops etc, doesn’t have to be heavy handed, accompanied with soothing calm conversation, works really well

  55. Great article and I agree with it wholeheartedly…… BUT, I would have been nice to include recommendations for proper techniques instead or in addition to outlined the bed/outdated methods. You told readers what NOT to do without telling them what TO do?!?!?! That does nothing to provide an end to the problem. There they still
    sit with their “hammer” and nothing else…….

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi April, it’s impossible to recommend techniques without it being in response to a specific situation. My books however do have extensive recommendations. (www.nicolewilde.com)

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