What does it mean to rehabilitate a dog?
Behavioral ecologists look at the results of an animal’s motions. The animal hunts for food. Hunting for food has a cost, which can be measured in many ways, including the expenditures of time and energy. The big question for the behavioral ecologist is, how do animals capture enough energy to accomplish all of their biological requirements?
While dominance theory and dog pack dynamics are interesting areas of study, the argument of whether they apply to us and our domesticated dogs, is actually a moot point.
"All human suffering is the result of believing in lies. To become aware of this is the first thing we must do." don Miguel Ruiz
So, creating a dog who is in a constant state of stress - suffering - is the result of believing a lie. What is the lie? The lie is that dogs are wolves and that wolves are aggressive and constantly seeking to be dominant and alpha.
"Dogs do not cause dogfights; people do". "It's not the dog, it's the human". "Be calm and assertive and your dog will be calm and submissive". All these and more are espoused as the "natural" way to rehabilitate a dog. The only communication needed, say these types of trainers, is energy. And yet, what you see these trainers doing is a form of communication that says "I don't care what you want, what you think, what your emotions are - you will do what I say or I will hurt you". Shock collars, prong and pinch collars, nearly wire thin slip leads, choke chains, dressage whips, pokes, pinches, kicks and prods are the methods used by those who relagate communication to the trash heap of "New Age Alien Abductees who came back from the Mother Ship with the uncanny ability to read your dog's mind".
Just as dogs are not humans, humans are not dogs. You cannot be your dog's pack leader - you are not a dog. Contrary to common belief, dogs know that they are dogs and not human. They also know that we are human and not dogs. It is us humans who frequently get confused on these matters. Even the terms dominance and submission have more to do with primate behavior then canine.
Since we are human, we are not expected by our dogs to act like dogs. We must communicate with them in a way that they can understand, but that does not mean that we should try to act like them. Not only would we be poor imitators, but however well we pretend, we would still be human, and our dogs will always know what we are.
Because our dogs live in our very complex human world, it is necessary for us to assume real leadership and teach them our rules. We must provide for them not just in terms of food and shelter, but also in terms of their health and safety. But in order to do all this, we must be able to communicate with our dogs.
This is the missing factor in all the dominance based training - communication. If dogs acted only out of a desire to be dominant and alpha over all pack members no matter what the species, or even as I have seen on TV - over objects and spaces - there would be no need for the complex and subtle communication signals that dogs display.