No matter where you live, you will have undoubtedly heard that you need to be dominant over your dog or at the very least their pack leader.
There are several studies on this topic and I will not bog you down with it all here.
The short version is simply that you do not need to be a pack leader. Dogs, domestic or wild, do not assign a pack leader. The wolf pack is a family unit and daddy wolf is the alpha in the same way daddy duck is alpha over his chicks. It’s just parenting.
We do know that dominance is a fluid concept. If a group of wild dogs (look to Romania for examples of street dogs that hang out together) learn that Rex is very aggressive over food, there is a solid chance that they will simply let Rex eat first. In this scenario we can indeed say that Rex is dominant over food. However, this isn’t because he is in charge. Technically Rex is resource guarding food (if you have a resource guarder, book a behaviour consultation here) and the other dogs are practising self preservation after learning that he will fight them harder. Now, in the same group, Charlie absolutely loves his favourite sleeping spot next to a warm air vent. So much so that any other dog that approaches it while he is in it will send him into an instant rage to keep them out of it. We can also label this as dominant. Considering there are now two separate, very real scenarios with two very real instances of dominance, how do you assign a pack leader? In short, we don’t. It is just not that simple an answer.
Sadly, when people are given advice to address dominance or shown how to be a pack leader it is most likely based in punishing the dog when they are doing unwanted things. We know that punishment does indeed stop behaviours, but it doesn’t address the root cause nor teach a preferred behaviour.
Let’s assume your dog was nervous of people and demonstrated this by growling (and if you are experiencing this, please book a consultation here). It is not diagnosed as nervousness and is instead labelled as dominant. The common methods for addressing this are every time the dog growls, a punitive action is applied to teach the dog that growling will be punished. So we manage to stop the dog growling out of fear of the punishment. How does this make the dog feel about the stranger? Better? Certainly not. Now let’s say that the dog is no longer growling. The stranger has no warning now that the dog isn’t happy and instead of naturally backing away from the growling dog, gets much closer. This is a massive bite risk, which has implications all of it’s own.
If instead we managed the dogs environment to not be in a position to be as scared and then made the experience positive for the dog, we can start to associate the stranger with a cause of good things happening. With a careful plan we can adjust the conditioned emotional response to one of happy expectation instead of one of fear.
Much nicer than assuming the dogs want to take over the world and that we must forcibly stop them.
If you would like further help with this you can book a 1 2 1 session with us.