I received an email last week from a gentleman who was very worried about his dog’s behaviour. He had watched a TV show about dogs where the presenter, self-appointed dog expert, was telling the viewers that they should teach their dogs to respect them by being ‘dominant’.
He reeled off a list of things he had read, treating his dog like a ‘wolf’. Eating before his dog. Walking through the doors before his dog. Ignoring his dog when he came home. And yet, his dog was still pulling on the lead, was still not seeing him as ‘pack leader’. He admitted he had tried copying the ‘Sssst’ noise and jabbing his dog on the neck when the dog misbehaved. Nothing was working.
What could he do?
This is a genuinely nice owner, wanting the best for his dog. He was blaming himself for what he saw as his dog’s ‘lack of respect’. He loved to cuddle his dog but from his research he had been told not to allow his dog on the sofa, something that he and his dog both loved to do. ‘I have spoiled him’ was the gent’s biggest concern.
How could we and our dogs really enjoy each others’ company if we are supposed to be treating them like submissive underlings, punishing them with a jab (or even a kick to the ribs – watch the dog TV programme with the volume muted to see, if you don’t believe me)?
The premise that dogs live in a pack, with an alpha, just like wolves, is mostly untrue. Wolves do not live like this, either. Amazed? You will be! Wolves in captivity have limited resources. As they like to roam, it seems a small area is not easy for them to adapt to.
One or two feeding times a day means that some will get very defensive over food, and places. Of course, in this situation they might be the one that gets everything first through fighting. However, when in the wild, wolves don’t live this way. They have social groups, almost like families, sharing care of their cubs and rarely fighting.
Apart from the other fact that dogs and wolves evolved separately from a single ancestor (that wasn’t a wolf, only wolf-like) and the whole theory of dogs as domesticated wolves unravels. Train them to do what you want instead, and let dogs be dogs!