Debunking the Dominance Myth in Dog Training

As a certified trainer, I frequently encounter clients who have received questionable advice on how to train and handle their dogs by other people holding themselves out to be trainers. Fortunately, many of these individuals have felt uneasy about the guidance they've received and have sought out someone whose values better align with their own (that's me).

One common misconception that dog guardians often encounter is the notion that they need to establish
dominance and become the pack leader. This advice often includes impractical behaviours like eating (or pretending to eat) from a dog's bowl before feeding them, always walking through doorways ahead of their dogs, ensuring a dog's head height is always below the humans and using a stern tone when addressing them. From there the advice escalates to violent actions with guardians being encouraged to smack, kick or pin their dog down. Let me be perfectly clear: this is all terrible advice.

First and foremost, your dog is not a wolf. While domesticated dogs may share a common ancestry with wolves, their evolution has led them down a very different path.

Secondly, you are not a dog, and your dog knows that. I'm sorry if I burst your bubble.

Thirdly, do you really think there's any doubt about who's "in charge" here? You determine what and when your dog eats, control their access in and out of your home, and decide where they exercise and where they are allowed to sleep. It's abundantly clear that you are the one in charge. You don't need to assault your dog to communicate this.

Fourthly, the scientific foundation of the dominance theory is built on extremely outdated information.
Science is a dynamic process; it doesn't stand still. The scientific method dictates that we start with a hypothesis, test and measure it, and then adjust our hypotheses based on the data, resulting in a more accurate understanding.

If we didn't follow this approach, we'd still believe the Earth was flat, and medicine was nothing more than witchcraft. Thankfully, we managed to move on. I just wish the same could be said for people thinking they need to be a scary pack leader instead of a joyful snack leader.