Dominance/Alpha theory debunked by university study - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 31 Old 06-04-2009, 01:48 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Using 'Dominance' To Explain Dog Behavior Is Old Hat

ScienceDaily (May 25, 2009) — A new study shows how the behaviour of dogs has been misunderstood for generations: in fact using misplaced ideas about dog behaviour and training is likely to cause rather than cure unwanted behaviour. The findings challenge many of the dominance related interpretations of behaviour and training techniques suggested by current TV dog trainers.

Contrary to popular belief, aggressive dogs are NOT trying to assert their dominance over their canine or human “pack”, according to research published by academics at the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0521112711.htm

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#2 of 31 Old 06-04-2009, 08:51 AM
 
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I pray for the day Family Court recognizes that CHILDREN have rights, parents only have PRIVILEGES.  Only then, will I know my child is safe.
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#3 of 31 Old 06-04-2009, 12:14 PM
 
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There are multiple threads discussing how dominance theory is outdated..glad to see a big article on it. I worked for a place that trained using dominance theory as the basis so I was pretty indoctrinated into it. Before getting my new pup, I started researching like I did for everything else and discovered how outdated it was. And the trainers I worked with are good people, love their dogs, and dont beat them or anything drastic like that, but are working based off a incorrect assumption.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the positive training because of my past. I read Bones Would Rain From the Sky, The Other End of the Leash, and For the Love of a Dog (right after reading several of Ceasar Milans books) and finally "got it"

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#4 of 31 Old 06-04-2009, 04:39 PM
 
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We are going through a breed rescue process right now and were told this at the orientation. I was thrilled to hear it. The dominance thing never felt comfortable to me, but our dogs were never very well trained anyway. We are planning to do clicker training with our new dog. I told dh and I think he is still a bit skeptical. I will show him the article.

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#5 of 31 Old 06-04-2009, 06:36 PM
 
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I totally agree. I have heard a number of people tell me that you should always eat before your dog does, even if that means you chew on a cracker before putting their food bowl down. Doesn't that sound crazy? I mean, how about you teach the dog to do a down-stay while you get their food ready and wait to be released before eating, that is good manners and helps teach self control, but eating a cracker?

I've always found it strange that supposedly our dogs are just waiting for us to slip up so they can take over. However I do think that many of the non-violent "leadership exercises" (such as waiting to go through doors, down/sit for certain things, frequent little command drills) can be helpful because they help the dog know what to expect which I think can lessen their anxiety in the strange world of humans. Plus they help to create a well-mannered dog which I think everyone appreciates.
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#6 of 31 Old 06-04-2009, 10:40 PM
 
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I hope this is widely read. I have always thought that people who subscribe to that kind of thinking simply don't give dogs any credit for being complex beings.

It has always seemed such a one dimensional theory boxing dogs into alpha's or alpha wannabe's.

To me training has always been about helping my dog fit into my world where she lives, not some kind of weird domimance contest that I have to win at all costs.

But, I have also noticed that many people who still subscribe to this kind of stuff can have study after study shown to them and they simply don't care. They will always find a way to say "yeah but" because they aren't willing to change and are afraid to try a different path.

I am so lucky to have been able to watch and learn from Sarah Wilson. She has helped me so much with my own fearful and aggressive dog. She understands that a successful relationship between dog and owner means respect from BOTH ends of the leash.

And whenever someone posts on her message boards about their puppy being dominant she suggests they replace the word "dominant" with "confused." Because most puppies are simply clueless about their place in the world and need guidance and training not domination.
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#7 of 31 Old 06-05-2009, 08:27 AM
 
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I hope this is widely read. I have always thought that people who subscribe to that kind of thinking simply don't give dogs any credit for being complex beings.
THANK YOU! I've thought that, but nobody else I know seems to think anything besides the alpha-nonalpha thinking so I'm always "wrong".

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#8 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 12:38 AM
 
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I read a book called "Let the Dog Decide" by a local trainer and he also states that the alpha attitude towards training is misplaced.

I got suspicious of this after being around horses and doing research into their handling and training. I recall one person saying that even though horses have a hierarchy, etc we humans are so inept at communicating in their language that we bumble any attempts to be alpha and just end up bullying the animal.

Anyways, I like the positive methods out there these days and am planning to use them with my (pending) new dog.

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#9 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 03:21 AM
 
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And whenever someone posts on her message boards about their puppy being dominant she suggests they replace the word "dominant" with "confused." Because most puppies are simply clueless about their place in the world and need guidance and training not domination.
i'm assuming this refers to the dog as relating to people? not the dog as relating to other dogs, right?

i just read the article...i'm not sure i'm getting it. are there really theories that think that dogs are always trying to be alpha? in my experience, certain dogs tend to be more dominant than others but dogs that are submissive aren't ever trying to become dominant, they just aren't wired that way.

as for dominance and aggression causing biting i thought it was common knowledge that most dogs bite when afraid.

this is really weird to me, i don't think i've ever heard this type of stuff expressed and i've been around a lot of dogs and people. but i do believe that there are dogs that push human authority a bit, i've only experienced it with three dogs, a husky, a husky terrier mix, and a pit. the pit was by far the scariest.

this theory doesn't say that dogs don't have a pack order does it? or that there are dominant and submissive dogs right?

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#10 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 05:04 AM
 
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“The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous.
I whole heartily agree. There are many other factors that play in, and it makes me wary when the first assumption for aggression is dominance. For pet dog trainers who are members of peer based groups/associations, and who follow current trends, research, and participate in professional seminars, lectures, and courses, it's been WIDELY recognized for a while now that the go-to "dominance theory" is way out dated.

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Much worse, techniques such as pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing jowls, or blasting hooters at dogs will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression.
It's sad that this even has to be said. Surely even those who are laymen when it comes to dog "training" can understand that abuse is counter-productive to ANY form of training.

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Instructing owners to eat before their dog or go through doors first will not influence the dog’s overall perception of the relationship – merely teach them what to expect in these specific situations.
Which is precisely why it works in many situations where owners are complaining of dogs with no "manners". It's not that we seek out a submissive dog who suddenly and magically can anticipate what would depict a well behaved dog.

It's that when a dog rushes past you and knocks you over, or begs because the precedence of being rewarded for the behavior is no longer acknowledged, the behavior changes because... wait for it... the dog knows what to expect! It's called conditioning, and a HUGE part of building a solid relationship with a dog is conditioning them so that they CAN know what to expect and then act accordingly.

It also so happens that many of the common and day to day ways to condition a dog logically resemble natural behaviors among dogs - like the lowest ranking pack member eating last, hence the reason that over the years that method has been coined "alpha training", though certainly not because the ultimate goal is to have a dog that is scared to death of their owner!

Often times, when living by an alpha standard, the interactions between you and your dog, if done correctly, are so subtle that for anyone watching it, it would almost be unrecognizable as "training". It's most commonly referred to by believers as a way of life, not a training method, because like I said above, the goal is not to have a fearful dog. It's to have a dog that thrives off consistency, and to have a dog that knows what to expect. It's grossly unfair to instill silly techniques like eating a sandwich in front of your dog's face and then expecting them not to jump on your toddler. It doesn't work that way (for a multitude of reasons!).

I think the article is mostly accurate in that 90% of the commonly held "dominance theory" techniques are outdated. HOWEVER, it's also slightly unfair to conditioning methods like Alpha Training and NILIF because when done correctly, just like the article says, you end up with a dog who knows what to expect, which is about as mentally sound as one can hope to achieve. At least in my opinion anyway.

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#11 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 05:49 AM
 
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i just read the article...i'm not sure i'm getting it. are there really theories that think that dogs are always trying to be alpha?
Formally? Not in a long time. At least, not by anyone I'd consider a reliable source in dog training. But what I think the article is getting at is that people are taking a method (or several) and using them in a static way without proper experience or guidance, when in reality, training and conditioning are much more dynamic than the dog simply being dominant/not dominant, or vying for a leadership roll, or not. Bluntly, there are simply far more behavioral paths than those two options, but when people without experience watch Ceasar Milan (or whoever else the TV Trainer De'Jour of the week is), and then attempt to apply those techniques on a dog who is NOT dominant, or trying to be dominant, then heck yeah, you're going to run into trouble.

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in my experience, certain dogs tend to be more dominant than others but dogs that are submissive aren't ever trying to become dominant, they just aren't wired that way.
Fear motivates some complex behaviors, and in my experience, fear is a much bigger problem than true dominance. And there are varying levels of fear too, how the dog developed the fear, etc. In some cases, the fear that there is no one to depend on, like say, a "pack leader", can motivate a dog to try to lead itself, which can manifest in dominant-like behavior - barking at strangers, resource guarding, etc - when in fact all these behaviors are actually based on fear/nervousness. Now comes along someone who just watched an hour on TV of someone staring at their dog, or cornering them, and they're seriously going to damage an already fearful dog.

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as for dominance and aggression causing biting i thought it was common knowledge that most dogs bite when afraid.
That's simply too broad a question to answer with any level of certainty. Every bite situation is different, with so many variables that must be considered.

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i do believe that there are dogs that push human authority a bit, i've only experienced it with three dogs, a husky, a husky terrier mix, and a pit. the pit was by far the scariest.
Human authority, and dog authority. There are so, SO many reasons that contribute to behavior and temperament (and there's an on going argument among the dog training community about the line between behavior and temperament, one being learned, the other being inherited, but that's a discussion for another day ), such as how many litter mates there, how long the dog stayed with the litter mates, how it was raised, what BREED it is. Many people fail to realize, or just plain refute the fact that different breeds have different characteristics, which is a HUGE detriment to dogs in general. Not all dogs are created equal, and what works on a Golden Retriever is not going to work on a Fox Terrier.

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this theory doesn't say that dogs don't have a pack order does it? or that there are dominant and submissive dogs right?
I don't think the question is whether or not there is a pack order. There is. And among dogs there always will be. It's what we, as humans and leaders and masters of our dogs, do with that knowledge. If we assume that there's a pack order, and there is. And that dogs and humans will fall into their own sort of dynamic pack, which we will. Then what? The problem that this article is outlining is that the vast majority of people are wearing blinders and can only comprehend the two most basic positions - leader, and follower. And while on a very fundamental level this is true, in terms of training our dogs it's a very slippery slope into "more harm than good" if the practices you're using are based on those two positions. And based on the behaviors of those two positions.

Something to keep in mind - even though there is a pack order, the pack ALWAYS works together. Everyone has a job. Every member has expectations. No one lives for free. And yet, only in very rare circumstances are there clashes in this order. A very common belief is that truly dominant dogs don't have to act dominant. The notion that dominant dogs are constantly exerting their position in a physical manner, and therefore we human leaders have to do the same, is total BS. That's why Alpha Training and NILIF are often seen as very gentle, subtle ways of getting your point across with OUT having to resort to physical, fear-based tactics. And they're also very reward based (positive reinforcement) in such a way that almost anything can be used a reward, right down to your very touch. Which is a bonus.

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#12 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 06:05 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think the article is mostly accurate in that 90% of the commonly held "dominance theory" techniques are outdated. HOWEVER, it's also slightly unfair to conditioning methods like Alpha Training and NILIF because when done correctly, just like the article says, you end up with a dog who knows what to expect, which is about as mentally sound as one can hope to achieve. At least in my opinion anyway.
One of the reasons I that I posted the link to the article is that I had hoped that we could begin to do away with the whole paradigm of dominance and "alpha" in dog training. To be sure, the most egregious techniques techniques that are associated with the dominance theory are widely criticized now, but the fundamental concepts of a dog's "pack mentality" are also being examined and disputed by some pretty high-powered animal behaviorists. Perhaps instead of framing the training goals behind Alpha Training and NILIF within the whole "pack leader" paradigm, we could just train the dog.

I don't really think about training my dog as a means to assert my social position vis a vis my dog. I just think of it as teaching my dog to have good manners while living in a human world. Oh, and maybe understand the rules of some games I want him to play. It would help if he learned some English.

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I don't think the question is whether or not there is a pack order. There is. And among dogs there always will be. It's what we, as humans and leaders and masters of our dogs, do with that knowledge. If we assume that there's a pack order, and there is. And that dogs and humans will fall into their own sort of dynamic pack, which we will.
As I mentioned previously, I think animal behaviorists are seriously questioning the concept of a pack when it comes to dogs. Some wolf researchers are even reframing the idea that wolves live in packs, suggesting that it is much more descriptive to call their social group more of a family unit, which redefines their dynamic in a very different way. Ethologists who studied feral dogs in India (I think) assumed that they would observe pack behavior in those dogs (because everyone knows they are pack animals, right?). Instead, they saw that dogs did not organize themselves in anything that could be described as a pack. They developed much looser and much more transient relationships than a pack relationship.

Pack theory becomes even murkier when we assume that dogs relate to human beings with same social assumptions with which they approach other dogs. It's not all that clear that dogs consider humans to be part of their pack (if they even have one).

So much interesting research is going on in canine behavior right now... Lots of great things to think about...

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#13 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 07:15 PM
 
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There is a great author/trainer: Suzanne Clothier. Who wrote the book "When Bones Would Rain From the Sky: Deepening Our Relationship With Dogs." I think she understood the study before they even had the study, if that makes sense.

I have never thought aggression was a way towards dominance. That is pretty rare, IMO.

Having said that, I have a VERY dominant and very high energy GSD. I used NILIF with him, and it worked wonders. Plus, when we were training, I could see a huge difference in him on the days that I would let him on the bed to sleep with me and on the days when I would not.

My theory in training has always been this: know YOUR dog. Get to know your dog, how he/she thinks, what issues they may have and from where are they stemming, etc.

Once you know your dog, you can apply the best training method to them. Dogs are not cookie cutter animals. They, too, have personalities and fears. When you can puzzle out (without humanizing them) their mind, you can easily apply the best training method.

While it sounds cheesy, the most important thing in training is to build a relationship between you and the dog. However, it's not a "we're pals" kind of relationship. Someone does have to be in charge - and it's not the dog. This doesn't mean he's out to be in charge everyday, of course.

I think the severe dominance training can often harm the dog. However, I wouldn't be so quick to throw out ALL their techniques. NILIF certainly saved my butt, lol. And I know many others who would say the same thing.

There are dogs out there who will test you, who are very dominant - I have one of them. Well, he no longer tests me. We're over that phase - thankfully!

However, my partner, when home alone with Roark, is often pushed off the couch by my dog. My dog wants that spot, and he takes it. From Roark's point of view, my partner is negligible. This doesn't happen when I'm home. When I'm home, he's an angel. My partner does the worst thing possible, though: he moves to another area to sit. That's not going to teach Roark any manners with him!

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#14 of 31 Old 06-07-2009, 07:46 PM
 
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I wouldn't call this a debunking.

All (or nearly all) mammals have a status system.

I do think there's been an obsession the last few decades with 'dominance' and pack theory in dogs, especially pertaining to aggression and misbehavior, and it's become this overly simplistic way to look at everything a dog does.. dogs are complex individuals. It's not that simple.

I'm not a big fan of hardcore dominance training - it's so easy to do it wrong. But nearly every method has it's merits and will work great with some dogs, lousy with others.

With my two dogs, one of whom is independent and polite, the other fearful yet pushy, I use 90% reward based methods. With my foster dog I have been spending a lot of time establishing myself as the boss and making him do what I tell him to. He is out-of-control (zero training and he's a year old) and has no concept that humans require any different behavior on his part than another puppy would..
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#15 of 31 Old 06-08-2009, 01:14 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Please understand that I really do appreciate many of the training goals behind NILIF and "pack leader"-type training. I teach my dogs to sit and wait at doors, to pay attention to me, to offer polite behavior before getting good things, to give me toys at my request, etc. I don't let my dogs on the sofa or bed, the humans eat before the dogs, they are crate-trained, etc. I don't do these things to prove I'm the alpha, pack-leader, dominant anything. These are just the doggy rules of the house. These are the behaviors I need so that the two species who live together can all just get along, and I make sure that my dogs want to do these things too.

rhubarbarin - I totally agree with your statement re: status system (I like that phrasing too). It's just that over the last few decades, trainers have been pushing this idea that humans should act like dogs. (Not that we really do this well at all. Piglet68 said it so beautifully.) It's just weird. We are told that we have to assert ourselves to our dogs or risk having out-of-control animals loose in our house. Again, I just have to ask - why not just decide what behaviors you need the dog to do, then just teach the dog to do those things or manage the environment so that the dog can't get into trouble? Why do we have the mentality that the dog is trying to usurp power/status/rank from us when it behaves like a dog?

One example that comes up a lot is when there's wrangling over a comfy area (bed or sofa). The dog finds a sweet spot and wants to stay there, then the humans are miffed and believe that the dog is trying to be alpha or whatever. Why not just create another cushy bed for the dog in the same room and make it the Best Place Ever with treats and goodies? Then teach the dog the cue to go to their place and stay there a while. Problem solved. Human has the sofa back, dog has its place (which the human has made a great place to be), and everyone understands the house rules. Status doesn't necessarily have to enter the picture. The dog could still very well be thinking that it has the throne, while his poor human is stuck on that lumpy ol' sofa.

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#16 of 31 Old 06-08-2009, 01:35 AM
 
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Well, in my case, the sofa thing is a dominance thing. First, there is a VERY cushy dog bed in the same room. There is also another, very comfortable sofa chair in the room.

Second, my dog NEVER pushes my partner off a seat when I am present. He does this only when my partner is alone with him. Because my dog knows my partner will allow himself to be bullied. My partner won't listen to my advice, and refuses to assert himself. And when I say he pushes my partner off ... he literally gets on the sofa, squeezes himself behind my partner, and starts shoving. If that doesn't work, he puts all 100 pounds of himself squarely in my partner's lap. This isn't affection.

Whereas, with me, this isn't something he would ever do. If I want to sit on the cushy couch and he's on it, he moves to his bed as soon as I ask. If I'm on the couch, he asks my permission to get on by placing his paw on my knee. If my partner asks him to get off when he's alone, my dog ignores him.

So - there are varying types of behaviors in dogs. In my case, my dog really does think my partner is only a "favored" person when I'm home. Once I leave - he's game for abuse.

There are definitely dogs out there that are dominant, and will simply steamroll over anyone who can't stand up to them. Unfortunately for my partner, Roark is one of them.

However, I do agree with you - if a dog was on the couch, and he had no alternative comfortable bed, that could be just him/her wanting a comfortable spot. Easily solved by providing a good bed.

I also think people sometimes use the word "alpha" to mean "my dog does everything I say" or "my dog is fully trained." It's easier to just say "I'm alpha" - it's shorter. I use the term "I'm alpha" to mean "my dog is fully trained."

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#17 of 31 Old 06-08-2009, 02:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm sorry, but the mental picture has me giggling. Your poor partner! I can't imagine what it would be like to have 100 pounds of dog trying to roust me from my seat or sit on me. Mind you, I'm only 100 pounds myself, but still! Sorry, probably shouldn't be laughing.

Clicker training works really well for me, so if it were me, I would shape Roark to go to his bed with clicker and treats. (BTW - Susan Garrett has a dvd called Crate Games that is basically all about just this one behavior. It's pretty incredible.) After he was reliable and on cue with me, I'd have DP give the cues and treats, first with me there, then alone.

Anyway, Roark can continue to think that your DP is the lowest guy on the totem pole... or not. Doesn't matter. If you condition him to go to his place and get your DP to engage in the training so that the dog learns to respond to cues from him, the couch issue just goes away, whether or not the dog's perception of his rank has changed at all.

The other thing is that dogs tend not to generalize cues. If you're the one who is giving the dog most of his cues, he may not know that he's supposed to listen to DP too. He may not even realize that DP is asking for the same thing as you.

As for the "alpha" shorthand - I have a wonderful trainer who explains to her clients, "You can just forget about being alpha. Alpha basically means the one who controls the resources. You're the one with opposable thumbs to open the food cabinet. You're the one with the credit card. You're the one who knows how to drive to the dog park. However, you can be so totally alpha with a totally omega dog, but he still doesn't have a clue how to behave with humans. Don't worry about being alpha. Just train the dog."

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#18 of 31 Old 06-08-2009, 01:34 PM
 
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As for the "alpha" shorthand - I have a wonderful trainer who explains to her clients, "You can just forget about being alpha. Alpha basically means the one who controls the resources. You're the one with opposable thumbs to open the food cabinet. You're the one with the credit card. You're the one who knows how to drive to the dog park. However, you can be so totally alpha with a totally omega dog, but he still doesn't have a clue how to behave with humans. Don't worry about being alpha. Just train the dog."
I'd be curious to see a method 100% devoid of anything remotely "alpha". Even the most basic reward based sequence (positive reinforcement = command; treat) is based off alpha theories. And what people need to keep in mind is the alpha doesn't equate to dominance. Being alpha doesn't mean dominating your dog. Using alpha theories in your training doesn't mean you assume your dog is trying to dominate you or take over the world. It's simply a way of looking at dogs and doings things the way they understand.

Like I mentioned above, the actual instances of dogs in packs attacking each other is very slim. So why do humans feel the need to be harsh in the name of dominating their dogs? I actually prefer to look it as survival based training, as opposed to being alpha, because once you peel away all the non sense, that's the core of the issue. Dogs in packs, even first generation feral dogs, want to survive. Not dominate.

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Oh, I have tried getting my partner involved so many times. I definitely know that would solve the problem. But, he's just not interested. He says it's easier for him to just move to a different couch, lol.

He set up a video camera to document this, and I have to say - I watch it and giggle a lot. It really is rather humorous.

Survival based training is a good name for it. Maybe it will catch on.

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#20 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 03:01 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'd be curious to see a method 100% devoid of anything remotely "alpha". Even the most basic reward based sequence (positive reinforcement = command; treat) is based off alpha theories.
Actually, positive reinforcement dog training is based on the principles of behaviorism (a la B.F. Skinner). It's not about alpha relationships at all, but operant conditioning. The training goals might look pretty much the same - sit, stay, walk on loose leash, off the couch, leave the dinner on the coffee table, etc. - but the fundamental assumptions about what motivates learned behavior (as opposed to purely instinctive behavior) differ.

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Using alpha theories in your training doesn't mean you assume your dog is trying to dominate you or take over the world. It's simply a way of looking at dogs and doings things the way they understand.
There are quite a few articles on the Internet about how dogs are not quite the pack animals that we have always thought they were. I guess I'm just trying to make a case that we don't have to look at our dogs through the lens of dominance/alpha/pack theory, and perhaps if we didn't, we might understand them better. Even more importantly, they might understand us better.

This sort of relates to the topic, so I want to share a story about my training class tonight. My trainer was going to talk about why she doesn't have us teach No to our dogs. Suddenly, she went off on one of the clients, Ryan. This guy was just sitting in his chair, and the trainer started stomping toward him, yelling, "No! Ryan, NO! I want you to stop that RIGHT NOW!!" And this poor guy (like the biggest guy in the class), just froze in his seat, got all wide-eyed, and cringed a little. And the trainer turned to the class and said, "Do you see how guilty he looks? He knows better than to do this! Look how guilty he is!"

Okay, by now, we had caught on. So she asked Ryan if he knew why he was being yelled at, and of course, he didn't. She had wanted him to stop sitting with his arms crossed. My trainer went on to say that for a dog, this type of "correction" is even more incomprehensible. Of course, dogs are really smart, and eventually, they catch on to our human quirks, and most learn to live with us relatively harmoniously (we won't talk about how many thousands are relinquished by their owners because they don't catch on). But my trainer made the point that it is so much more straightforward to simply teach the dog the right thing to do, to teach a behavior that is incompatible to the one we don't want, or to manage the environment. As she was saying this, heads were nodding all over the room, and I could just see lightbulbs appearing over everyone's heads. It seemed sooo obvious as she was explaining it to us, but of course, we had all done the "NO!" thing to our dogs, you know?

Kelly
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#21 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 04:55 AM
 
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I guess I'm just trying to make a case that we don't have to look at our dogs through the lens of dominance/alpha/pack theory, and perhaps if we didn't, we might understand them better.
Well, you could stop by lumping dominance in with pack theory, because dominance is a drop in the bucket of canine behavior and has no place in every-day training as far as I'm concerned. People should also concentrate on training dogs TO do specific tasks, instead of relying on corrections. However, you'll never convince me that referring to basic pack theory is useless as a tool in an arsenal of experience.

I think the single biggest disservice people to do dogs and training, and you've been guilty of it more than anyone on this thread, is constantly coming back to dominance. Dominance as a diagnosis, trait, vice, theory or what have you has been, in my experience, a long outdated fall back for a lack of knowledge in canine behavior. And in the circle of trainers I know of, when someone pipes up with the notion that a dog is "dominant", we refer to a list of books as long as my arm to refresh their brain on the umpteen other things to look at first. Pack theory/alpha techniques do not equate to dominance theories, and yet you've used the terms interchangeably in this thread which is erroneous in and of itself.

You want to talk about "just training the dog". Ok. Let's talk about that for a second, and then I'll explain how that comes back to survival in the eyes of a dog.

Forget pack mentality, alpha methods, crate training, and all of that. Are you familiar with Pavlov's research of respondent and operant conditioning (which is pretty much the invention of the wheel in terms of clicker training)? How he used the metronome as an association to food proving that using a neutral stimulus and a natural reflex (or unconditioned response) can be used to teach via association?

With this method and little more than a scrap of food and the snap of your fingers you can basically teach almost anything. No alpha theories, waiting at doors, crate training, nothing.

Well, this is based on the idea that there are two things a dog will respond to unconditionally (the "unconditional response") - pain, and food. Obviously using pain is not a good thing, so we'll focus on food.

Using the natural response to food, the unconditioned response set up by nature (drooling when offered food) he was able to teach the dogs to associate the sound of a metronome to the impending treat of food.

Why do you suppose this is? Why does food have such a powerful response? Survival, perhaps? Look at the place food has within a pack structure and how the use of food as rewards is related and think about how far removed "just teaching the dog" is from a basic alpha theory. Not very. Of course, if you completely dismiss the idea that dogs live in packs and have structural hierarchy relationships this will be difficult.

Ah but, you don't use food as a reward! When the natural stimulus becomes unconditional (like the dogs drooling at the sound of the metronome when they previously had no reaction to it), it becomes easier to switch the focus to a new a unconditioned response, like say, a tennis ball instead of food. It's even been suggested this is easier in domesticated dogs, especially "old" breeds (in other words, not primitive breeds that haven't been cohabiting with humans for long). It's the emotion, the reflex, behind the actions that drive the dog. This is due the dog's innate desire to seek out food above all else (else being companionship and approval, all of which are observed in pack situations).

To a dog, no food means death. The single biggest threat to a dog in my house (I have three dogs) is feeding one of them last. This can also be demonstrated by taking a dog who is not food motivated and putting him in a group of other dogs and watching him eat chips of ice before they hit floor simply so the other dogs don't eat them first. It's not even food, but it's the survival mechanisms telling him he must get it first.

This is why food, food association, and other unconditional responses to items (when unrelated to food is stronger in some breeds more than others, like retrievers wanting to chase a dummy) is such a HUGE motivator for training.

So yeah, you can "just train the dog", but think of the action of teaching, especially through association, and how it correlates to dogs in packs. We know dogs hunt together. We know dogs have a pre-designated order in which pack members get fed. We know loner dogs have a much different diet from dogs in a pack. And lastly, we know loner dogs have a lower survival rate. There is motivation to remain where food is at an advantage, which is with other dogs. (Notice none of this relates to "dominating"?)

What does that mean for dogs not living where food is at an advantage? A lower survival rate. So when Pavlov took food and was able to get the dogs to associate the sound of a metronome with impending food treats, he tapped into their innate desire to hone in on the single biggest chance of survival, and voilà, cue attention! It's a trainers gold mine.. or at least until the advent of dominance theories, which thankfully in the timeline of dogs and humans living together, has been short lived. Or at least I hope so.

Frankenstein never scared me. Marsupials do. Because they're FAST.
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#22 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 05:20 AM
 
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Okay, by now, we had caught on. So she asked Ryan if he knew why he was being yelled at, and of course, he didn't. She had wanted him to stop sitting with his arms crossed. My trainer went on to say that for a dog, this type of "correction" is even more incomprehensible.
It sounds like you trainer teaches What Dog Owners Should NOT Do 101, which is great. But I have to say, not teaching a cessation command is like not teaching sit, in my books.

"No" need not be a correction, but a command, and a useful one at that. Teaching dogs TO do things instead of correcting them when they don't do them is obviously preferable, and I find it a tad bit of an over exaggeration that she used the use of the word "no" as a way to demonstrate why not to fly at your dog like a raving banshee for no reason.

"No" in my house simply means "halt what you're doing and focus on me". It's what's known as an interim command, or a sequential command, because at the time it's given it's incomplete. It stops a behavior before a new one is given. You'll often see them used in agility and field trials to guide a dog.

Instead of saying "GO RIGHT GO LEFT PAUSE TURN AROUND STOP GO FORWARD GO LEFT", it's the equivalent of saying "go right, stop, go left, stop, turn around, stop, go forward, stop, go left". At the time the cessation command is given the sequence is being broken up into easy to comprehend segments making it harder for the dog to fail. My motto has ALWAYS been, if you want a dog to succeed, set them up to succeed! It's really very simple.

In terms of pet dogs, the word "no", or whatever word you choose (mine is actually "halt") can stop a dog from running into a road after a loose ball, from eating dangerous food scraps on the ground, etc.

For example, if a ball runs out into the road and you yell "NO", and expect the dog to stop in its tracks and turn around you'll be disappointed. It's sort of like saying "NO DON'T RUN OUT INTO THE ROAD YOU'LL GET HIT BY A CAR", which is sort of the hard to understand analogy that your trainer used and why the guy didn't know why he was getting yelled at. If used as part of a sequence it's to get your dogs attention before using the next command in the sequence, which in the scenario of the ball going into the street, would be "come". So for my dogs, if a ball ran out into the road I would yell "HALT", and the second she stopped and looked at me I'd give the next command, which would be "COME". No all by itself is confusing, yes, but not a correction.

Frankenstein never scared me. Marsupials do. Because they're FAST.
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#23 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 05:37 AM
 
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Totally off topic, but a very dear friend of mine and I used to kid around when we were younger by spelling our names backwards and using it to confuse people. When I ever I see your name I think of her. Good times. :

Frankenstein never scared me. Marsupials do. Because they're FAST.
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#24 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 03:26 PM - Thread Starter
 
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North of 60, I am really enjoying this discussion. And, truly, I think we are both far more in agreement than not. I wanted to share the article here and discuss it with MDC mamas because I think that some of the most brilliant women hang out here. This has been fun.

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Well, you could stop by lumping dominance in with pack theory, because dominance is a drop in the bucket of canine behavior and has no place in every-day training as far as I'm concerned. People should also concentrate on training dogs TO do specific tasks, instead of relying on corrections. However, you'll never convince me that referring to basic pack theory is useless as a tool in an arsenal of experience.
In this thread, I've been lumping dominance with the terms "alpha" and "pack" because that's how I've always encountered those terms. In the doggy lists and circles I hang out in, they are used pretty interchangeably. Folks tend to say that a particular dog behavior shows that the dog is trying to be dominant or alpha or the pack leader. The assumption is focused on the dog's motivation. I hope I've been clear that I really don't buy into any of these concepts; or at least, they haven't been all that useful to me while training my dogs. It sounds like you have your own definitions for alpha that I guess I'm not familiar with. I've been saying, "just train the dog" to mean that the fundamental assumption behind a dog's (mis)behavior can be that the dog isn't trained to do better.

I am passably familiar with Pavlov and his work, although it's been a long time since my Intro to Psych courses. More practically, I've used his principles of classical conditioning and counter-conditioning while trying to help desensitize my previous dog to her many, many triggers.

And I do use food as my primary reinforcer while training my dogs. I've been clicker training my dogs for years: first, my highly reactive rescued American Eskimo (now gone ) and now my 16-week-old, eager-to-please, totally mellow mini Aussie. Most of the sources I've read on positive reinforcement dog training have totally de-emphasized the "dogs as pack animals" theory, and I've read books on canine behavior and dog training at least as long as my arm's length. Those sources include Donaldson, Dunbar, McConnell, Pryor, Rugaas and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head without looking at my library (just so you understand my frame of reference). I like Dunbar's quote that most dogs don't form packs, but they can make awesome pack animals. Dogs live in packs within our households because we make 'em. Recent research on feral dogs demonstrate pretty clearly that they mostly don't form packs on their own. Also, they don't really hunt much either. They are mostly scavengers.

As for the No thing - we were covering the cues Leave It, Off, and Wait. All slightly different behaviors with specific criteria. My trainer was teaching us about using these cues for certain situations rather than the generic No.

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#25 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 04:49 PM
 
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In the doggy lists and circles I hang out in, they are used pretty interchangeably. Folks tend to say that a particular dog behavior shows that the dog is trying to be dominant or alpha or the pack leader. The assumption is focused on the dog's motivation. I hope I've been clear that I really don't buy into any of these concepts; or at least, they haven't been all that useful to me while training my dogs. It sounds like you have your own definitions for alpha that I guess I'm not familiar with. I've been saying, "just train the dog" to mean that the fundamental assumption behind a dog's (mis)behavior can be that the dog isn't trained to do better.
I'm going to assume there is a regional aspect to this, and thankfully, in my neck of the woods, the trend towards assuming that any dog who misbehaves or is not trained well is "dominant" is starting to change. That's not to say it's never an issue, but by and large, it's not.

And over the years here on on the MDC pets forum you can search the posts of people questioning whether their dog is dominant, and the most common response to that is "well it's hard to tell over the internet, but chances are that your dog is NOT dominant, here are some books to read....".

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I didn't read the article, but this is interesting and eye-opening. We had a dog who just didn't work out for us for various reasons and was returned to his breeder last summer. We had a trainer when we got him as a puppy, someone recommended to us by word of mouth. This trainer really seemed to be very invested in the whole dominance theory thing. She trained without food rewards--just praise-she was absolutely against food rewards. She also instructed us to do dominance rolls from the day our puppy came home, and when his behavior was dominant. She very much believed in corrections, which were not always very gentle. When she met our puppy (she worked with us before he even came home), she "diagnosed" him as dominant and somewhat aggressive almost immediately. He WAS a difficult dog, no question, but I don't think he was naturally aggressive, just very mouthy. He ended up biting someone, but it was definitely in reaction to a combination of fear and physical pain. He was a Gordon Setter, a large sporting breed, who, in hindsight, should have been a working dog or a one-person dog, and didn't belong in a family with young children.

I think working with Aengus in a different way, not focused on the dominance/submission model, would have helped him a lot, although I still believe we weren't a good match for one another. It's too bad that an outdated model is still being used, sometimes to the detriment of dogs and families. I believe that the methods taught by our trainer did more harm than good in the end.

All that said, I really enjoy our cat. The relationship is clear. We are here to wait on him hand and foot.

Heather, Mama to DS(10) DD(7.5),DD(6)
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#27 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 09:09 PM
 
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I used reward based training in the beginning too. Or food based. Treat based - whatever the name. After I got the basics down, though, I stopped using the treat based system. I think that was about ... 3 or 4 months of treat training (Roark is 3 this summer).

We did Schutzhund, and the treat based system was too much of a distraction. I had to get rid of it. It was a third party, so to speak, between me and the dog. He didn't look at me, into my eyes when I said something. He looked to where the treats were. Which is why you will see a lot of trainers with treats in their mouths, to get the dog to look up at them. But, still, they're looking at the treat, rather than at the owner.

My goal, in training, was always to get the dog to look at ME. Look at me as his source for everything - including all commands. So, if I said a command, I expected immediate obedience. This is VERY important when training Schutzhund, as you don't want to train a dog to go after someone, but not stop when you say the command word.

I used a combination of corrections, NILIF, and verbal praise. It was hardcore, as I did not touch the dog in the form of petting unless he had "earned" it. Now - I give him love anywhere, any time. But, during the first two years - I couldn't, not if I wanted precision in training.

While I don't dispute the new research ... I'm thinking maybe it's 2 different things when you're training a dog for a pet/companion than when you're training a working dog.

The treat system just doesn't have a high success rate in Schutzhund - at least, not in my experience. I mean, imagine me trying to make my dog bite down on the decoy in order to get a doggy treat from me. It's dangerous. He has to bite down, and let go, not in anticipation of a treat, not because of that reflex, but because his first response is to always obey me. Roark is trained to bring down a full grown man. He's trained to open his jaws over a person's throat, and hold them there without breaking through skin until I give him the command to back away (or chomp). In the bloodlust of prey drive and battle, he MUST have enough self control and awareness to listen to me. Otherwise, things could become very dangerous. My control can't rely on the treats I give him or the reflex behind the treats. It has to come from the idea that I am his god - so to speak.

Now, we don't have to call me alpha if that definition doesn't apply. We can call me ... owner of a working dog.

I do think the reward based method is GREAT for companion dogs. This is what I use to train the rescue dogs in where I volunteer. But, I would never use it when training a guard dog or a dog in Schutzund or even in SAR.

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Sailor, that does make sense that you would phase out treats when training a working dog. Very interesting stuff!

Heather, Mama to DS(10) DD(7.5),DD(6)
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#29 of 31 Old 06-09-2009, 10:58 PM
 
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I do think the reward based method is GREAT for companion dogs
Such a great distinction to make. Most people simply want a dog who follows basic commands and NILIF and treat/reward based gentle training will work wonders for them (and the treat is used only at the beginning and you then use variable reinforcement to fade it). Most dog/human relationships fail because the human dropped the ball-not because the dog was "dominant."

This is my issue with trainers like Cesar. I think his show misinforms regular pet dog owners who only see the "easy" part of his program, never the intense follow through required. He essentially only shows the surface, you never see the nuances. I do like his stressing lots of exercise-I think most dogs in America today are totally under exercised mentally and physically.

Love him or hate him I can not deny that he is a gifted trainer. I just don't think he does dogs any favors by suggesting that all issues are pack problems because oftentimes people stop listening to the rest of the message once they hear they can blame the dog.
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#30 of 31 Old 06-10-2009, 05:45 PM
 
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Cesar bugs me too, lol. He uses one method and one theory to train all dogs. I'm not a fan of such a method as, in my training, I try to apply the right methods based on the dog's personality, fears, issues, etc. Like I said - I'm a huge HUGE fan of Suzanne Clothier. I highly recommend her book. Incidentally, she also breeds GSD's, but trains many other breeds. She used to have a farm ... cows/pigs, but I'm not sure if she's still running that as I remember they had a fire a few years ago that destroyed quite a lot. She's not into the pack mentality either.

Obviously, Cesar is a good trainer in that he can get results for himself. But, I often wonder what happens months or a year later to those dog owners he leaves with instructions.

And I do agree, the pack theory he constantly stresses can definitely cause the other messages to be lost.

I also agree that dogs don't get enough exercise. I meet a lot of owners who, when I ask them how much exercise their dog gets, they tell me "well, we let him out into the yard 3 times a day." I think a lot of owners don't realize that, unfortunately, a dog is not going to exercise himself. The owner has to get out there with a ball or frisbee. I can't even count the number of times all behavioral problems were solved when the dog got enough exercise. It's the magic solution, lol.

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