And Now For Something Completely Different…
…A short blurb on dog training. Yeah, I know. Not my normal subject matter, but it’s something I’ve been reading a lot about for over a year, mainly because a: I want to get a dog in the future, b: doing so is a lifelong commitment, and c: I want children in said future as well, so d: I want to educate myself as much as possible so that I can make those things work together.
Most commonly, I see poorly trained dogs. All that really means is a lack of consistency. Dogs don’t really get it if you let them on the couch 8 times out of 10 and then then get in trouble for it the other two times. If pulling on the leash has gotten them where they wanted to go more quickly up till now, why is the owner suddenly mad about it? All of that is just a lack of consistent reinforcement/correction of behaviors.
I’ve just read a few things both in favor of and against dominance theory. The gist of dominance theory in dogs is that dogs are pack creatures and respond/behave best when they know their established place with the human as the Alpha. Pretty simple. Proponents of dominance theory maintain that so-called “problem” behaviors in dogs that range from relatively mild such as disobeying or ignoring well-known commands to moderate such as chewing, hiding the owner’s possessions, etc. to severe behaviors such as biting, aggression, and defecating/guarding on human possessions is the dog asserting its dominance over the human.
Those who disagree with that say that dogs are simply not always on a quest for dominance, and that those behaviors are either simply their nature or that the dog is poorly trained.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, saying that dogs, even the common household pets of today, are not pack creatures is absurd. Sure, they’re not Wolfy MacWolferson anymore, but if you venture outside suburban America, there are maaaaany places around the world where strays form packs — and strays are often common mutts bred from varying breeds you would find in people’s homes. They most certainly do form packs. I’ve even seen it in suburban America in a neighborhood where people weren’t keeping their dogs well: about five or six dogs gathered whenever they got a chance, and they definitely formed a pack. It was also very evident just looking at how they moved together which dog was the leader/Alpha. So to an extent, dominance theory is not something I would just pooh-pooh. Dogs are not humans; they’re dogs. Certain things stand out to me as dominant behavior, though with caveats.
Ever had a dog who wouldn’t get out of your way? That’s something that goes slightly beyond playful behavior. A human who acted that way would be considered aggressive, especially if you asked them politely and they refused to move. A dog doing this is basically refusing to listen — and on a basic level, that says they don’t think they should. Ever see a really well trained dog? The owner of such a dog can give commands that will be instantly followed. While I don’t think this necessarily means that the human is “fully dominant,” it means that the dog has been trained consistently and understands that obeying results in rewards. When a dog ignores commands, it means it thinks it has no reasons to follow them.
When it comes to stuff like letting dogs on the furniture and stuff…I kind of think that’s a personal prerogative. I personally will train my future dogs to never get on the furniture, including beds. When they have learned that well, I will teach them specific cues that invite them onto the furniture at my discretion and that will also tell them when it’s time to get down. If they don’t obey those, they won’t get to be up there. Period.
What I do believe is that normal dog behavior is not “good” behavior. Dogs growl, bite, dig, scratch, fight, etc. That’s not ideal for a pet. In fact, that can get your dog euthanized. That’s why good training is so important — you’re essentially training your dog to go against its nature.
While I don’t think that mild disobedience means a dog is exerting dominance, I do think that habitual obstinate behavior does. If a dog is peeing or pooping on your bed, biting you or family members, destroying your things (there is a qualification to this — puppies do chew, and if they haven’t been taught what they are allowed to chew, they’ll chew anything), or consistently ignoring commands, I would say that dog believes you are subordinate. Dogs aren’t passive-aggressive creatures — those are all pretty straightforward signs that you aren’t in control, the dog is. Call it dominance or whatever you want, but if those things are happening, you’re not in control. With any pet, the owner should be the one in control — and I think that’s something both sides can agree on. Most of the time control is just an issue of consistent training.
It’ll be some time still before I get a dog. More on this later, perhaps.