How To Truly Be Your Dog's Best Friend
Recently a book came out, written by the Monks of New Skete. It is their latest on dog training. The Monks breed and train German Shepherds at their monastery. When I saw it, it brought back memories of my first dog.
Almost 40 years ago, when I moved from my home state of Maryland to a small town in New Mexico, I got Elsa. She was a tiny Australian Shepherd mix puppy from Animal Control.
The population of Socorro was about 8,000 when the college I attended was in session and 6,000 the rest of the year. There was one library and one book on dog training; How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete. The title drew me in; of course I wanted to be my dog’s best friend!
I learned I had to be dominant and be the boss of tiny Elsa, had to use a choke collar, and if she did not behave I should flip her on her back and hold her down in an Alpha Wolf Roll.
Fortunately, Elsa was extremely easy to train. She walked to school off leash with me and stopped at every corner. She hung around on the college grounds with the other dogs and came when I called her. If she had not been so easy, I might have ruined her.
We now know because of the wealth of research that has been done on dog behavior, that Dominance Theory is not real. It does not apply to wolves whose abnormal behavior in captivity led to the theory, and it definitely does not apply to dogs.
Wolves in the wild form family units we call packs. The pack consists of the parents, puppies, and young wolves not ready to go off on their own. When they are ready, they do not fight with the alpha wolves to take their place. Instead, they leave and find a mate and a new pack begins.
Dogs are descended from wolves but they are not wolves. They have evolved to have a very different social structure. Feral dogs do not form stable packs like wolves; rather, they get together in small groups that are fluid in order to perform different functions. For instance, a dog may join another to forage and hunt for food and then find her sleeping buddy to cuddle up with at night.
What does this mean in terms of how we live with our dogs? On a practical level, it means it doesn’t matter who goes through the door first unless there is a safety issue. It means your dog does not want to dominate you or take over the household. However, it does mean you need to provide structure and leadership so your dog knows how to live in the human world and the two of you can enjoy each other’s company.
But there is a profound difference between leadership and dominating, whether it is a dog or another human being. Being a leader implies knowing what to do and how to do it, and being able to teach others so things go smoothly. Dominating means being a bully and getting what you want through intimidation, pain, and fear of punishment. That is why I never use outdated equipment like choke, prong and shock collars. I never hiss at dogs or give them a swift kick in the ribs, nor do I back them in to a corner to show them who’s boss. And I never, ever do an Alpha Wolf Roll.
Violence gets results. Your dog will stop pulling on the leash if you press the button on the shock collar every time he forges ahead. He will stop counter surfing if you throw a can of pennies at him every time you see him do it. And violence can be addictive. You get an adrenalin rush when you kick your dog in the ribs and he stops barking at the other dog walking by. You are reinforced by getting what you want and you want to do it again. But what happens if the battery goes dead or you leave the penny can in the other room? And what happens to the trust your dog has in your ability to lead him through this human-run world of ours?
With force free methods, you either take away the possibility of misbehavior through management of the environment or you teach a more acceptable behavior through positive reinforcement. The treats are temporary and this kind of training sticks. Your dog finds that keeping the leash loose leads first to lots of treats, and then to longer and more enjoyable walks. You put the bag of chips away when you are done, and remove stress and irritation from both your life and your dog’s. Plus, you kitchen is tidier!
The bottom line is, if there are ways to get the behavior you want from your dog that are kind and nonviolent, why would you want to do it any other way?
About the Author
Joanne Ometz is a holistic dog trainer in Durham NC. She uses only humane, science based, force free methods to achieve successful outcomes with dogs of all breeds and sizes.