A lot of dog owners think that they need to assert their ‘alpha’ status over their dog to prevent him from ‘dominating’ their household. The ‘dominance theory’, i.e. man must force his dog into submission, stems from decades of misunderstanding our canine friends and have ingrained punishment based training methods in our lives.

Training techniques to achieve ‘alpha’ status include the alpha roll, ‘corrections’ such as yanking the dog’s lead, pushing the dog’s bum down until he sits, yelling ‘no’, spraying water in his face or even worse, scruff shaking or hanging a dog to correct unwanted behaviours. Pet shops sell books detailing such pain inflicting training methods, choke collars, barking collars, barking muzzles and vets prescribe electric shock collars to force your dog into behaviours you want.

As a child, I was not allowed to have any pets but I remember being at a friend’s house with their new puppy. Toilet training meant for Rover that the father would push Rover’s face into the puddle or pile of shit he made by accident in the house. Did Rover learn his lesson?  Yes he was toilet trained but also learned to fear the father and shake uncontrollably every time he raised his voice.

Thousands of people who love their dogs buy into the ‘alpha’ dog theory and take advice from dog trainers, pet shops and vets who teach and promote the ancient punishment based training methods. I watched the TV show ‘The Dog Whisperer’ too when it first launched in 2004 and did not see straight away how wrong Cesar Milan is.

Positive rewards based training is the only way to go and thankfully, the approach is widespread now. It is based on truly understanding our dogs and their behaviours and motivations.  It builds a trusting relationship with your dog and works on all dogs of all ages. Dogs respond to positive rewards based training with enthusiasm and joy. They suddently want to learn and participate with wagging tails and worry free facial expressions. Finally they have someone in their life that speaks their language and they do not need to fear. Dogs who were trained with punishment based training methods often change into more lively, happy and worry free dogs once positive rewards based training begins.

Leading trainers and behaviourists in the field such as Dr. Ian Dunbar,  Jean Donaldson, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Karen Overall, Suzanne Hetts and Victoria Stilwell have a lot of online reading material which is accessible to anyone who wants to find out more. And if you need a recommendation for someone local, please get in touch with us.

Last but not least, here are some good articles debunking the dominance theory in more detail:

The Whole Dog Journal


Dr. Sophia Yin