The word dominance is loaded with an unhealthy attitude towards dog ownership. To dominate in everyday language suggests the need to overpower, and control.
In terms of training dogs this is not only unnecessary but when you are talking about Police dogs is a step in the wrong direction. So many dogs that fail to make the grade do so because they haven’t got the confidence to do the job. By dominating and controlling them you are hardly likely to maximise the dogs potential.
Think of that really scary teacher at school. The one who ridiculed and shouted. The one who made people afraid to speak out of turn. There was no messing about in that class. There was also no creativity, freedom of expression and no fun. That teacher dominated the class.
For you to adopt the attitude that you are going to dominate must also mean that you are looking for the dog to submit, to yield to your mighty power. Hardly the basis for a productive partnership.
Instead think of yourself as a teacher. A mentor. Not the scary dominating type but the inspirational type. The teacher who had the power to enthuse and excite. The type to reward good behaviour but with the ability to distract and refocus unwanted behaviours.
Leadership is about being clear about where you are going and how you are going to get there. It is about communicating effectively and having the ability to listen as well. It is about being calm and assertive (the only time you will hear me say anything that sounds like a Caesar Milan quote). It’s about consistency and fairness. It is absolutely nothing to do with domination. Dogs understand leadership. If you lead they will follow. Equally if you fail to lead then that responsibility will fall to your dog.
If you want to understand dominance and submission in proper behavioural terms then may I suggest you read “On aggression” by Konrad Lorenz. Or if that’s too heavy then “The evolution of canine social behaviour” by Roger Abrantes. If you don’t fancy reading either of them then perhaps you can just read the conclusion to this article.
There are only three true drives. Sex drive, prey drive and self-preservation. Everything your dog does is motivated by one of those things. Which one do you think you can control or suppress by shouting, slapping, hitting or electrocuting? Sex drive says what it does on the tin. You may scare the dog into not showing any outward signs but the desire will still be there.
Prey drive is what motivates the dog to hunt. It is a matter of life and death. You will not be able to summon enough fear from the depths of hell to control that. It is what makes the dog what it is. You can no more make the dog control its prey drive than you can make the dog change the colour of its fur. What you will do though is provoke the third drive by making yourself a threat. This will manifest as aggression, avoidance or as most dogs aren’t free to leave then displacement behaviour. Again, you may be able to suppress the symptoms but you wont change the motivation.
Dogs need to learn how to control their drives and you need to help them learn how and when to do it. Self control is vital and this comes from the dog learning what is and isn’t rewarding. By simply punishing behaviours you don’t want you are merely adding to the anxiety and confusion that is often present during any form of training and making it less likely that the dog will be able to control its self.
Many books are laden with rules that you should or shouldn’t do such as eat first, don’t let the dog go through doorways before you and don’t let them on the sofa. My take on it is this. If you have no rules and no boundaries then you will likely have an unruly dog. Adopting many of these rules is the first step to having some form order that the dog understands.
Allowing your dog to go through a doorway before you isn’t a problem in its self. I often want my dog to go ahead of me whilst working. I have the ability to stop him though if that is what is required. My rules are clear to both me and the dog. If I get there first I will go through first and the dog is not allowed to push past me. Equally if the dog gets there first I will afford him the same respect. If however he gets there first but I tell him to wait then wait he must do. I don’t however just expect these rules to be known or obeyed. I train them. I set up situations that allow all the above scenarios to take place and I reward (positively reinforce) the behaviours I want. Once I am happy that I have communicated the rules and ensured that I have made it worth the dogs while to comply, then and only then will I use any form of compulsion to enforce my rules.
I’m not harsh or vindictive though. I will give the dog a very clear warning that he is breaching a rule (I say aagghh). I have done prior training to let the dog know that aagghh means “what you are doing or about to do is not going to be rewarding”. How I do that is the subject of another post. He has a choice then. Continue with his current course of action or not. If he does I will invariably stop him, if he doesn’t I will invariably reward him.
Some people may be horrified to hear me say that I reward him after I have had to tell him off but he has complied with a command. The one that means “don’t do that”. You have to have faith in the fact that as a social animal the dog is programmed to fit in and to be a productive member of the group. They aren’t looking to oust you from power in a doggy coup. If you help them understand the rules and make it worth their while, they will comply with the house rules.
I am not afraid to enforce my rules or maintain my boundaries because I know that I have done everything in my power to ensure the dog understands them. I know that I am not vindictive or spiteful and I also know my dog knows this too. He isn’t afraid of me in the slightest and that’s just the way I like it. He isn’t afraid to try new things because he knows I am there to help and guide him.
So when asked how best to dominate a dog I reply “don’t”. Lead and your dog will follow. Consistency is king and remember that training is your responsibility. If you don’t train it you won’t get it. Be aware of your punitive nature, it’s the human condition, and learn to overcome it. The rewards for both you and your dog are immeasurable. It takes time and effort to learn the new skills and practice to become good but as they say, nothing good comes easy. If you like this article and want to read more then you can purchase Positive Police dogs:Philosophy HERE.