There are many different opinions when it comes to training dogs, and these differences have led to a distinct split in the dog training world. There is a saying that if you put three dog trainers together in a room, all they will agree on is that the other two are wrong. There’s some truth to this, but as the debate rages on, science is revolutionizing our understanding of domestic dog behavior, tipping the scales toward a more positive, humane approach I call “positive training.”
When I became a dog trainer over 20 years ago, the dog training industry was moving towards a more humane model. But just as positive training was gaining popularity, punitive techniques resurfaced at a popular American dog training show, setting positive training back years. The American Veterinary Association, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists, and the American Humane Association were among the many institutions that sounded the alarm, but the damage was already done. At the same time, my show It’s Me or the Dog moved from the United Kingdom to the United States, giving American viewers an antidote to punishment training by demonstrating that dogs can learn to behave without the use of force, regardless of age, gender, or gender. variety or issue. The two dog training camps now had their very public flag bearers and the debate raged on.
What is Package Theory?
Traditional training bases many methods on what is called “pack theory.” Traditional trainers teach people to be “pack leaders” using equipment and methods designed to exert dominance and rank by suppressing the dog’s presumed desire to dominate people and be pack leaders themselves. This sows the seeds of mistrust and leads people to use techniques that supposedly demonstrate their role as pack leaders. One technique is called the Alpha roll – if a dog misbehaves, it is forcefully held on its back or side until it surrenders. This forceful submission intimidates and sometimes hurts the dog to obey.
What an Alfa really does
The terms “Alpha” and “Pack Leader” have become curse words in the positive training world because of the damage they do. The word Alpha is usually used to describe a dog or person who forcibly exerts control over others, but in reality, an Alpha does not have to use violence at all. True leadership is shown by teaching and influencing behavior in others without the use of force, which is something most dog lovers would rather embrace. So why are some people so wrong?
The pack theory and misuse of the word Alpha is partly due to flawed research done on wolves in captivity in the 1970s by David Mech, a senior scientist with the US Geological Survey. Little did he know that his research was about to cause a storm of misunderstanding in the dog training world.
To conduct this research project, wolves from different packs were forced to live together so that researchers could get a better idea of how wolf packs worked. The resulting violence to establish dominance within the pack was thoroughly studied and the results were also applied to the behavior of dogs. But when researchers wanted to see how a real wolf pack functioned, they went the wrong way because their experiment was based on some crucially flawed assumptions.
First, dogs are not wolves. Although dogs retain some wolf characteristics, 15,000 years of domestication has changed them in many different ways, both physically and behaviorally. Second, what researchers saw when they studied captive wolves was the behavior of a dysfunctional pack, and it was this dysfunction that caused the violence. David Mech has since explained this mistake by stating that “when one artificially puts any group of any species together, these animals will naturally compete with each other.”
He goes on to clarify that a natural pack consists of a mother and father and their offspring. This pack survives a bit like a human family where the parents take the lead and the children follow. In a natural pack, violence is not normal and harmony is created because submissive behavior is freely given by the younger wolves, rather than being forced upon them by their parents. This reverence avoids injuries that would compromise the pack’s ability to hunt prey successfully. So when people try to assert their Alpha status over their dogs using techniques like the Alpha roll, they are not Alphas at all, but are replicating the role of a pack bully. And as for being a pack leader? Well, dogs are pretty smart and know full well that humans are not dogs. How can people be pack leaders when they look and act so different?
A natural wolf pack consists of a mother and father and their offspring.
Positive versus punitive
There is still a long way to go when it comes to putting punitive training methods and abuse of words to bed once and for all, but until then I will continue to carry the flag for positive training camp. Positive training aims to build relationships with dogs based on mutual trust, motivational rewards and understanding. Rather than punishing negative behavior, positive trainers look for the root cause of the behavior and adopt humane ways to modify and change it. The results are worth it. Positively trained dogs are more confident, tolerant, self-controlled and more predictable in a variety of situations.
As David Mech puts it, “This issue is not a matter of semantics and political correctness. It is one of biological correctness that accurately reflects the biological and social role of the animals rather than perpetuating a false image.”