8 May 2023
The alpha dog concept has long dominated dog training. You, the human, must be the alpha and use force and intimidation to control your dog. Unfortunately, every resource out there – websites, books, blogs, television shows, veterinarians, trainers, and behavior professionals – advises you to use these methods is wrong.
In the 1930s and 1940s, animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel studied captive zoo wolves, concluding that wolves fight to gain dominance in a pack, and the alpha wolf wins. This theory of canine social behavior is referred to as dominance theory. However, subsequent research has debunked this approach.
Wild wolf packs consist of a mated pair and their offspring from the last 1-3 years. After that, it is not uncommon for two or three families to group. A breeding pair is the only long-term group member after the offspring have matured and dispersed from the pack. In contrast, unrelated wolves live together in captivity for many years, and tension between mature adults doesn’t exist in a natural environment. In other words, basing a study on captive wolves who are subject to social structures and environments that would not occur naturally makes the study useless.
There is also the fact that dogs and wolves are different species. While there are similarities in their social behavior, it’s essential to understand that dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and have evolved to live with humans. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that dogs operate in hierarchical packs like wolves do.
As a result of the National Geographic Channel’s show “The Dog Whisperer,” alpha dog theory has resurged, with followers attributing all sorts of behaviors to dominance. Successful social groups work because of voluntary amenability, not because of aggressively enforced dominance. Social body language rituals are designed to avoid conflict and confrontation, not to cause it.
The idea that dogs must be dominated and forced into submission is not only misguided, but it’s also disrespectful to your dog. In addition, it can cause anxiety and fear and break the trust and bond between you and your dog.
Thankfully, positive reinforcement-based training is a much better way to train your dog. This is a science-based approach to dog training that uses rewards to encourage and reinforce desirable behaviors.
The idea behind positive reinforcement is simple: dogs repeat rewarded behaviors. By using rewards such as treats, praise, and play, you can train your dog to behave in desirable ways. Positive reinforcement-based training is not only practical, but it’s also humane and respectful to your dog.
Nowadays, educated trainers know that canine-human interactions are not based on social rank but reinforcement. Reinforced behaviors repeat and strengthen. If your dog repeats an inappropriate behavior, such as counter surfing or getting on the sofa, it’s not because he’s trying to take over the world; it’s just because he’s been rewarded with food on the counter and comfort on the sofa. Scavenger and opportunist, he grabs what he can.
Karen Pryor’s book, “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” is credited with the birth of positive reinforcement-based training, and her “clicker training” revolutionized dog training in the 1980s. Pryor’s book explains the principles of operant conditioning and provides training techniques based on positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement means rewarding the behaviors you want to increase and ignoring or redirecting behaviors you want to decrease. In this way, positive reinforcement training can help you shape your dog’s behavior without force or punishment.
When it comes to dog baby teeth, it is essential to provide them with appropriate chew toys and avoid using harsh physical corrections or punishment. Instead, positive reinforcement training techniques can encourage your dog to chew on suitable items, such as chew toys or bones.
As your dog grows and their adult teeth come in, you can continue to use positive reinforcement training techniques to encourage good behavior and help your dog learn new commands and tricks. This can include using treats, praise, and other positive reinforcement to reward good behavior and encourage your dog to continue learning.
While the “alpha dog” theory may still be prevalent in some circles, it is crucial to understand that it is based on outdated science and has been largely debunked by modern research. Furthermore, positive reinforcement training techniques are effective, humane, and enjoyable for dogs and their owners. So, if you want to train your dog, consider using positive reinforcement techniques to help your dog learn and grow into a happy, healthy, and well-behaved companion.