The Best Dog Training Secret

In this week’s trainer tales Renée Erdman reveals one simple dog training secret

By Renée Erdman

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Despite what you may have heard, it’s just this simple: dogs do what works. There is no ulterior motive of “dominating” you when your dog jumps on the couch or bed. They simply either enjoy being on the nice, soft furniture that smells like you, or they want to be close to you. It’s time the “alpha dog” theory is put to rest for good. It’s doing our dogs—and the families that love them—a huge disservice.

“But I thought I had to be the pack leader in order for my dog to be balanced, happy and well behaved?”

Wrong.

The top veterinary behaviorists and trainers have spoken out, but in our “Dog Whisperer” world, are we listening? Dr. Ian Dunbar, one of the most well-known and respected veterinary behaviorists, says, “Notions of a “dominance hierarchy” with an “alpha wolf” being the all-powerful, supreme leader are simply incorrect. Such a muddled and simplistic view is a bit of an insult to the wolves’ most complex and sophisticated social system. This is not the way that wolves live together. Wolves live together in large groups based on family units — in fact, not that much different than the way large groups of humans live together.”

“So does it matter if my dog goes out the door before me? What if I don’t want him/her to do something: should they just be able to do whatever they want?”

No!
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Within your household you must determine what is rude and polite. If you would like your dog to be invited to join you on the couch instead of barreling on top of you, or you prefer they don’t barge into the street from the front door–that is perfectly logical. Setting up guidelines and structure within your household with a consistent routine is something that dogs can benefit from. And how do we do this? We use humane, reinforcement-based training techniques from qualified trainers. We don’t dominate them, intimidate or force them. This breaks down human-dog relationships and destroys dogs’ confidence, health and spirit.

I recently met with a client who was so relieved to hear that she could allow her dog to join her on the couch or bed and still make behavior improvements. She breathed a huge sigh of relief! I was happy to inform her that what she had seen on television was in fact incorrect.

“But I thought dogs were pack animals?”

Nope.

Studies of free-ranging street dogs in Romania, sub-Saharan Africa, South America, India, Mexico, on the Cook Islands, Hawaii, Bangkok and Moscow determined that while dogs briefly interact with each other and may be drawn together when food or resources are present, they then go on their merry ways, separately. They aren’t forming packs. So while wolves form packs, dogs do not.

“A trainer told me my dog is dominant due to his constant jumping up.”

Incorrect information.

Dogs do what works. If they keep jumping up, it’s because they are being reinforced for their behavior, meaning you are speaking to them, touching them and interacting with them. Simply put, they are getting attention for what they’re doing, whether it’s good or bad! They aren’t scheming to rise in a so-called household hierarchy. Dominance is a reference describing BEHAVIOR, it is not a personality trait. Dogs display dominant behavior with other dogs and in turn display dismissive behavior. Your dog may be more bold or shy or a mixture of the two, but either way, we need to start using the correct terms.

Determining the motivation of our dogs’ behavior is the key to making lasting change. We must educate ourselves on why dogs do what they do before we slap a label on them that will only set them up for future failure. It’s time we turn the mirror around and examine what it is we need to be doing differently in order for our dogs to succeed.