As a dog trainer and dog lover, I am a member of many social media groups about dogs. There are lots of lovely pictures to gaze adoringly at, and many people turn to these groups as a first source of advice for problems. There are wide-ranging issues from “My dog jumps up” to “My dog has destroyed the sofa, to “My dog barks at other dogs while we are on a walk”.
As a dog trainer, it alarms me that still the most common answer to many of these questions is “Your dog is dominant”. Today alone, without lookin very hard at all, I have seen several of these comments and spoken to gentleman who tried to convince me that his dog is the leader of the pack.
Every time I hear this response, it makes me cringe! I want to shout from the rooftops, “That’s just not true!” Being a professional, I do it in a calm and dignified way, of course, explaining my reasons carefully so people understand, but the sentiment remains the same. This notion that people see to have about dogs plotting dominance over their owners is so prevalent, even now, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
So why is it still so pervasive in the dog world? The concept of being the ‘pack leader’ is a fairly old one. However, more recently it has been repopularised on TV and in books and has spread like wildfire. One popular ‘whisperer’ in particular has been the cause of a lot of publicity of this theory.
Along with these whisperers, there are many other trainers, books and websites that advocate these training methods. Today, I Googled the term ‘pack leader’ and got 3,690,000 results in 0.66 seconds! Advocates of these methods tell us that in order to have a happy and balanced dog, we must
become the ‘alpha’ or the pack leader. They promise that this, along with their ‘rank-reduction programmes’ (more on this later), will solve all the dog’s problems and that they and their dog will be happier for it.
This is simply not the case. For starters, it won’t fix the problems the dog is having; in fact, it can actually make them worse and can cause a breakdown in the dog/owner relationship. The ideas about dominance in domestic dogs have come from research into wolves. Flawed research into wolves. The original research that led to this theory was conducted on captive wolves, from different family groups, kept together in an enclosed space with no means of escape.