Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Dominance training" is silly

I've recently come to the conclusion that the entire idea of "dominance training" is silly.  Now, mind you, I'm not talking about the type of folks who alpha roll their dogs or who use harsh physical punishments to "teach them their place."  Those folks are whole different kettle of fish.  I'm talking about people who feel the need to somehow demonstrate to their dog that they're the boss, the alpha, the top dog, the dog about town, or what have you, usually by doing something they would feel utterly embarrassed to be caught at.

Here's a pretty simple one straight out of Jan Fennell's The Dog Listener:

By ensuring they eat first at meal times, the Alpha pair signal in unequivocal terms that they are the leaders. By giving their leaders first refusal at every meal time, the rest of the pack are acknowledging that they instinctively understand this. Even if there is only enough food for two wolves, the pack will expect the Alpha pair to eat it all to ensure the survival of the pack.

Gesture eating is my way of demonstrating the owner's primacy at feeding time.

The basic gist is that you pretend you're eating something, even part of their own food if necessary, to show them that you can eat first, to show them that the "alpha pair" always eat first.  Try this with your dog sometime and see how silly you feel pretending to eat something to prove something so abstract to a dog who is probably sitting there thinking nothing more than "mmmm food."

Here's another fantastic suggestion from someone commenting on a "tip" about resource guarding.

For example. If my dog is not sharing the food dish i do not “alpha roll” him or put him into the submissive position. I get down on “all fours” and place my head over the top of his, so that my [sic] he is looking at my neck. And then i proceed to back him away from the dish, allowing the other dog to eat.

Now do me a favor and really think about this for a moment.  Let's forget for a second that if a dog has a real resource guarding problem this is sure to result in your getting bit, likely in that neck that the dog is looking at (a place on your body that could result in your getting severely injured, or even killed, and will most certainly end with the death of the dog).  But think about getting down on all fours and pretending you're a dog to somehow "dominate" your dog away from his food.  How silly would you feel if someone came into the room while you were doing that?  I know I'd feel ridiculous even if no one was around to watch.  And I'm pretty sure I'd get laughed at by anyone with any sort of training background.

Other suggestions I have seen range from the misunderstood (playing tug with your dog is not about competition and if the toy ends up with the dog and not you, it doesn't mean he has "won") to the ridiculous (a dog getting on the furniture does not mean he thinks he's the "alpha") to the downright creepy (one trainer suggested humping your dog to show that you're the dominant one).

I'm not really sure how people can believe such silliness.  So have you ever read anything that just made you scratch your head or giggle?  Let's hear it!


  1. I love the furniture rule. People spending inordinate amounts of time keeping the dog off the couch, spying to see if the dog is "breaking the rules" when the owner isn't around, "booby-trapping" the couch with things... it goes on and on. I GUESS I can understand it if you have a really nice couch... but seriously? Who gets good furniture if you own animals?

  2. The furniture one always cracks me up. How do people come to the conclusion that dog on couch = dominant dog oh no! My conclusion is "comfy spot." I'm pretty sure Dahlia tries to beat me to my recliner because she thinks it's as comfy as I do.

    I know I didn't get really good furniture. Dog hair and wet dogs go much better with old Rescue Mission furniture than anything new and fancy! And I prefer it that way.

  3. 'one trainer suggested humping your dog to show that you're the dominant one'

    ...What. No, seriously, what? That's beyond strange - that's just plain insane! Jeeeeez.

    The amount of times I've let my dogs win at tug of war is staggering: I'm surprised I'm not being rugby tackled every time I start preparing their food (since, obviously, I'm now at the bottom of the ~human pack~). Jess in particular loves to win at the end of a really rousing game of tug; she prances around, growling to herself, tail up and wagging, and just generally acting more goofy than she ever does. I guess that's her being dominant though, right!

    As well as the obvious implications of crawling on all fours to 'dominate' your dog away from its food (even the most tolerant dog isn't going to be impressed if this happens every day), the pretending-to-eat-dog's-food thing would, I expect, have the drawback of making your dog beg even more when *you* are eating (since they are used to them getting to eat from the same space as you, and what is the difference between a dog bowl and a ceramic bowl?).

    It's just crazy stuff though really. Whenever anyone I know personally starts rambling about how 'dominant' their dog is, I've just learned to ignore them. It's usually a personality type that believes these things - people who have to control everything (including another living being's mind and body, apparently). Gah.

  4. I sometimes think those who feel the need to be dominant and control every move their dog makes are people who don't have control over the rest of their lives. I find when you challenge them at all they get utterly nasty. It's a strange world out there!

    I wish I could remember the trainer who recommended basically humping your dog (there's a joke about it in the movie K9 too I think!).

    Dahlia and I play tug a lot. In fact, I was sure that she should fetch and I tried to get her to fetch for over a year before I realized how much she loved tug. Now we play it all the time and it's become one of the things that's hugely rewarding to her. I use tug in agility class to amp her up and to reward her for doing the right thing. Tug is an awesome game!

  5. The strangest one I've ever heard is that dogs shouldn't be scratched on the chest because it feels like they're humping you and then they'll think they're dominant.

  6. Oh wow. That's the first I've ever heard of that one! Where on earth do people come up with these things?

  7. "I sometimes think those who feel the need to be dominant and control every move their dog makes are people who don't have control over the rest of their lives."

    As someone who used to buy into this kind of crap and who still struggles with it on occasion... this is very true. You desperately need control over SOMETHING, anything, and most dogs handle that kind of abuse with what seems like groveling deference, so the cycle perpetuates. If I had a dog that took a chunk out of me instead of rolling over, I would have come to my senses earlier, I think.