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Canine Dominance: Is the Concept of the Alpha Dog Valid? | Psychology Today

Interesting article, comments?

It seems like every discussion of dog obedience and dog behavioural problems eventually turns to the issue of dominance. Dog owners are told that they must be "the leader of the pack" and the "alpha dog in your own home." One reason why this issue has become so salient again has to do with the current popularity of Cesar Millan, who calls himself "The Dog Whisperer," and has popularized the use of forceful methods to exert dominance over unruly dogs.

Millan's methods are controversial among most trained dog behaviourists and researchers. To begin with, his use of the title "dog whisperer" seems odd, since it is an adaptation from the term "horse whisperer" that was first used to describe people like Willis J. Powell and Monty Roberts. They were called whisperers because they abandoned the use of force which was the common way of dealing with difficult and aggressive horses and substituted much gentler and supportive methods.
That's just a brief exerpt from the start of the article, so make sure you click the link and read it all!
 

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Well, I don't find Milan to be all that, but I certainly don't think it's accurate to characterize him as "forceful" when compared to a lot of the "old school" dog training methods out there. Not a huge fan of him...and while he promotes the alpha/leader of the pack position I hardly think he has the most domineering tendancies out there.

And actually, as someone who used the "horse whisperer" methods for years and years on certain horses, they methods actually aren't THAT different when taking into consideration the two different species. A lot of the "horse whisperer" methods are staying cool, calm, collected and working through an issue but also not letting them sucker you into copping out of something. There isn't a lot of "oh, good pony!" stuff going on, and a fair amount small steps, standing in place, standing firm during a hissy fit, etc. Those methods ARE a lot more "clicker training" than not....but the Cesar Milan types of trainers were definitely not what inspired the "horse whisperer" methods....it was the "beat your horse until welts are on his butt" that did.
 

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Are the folks with the latest theory saying that all the dogs/wolves in a pack will all feed together at a kill also since they seem to state that the theory of dominance is old hat and that there are no "dominant" alpha leaders and that the social hierarchy is a figament of somebody's imagination. or did i misread the article and the folks that think that there is no social hiersrchy in dogs?
 

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Are the folks with the latest theory saying that all the dogs/wolves in a pack will all feed together at a kill also since they seem to state that the theory of dominance is old hat and that there are no "dominant" alpha leaders and that the social hierarchy is a figament of somebody's imagination. or did i misread the article and the folks that think that there is no social hiersrchy in dogs?
I thought he was saying the hierarchy is fluid in a wild pack.

Quote:
The pack seems to allow leadership to dogs, who at particular times seem to be most likely to contribute to the welfare of the pack through knowledge that can access the resources they require.

The debate is about whether or not alpha exists, which translates into how can a dog owner establish a leadership role with his/her dogs?

No one would care about the alpha theory if they weren't trying to control their pets. It doesn't matter what you call it...alpha, leader, boss, the big Kahuna or just Mom :).....the objective is "do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it." Some say compulsion is necessary others say positive reinforcement is the better way to go. (no different than the debate about spanking kids except we don't use the word alpha for *that* discussion)

That being said, these people need to stop studying dogs in the wild, they need to be studying dogs in a home environment. Comparing a wild pack of dogs in survival mode to the 5 dogs who live in a house with all of their basic needs being provided for is like comparing apples to oranges.
 

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Even dogs that live in a home have a pack order. Mine do. While I'm the Big Kahuna, I watch my dogs and it's easy to see they have a pecking order like who drinks first, who sleeps in the most comfortable place, etc.
 

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Dogs definitely establish pecking order within a home- is it Alpha? Dominance? I don't know the words get overused and often have many meanings to different people. I don't believe just because we walk our dogs, control their feeding schedule, and give them attention they are automatically going to see us as their master and respect our wishes at all times. Kinda like a kid- they will push boundaries, break the rules, and need different kinds of corrections based on temperament. I think these things are a good start to a loving respectful relationship, but certain behaviors need different kinds of training.

However, I do feel positive reinforcement techniques such as clicker training are beneficial and help modify and create behaviors we want- again this is never going to be 100%, their animals after all. I also definitely have had more stubborn and pushy dogs who despite yummy treats and playtime wanted to run on their own agenda- they needed leash corrections.

Compulsion on the whole does not have to be about being dominant or alpha, but instead a tool to increase drive kinda like a crop when riding a horse. It's compulsion- but not abusive when used properly. In Schutz whips and prongs are used to increase drive and direct responses from the dog and again I do not find this harsh or abusive. Of course I don't see Caesar as abusive or overly rough either. I guess for me this article is implying that when a trainer uses compulsion they are automatically trying to position themselves as the Alpha and thats not how I feel.. All the treats in the world wouldn't have stopped Zoe from going after a rabbit but her prong sure did and with time just like with the clicker she associated pulling me towards prey with getting a quick pop she didn't much like.

I don't Alpha roll my dogs, rub their noses in poo, or hit them to gain control or position in their eyes. However, dogs like people come in all flavors- some are naturally submissive and others are more pushy and dominant.
 

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I would prefer a common sense approach - use compulsion when necessary and positive the rest of the time. There is no such thing as "one size fits all," even with the same dog or behavior.
I hate that so many trainers/writers/experts all believe in the ONE TRUE PATH mentality. I use praise and food motivation when teaching a new behavior. The only correction is "eh" and showing the dog what I expect of them (such as guiding them into a sit). Once they have the idea and I have it fine-tuned to where it should be, I will use physical corrections if necessary. I've seen trainers who believe that even saying "eh" is too much correction for a dog!
I believe that dogs (like kids) need balance and structure in their lives. One of the most important parts of that balance HAS to include discipline. Even if you discredit the entire alpha wolf scenario, there is no doubt that puppies are taught their place in the pack through discipline. Puppies have certain leeways when they are young and learning, but over time they ARE expected to behave and defer to other pack members.

ETA: I hate always thinking of something after I post. I don't know how, other than the word dominant, to refer to the same dog believing themselves to be below one owner, but above their spouse. Most GSDs have a "favorite" person. Unless the others in the family work with the dog, the dog will ignore them. Some will even do it willfully - taking food from them, etc etc.
In the article, she also says that dogs trained with other than compulsive methods obey out of fear. I don't know anyone, expect the most extreme "trainers", who use compulsion to instill fear in their dogs. A fearful dog will not be as good a worker as a dog that is a partner.
Actually, she doesn't seem to be disputing the concept of "dominance" at all. She just advocates NILIF over alpha rolls.
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One can agree to respond to controls imposed by someone of higher status, but this is done, not out of fear, but out of respect and in anticipation of the rewards that one can expect by doing so.
 

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Another thing I just thought of, that never seems to be discussed in these articles.
Just because the pack seems to use different leaders at different times, doesn't mean that the actual ALPHA ever changes.
The animals that are best suited for a particular task perform that task. Still, when feeding time comes after the kill, the wolf who lead the hunt may not be the first to eat. The breeding pair/alpha/whatever you want to call them, will eat first. The other animals will sit back until their turn. Puppies will eat last of all. This feeding order never changes. There may be more than one animal at a certain rank/level within the pack, but any that try to eat ahead of their turn will be met with a snarl and physical force.
 

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Dogs are pack animals, which require structure. I consider myself that structure. I don't think I need to utilize brute force to create a required action from the dogs.

The study on behavior of wild dogs is important, but I think only to be utilized in understanding dog behavior, and not to assist me in training my dogs as the "alpha dog". I'm not a dog.

I think people understand their role better when associating themsleves with the verbage of being considered "alpha", and not actually attempting to perform as a leader in a pack, such as the wolf leader. It would be difficult to attempt to explain to a first time dog owner how they should establish a leadership role in their dog's life with out the use of some sort of example (i.e. wolf pack).
 

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It would be difficult to attempt to explain to a first time dog owner how they should establish a leadership role in their dog's life with out the use of some sort of example (i.e. wolf pack).
I see what you're saying but I think the problem is that too many people associate being alpha with being tough. You don't have to be tough to be a leader.
 

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I see what you're saying but I think the problem is that too many people associate being alpha with being tough. You don't have to be tough to be a leader.
Very much agree! If you look at the pack structure of horses, you always have one alpha horse. That horse (usually) doesn't have to establish it's rank by physical force. A pin of the ear, or swish of the tail will communicate to another horse if something is acceptable or not. You don't (normally) have the teeth baring, hoof flying fights that happen in the wild. But with every show you watch on wild mustangs they always show the out and out fights (force) that is required to establish the leader of the herd (pack).

If I have a problem bringing my horses in, or (God forbid) they get loose, I don't have to grab halters for each horse, and there isn't an attempt to catch each one. When I catch one, I simply lead it back to the barn. The others will ALWAYS follow. And it doesn't matter which one I catch. They are a herd (pack) and want to remain together.
 

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am moving this to behavior:)
 
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