Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is Dominance Necessary?

At times I am straightforward to the point of bluntness - especially about the wrongs we are doing to our dogs in the name of training. In some circles, I’m already being criticized for what I have written about those methods and the mindset that carries the need to use harsh methods. I wish I could tell you that the unpleasantness doesn’t bother me a bit. I can’t. I am all too human. But, it won’t stop me. I owe dogs too much to be silent. We all do. Loving and appreciating dogs as I do, the concept of having to dominate them physically and emotionally breaks my heart. Dogs do not understand the “mind games” this methodology employs and can react in unpredictable ways to it's use. It also brings out the absolute worst in the humans who need to use it. I am committed to helping people understand a more enriching way to live and work with dogs.

I really think most anyone would benefit from learning about relationship building and play training. If you already understand about dog behavior, bonding with a dog, ways that dogs benefit humans--then a different training methodology will reinforce and support what you know, making that knowledge more sure. But, most people do not know these things. They and the dogs they have or deal with are paying high prices for what they don't know.

Dogs love to help. It gives their lives special meaning and makes them very happy. Help is not just trained behaviors. There are so many things dogs do for us that go beyond training. Happy, upbeat, positive training is important to do with any dog. Heck, you're training the dog one way or the other, because the dog is learning from every experience. It helps both the dog AND YOU to learn desirable behavior in positive ways.

There are at least as many methods of raising and training dogs as there are on raising and educating children, and undoubtedly as many points of view. There are scores of television shows and Internet sites professing to have the "secret" of success in teaching your dog what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do.
Dogs have evolved and grown alongside mankind for thousands of years. Their wants and needs are parallel to our own - to be physically well, to be safe, to know friendship and love, and to be content in their lives. And as dogs help us find these things for ourselves, as friends we should help them do the same. If you can start with one simple premise it should be: treat "man's best friend" like a friend.

Much ado is made in current dog training of the "pack mentality" of the dog's wolf ancestors. The theory is that our dogs must be taught their place, with we their owners as the "alpha" canines. Most behaviorists know (and research supports) that dogs are NOW not wolves, and even if they were, a pack is not a group of unassociated animals fighting for dominance. A pack is a family unit; the alpha pair are the parents, and the pack works together to supply its needs. Think about it - a group of animals continually fighting each other for dominance would not survive for long in the wild. And they won't survive long in any home either.

Learn to understand your dog's behaviors from the dog's perspective. He just wants to be well, and safe, and loved, and happy. He simply lacks the vocal ability to tell us how that can happen. He acts out his worries and fears (like many of us humans do as well). We need to learn to read the signs, not browbeat our friends into silence.  That doesn't mean we let our dogs run wild. Learn how to deal with problem behaviors, from chewing furniture to jumping up to biting. Dogs have spent millennium learning to get along with us; it is only fair to spend a few hours returning the favor and treating man's best friend as what he is.

The methods I now use are based on respect for dogs as sentient creatures with feelings, intelligence, and dignity and creatures with a special relationship, developed and honed over thousands of years, with humankind. I have been where the harsh trainers are - it was the way I was taught long before the Internet and 'dog training schools' ever existed.


I challenge all "new" and "old time" trainers to join me in using methods that celebrate the relationship between dogs and humans.



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