The dominance myth

Dominance theory is a phrase that is still used frequently with relation to domestic dogs despite a vast level of scientific research disproving the notion. Although there are plenty of myths about how to train dogs using dominance, scientific studies have shown that techniques based on the belief that “you have to dominate your dog” have led to poor pet welfare and an increased risk of aggression.

Red flag phrases that may give you concern that a trainer is not up-to-date with current knowledge and understanding are words or phrases such as:

  1. dominance
  2. alpha or alpha roll
  3. pack leader
  4. be boss
  5. dog behaviour is derived from wolf pack behaviour
  6. yank the chain
  7. pull the dog up
  8. the dog is naughty
  9. the dog is spiteful
  10. the dog is guilty
  11. the dog is trying to be your boss or be dominant
  12. the dog is stubborn
  13. it doesn’t hurt the dog to hit/shock/yell/growl
  14. it helps the dog to feel secure if you make sure you put it in its place
  15. you need to growl/stare/pin the dog down until the dog submits
  16. dogs need to be submissive to live with humans
  17. it needs to learn to be a dog

Dominance theory is a phrase that is still used frequently with relation to domestic dogs despite a vast level of scientific research disproving the notion. Although there are plenty of myths about how to train dogs using dominance, scientific studies have shown that techniques based on the belief that “you have to dominate your dog” have led to poor pet welfare and an increased risk of aggression.

Science is always evolving and we are always learning new facts that either support or disprove current knowledge. Some of our problems with dog behaviours can be due to medical causes either in the brain as functional differences in reactivity, or physical problems in the brain or body. As such, to make clear the irrelevance of using outdated scientific notions in the treatment of behaviour problems, I find the situation analogous to progress in other fields of medicine, for example:

We used cut into a snake bite and try to suck out the venom, but further study has shown that this does not improve chance of survival. Our technique changed to a firm full limb bandage because we now know that this may save somebody’s life.  But science is always changing and we may yet find better first aid to give while waiting for an ambulance. Would anyone who is educated choose to cut and suck a snake bite wound?

With all the current scientific evidence indicating that training dogs with aversive techniques with a hope to stamp out dominance can be dangerous to owners and negatively impacts on the welfare of pets by, why choose this path?

Good resources can be found at:

  1. www.dogwelfarecampaign.org
  2. avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/dominance_statement.pdf
  3. Dr Sophia Yin provides videos about the risks of training with dominance
  4. www.ava.com.au/public/about-pets/polite-pets-month/resources/debunking-dominance-dogs

 

 

 

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