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Good Dog Training Evokes Respect Not Fear
golden retriever on a stay

Respect with Understanding!

Back when I began training dogs almost a quarter of a century ago there was a movement in the dog training world toward a model based on the idea of dominance and submission. The signature technique of this method was something called the “Alpha Wolf Rollover.” In this technique the dog owner or trainer demonstrated his or her dominance by rolling the dog onto it’s back, grabbing the scruff of the neck on either side, getting in the dog’s face and yelling “NO!” or some such foolishness. In all fairness, some dogs did seem chastened and behaved better immediately afterward. Unfortunately, when it was used on a dog of timid or even normal disposition the dog was often terrified, sometimes losing control of his bladder or bowels. On the other hand, a bossy dog would occasionally squirm out of the Rollover and fight back.

The problem with the technique is that it misunderstands canine nature. It tries to replicate the behavior of a dominant dog toward an upstart, but there are serious problems with that approach. First of all dogs know that people are not other dogs, so they don’t expect us to act like other dogs. Secondly when a dog rolls another dog, he is saying in effect, “If you cross me, I’ll rip you to shreds.” When a person does this rollover thing he is saying what? “Pretend I’m a dominant dog and you’re afraid of me?” That’s just stupid. The reason dogs can become so traumatized by this is that they can’t understand why their person is behaving like a bad-tempered dog! Thirdly, dogs use lots of subtle body language, so they rarely get to the rollover stage other than in play.

I had thought we were pretty much past all that dominance stuff until recently a client told me about a “trainer” who tried to corner their dog at day care with the idea of showing the dog “dominance.” When the dog quite predictably behaved in a defensive way, the trainer became frightened and later expressed concern about the dog’s temperament. Since a dog confronted head on in that way reads it as aggression, responding defensively is the natural and rational response.

Dogs want and need to know two things: who’s in charge and what is expected of me? Sound dog training technique answers the first of those questions by answering the second one in a very clear and rational way. Communicating to a dog that you’re in charge without communicating what your expectations are, may get you submission but without understanding or respect. Another word for that is fear. Do yourself and your dog a favor. Don’t go there.

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