As someone who practices and advocates for force free, positive reinforcement dog training, I am often confronted with questions and assertions regarding pack theory, dominance theory, using prong collars, e-collars, and other long held beliefs of dog training.
While I understand that change can be difficult, and that adjusting your beliefs can be hard to process, I choose to stay true to the dogs. After all, they are the reason I do what I do. If I can change even one person’s mind about how they treat and train their dog, then I’ve done a good job.
But I choose not to stop with one, because too many dogs are abused in the name of “training.” To say that humans, in general, simply misunderstand dogs would be an understatement. We misunderstand quite a lot in this world we all share. We abuse, misuse and destroy so much and in the end, we think it’s because we know better and we deserve better and everything should bend to our will. This is one of the biggest flaws of the old ways of dog training … that we think our dog should do what we want, when we want it.
Dog Are Sentient Beings
We should remember that dogs are sentient beings. They also feel, they have
Some very interesting research is coming from Dr. Brian Hare and the Duke University Canine Cognition Center on just how the canine brain works, how they learn and how they interpret the world around them. https://evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/research/dogs/publications
So, when I began my journey as a dog trainer, I found a wealth of information and had to search through to find what was scientifically backed and what wasn’t. Part of my research included using my heart, because if something just doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.
Pack Theory & Why It’s Rubbish
One of the first items I began researching was pack theory. I didn’t really know what it was called at the time, just that we are confronted with the idea of “Alpha” and that dogs live in packs and have a leader called the alpha dog. I quickly learned how this theory came to be, and how it has been debunked for some time now.
In the 1970’s a group of researchers, including David Mech, published their theory of how wolves live in the wild. Unfortunately, these wolves were captured in different areas and thrown into an enclosure where the researchers evaluated them. As you can see, the research was flawed to begin with, but it took off. Pack theory was born, and dog trainers used it to begin teaching the world that Alphas are the pack leaders and you must become one to make your dog behave and put them in their place.
Mech has since tried to have his book removed from publication and has not yet succeeded, as he now knows the damage this has caused to so many dogs around the world.
To learn more about David Mech: https://davemech.org/wolf-news-and-information/
A Dog’s Family
In fact, even using the word “pack” can be difficult. A group of wolves, or a group of dogs, could easily be considered a pack – but we have been conditioned to relate the word pack to dominance, even when we don’t have any intention of dominance.
In the wild, packs are more like a nuclear family – a father, a mother, and siblings/offspring. Typically, only one breeding pair will live together along with their offspring. This is termed a pack, but we have to be very careful when using this term as it now implies dominance due to the pack theory that emerged in the 1970s.
Here is an excellent article on Dogs International about the term pack and why we should put it behind us: https://dog.international/language-matters-why-wolf-pack-terminology-is-bad-for-dogs/?fbclid=IwAR34T_cgloGI3XOXtB0IkiI1Yd77vohhdI4m9RWKNp7CN38NWfbBbXf5NcE
In fact, trying to place yourself in an “alpha” roll above your dog is not only harmful to the bond you and your dog should be sharing, but also is very dangerous as you are trying to physically dominate your dog. In essence, an alpha leader would be saying to their dog “do what I tell you to do because I said so, or I will hurt you.” This is no way to teach anything to anyone, including a dog. And as a dog would do to any threat, they can and often do end up biting and injuring people when they are physically threatened.
Imagine trying to teach your young child how to multiply 4 x 4. Instead of helping them do the math and figure out the answer, you used fear and pain, threatening physical violence and even hitting the child when they couldn’t figure it out on their own. This is essentially the difference in dominance theory of dog training and force free positive reinforcement dog training. Instead of using fear and pain, we help the dog learn what it is we want them to do using a reward-based system. This way, the dog learns not just the outcome we desire but the steps in which they need to get there.
Here is a great article on the alpha and why we need to leave it in the past and move forward (also includes loads of great references!): https://barksfromtheguild.com/2017/02/17/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/?fbclid=IwAR0Y9XR70fGZofzLeUIvYl2jhmVqmLxUGjO8U7e7JUgRkckHG4OSazqN8I0
Patricia McConnell is another force free dog trainer who, in my opinion, does very well putting into words just why pack theory should not be used in training a dog. McConnell goes into explaining why it’s not only us as humans who are not needed in a dominance role, but also dogs living together do not need to place themselves in dominance roles – nor should we place these expectations upon them.
Dogs are not wolves. Let that sink in a bit. Dogs are not wolves. We should not establish a dominant dog in our household, in fact the best advice to anyone living with multiple dogs is to treat them equally, use patience and politeness and expect that in return from each of your dogs.
Read more from Patricia McConnell here : http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/dominance-theories?fbclid=IwAR065UYoCYRwN5rpISryG9mmPJ0D-cEF-eb1DZ-1L20CEwkmK_w8W58aQ3A
Shock, Prong, Choke, E- Collars
One topic that often comes up in the dog training community is the use of shock collars, prong collars, e-collars and the like. In my opinion, these devices are not useful and only damage the trust your dog has in you. These devices are designed to make it easier to train a dog, but in reality, they only evoke fear in a dog. They not only do physical damage to a dog, but they also psychologically harm.
A prong or choke collar can cause serious damage, even death, because it can injure the spine and prevent your dog from breathing. Our dog’s necks are so sensitive and contain not only part of the spine, but also their esophagus and many veins and arteries. Their necks are so susceptible to injury that I don’t even recommend attaching a leash to a collar, any type of collar, as it can and does cause serious damage.
Read this Psychology Today article to find out more: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animal-emotions/201904/should-dogs-be-shocked-choked-or-pronged?fbclid=IwAR3pgloJDNRURR1AwkHDRmhgswoH7ift7Q7l1Kde0Tkc6zvZp8-0JltrHO8
Do The Best We Can For Our Dogs
As someone who loves animals, I do my best every day to further my education to help improve not only the lives of my animals, but also to spread knowledge to others and help them provide their pets with the best care possible.
It still amazes me how many people still rely and use outdated theories on their dogs. The same people who love their pets. It’s only because they don’t know better. Because they’ve seen it on TV and someone in an authoritative position has told them that dominance theory or shock collars, etc. are the best/only way to train their dog.
I feel terrible for all of the dogs around the world who are subjected to this cruelty. So, I tell everyone I can that there is another way. A better way. You can help by sharing this with others you know. Because the more we know, the better we can do.