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A heartwrenching post from Ruffly Speaking about Dominance Theory going off the rails:

On a site in a galaxy far far away, I’m reading a thread that’s yelling “He bit me!”

It opens the way so many of them do, with “I don’t know if I can trust him” and “The trainer says he’s been showing signs of dominance for weeks” and “Thank goodness it happened to me and not to my kids.”

The response from a supposedly extremely experienced dog trainer is “Never let him get the upper hand again! Be on your guard from now on! This is the way herding dogs behave when they want to get their way! Never, never let him win!”

So what on earth happened? What Cujo is this, and what hideous act did he commit? It’s a seven-month-old puppy. A little herding mix.

First, let me explain what had been perceived as “dominant” behavior–the puppy jumped on its owner. When he was told not to, he’d go behind the owner and jump straight up and down, without touching the owner. To solve this, the owner was told to back the dog into an office chair.

The ultimate infraction, the bite? In a training class, the owner was instructed to make the dog lie down by stepping on the leash and pulling the leash up from under her foot, thus forcing the puppy to the ground. The goal of the exercise was to stand on the leash right at the clip, so the dog is snubbed completely to the floor, and then wait until the dog relaxed.

When she stepped on the lead and began to pull the leash, the dog did what she called “have a temper tantrum.” What was this tantrum? The dog screamed, and screamed, and screamed, and howled, and flipped over, scrabbled at the ground, and finally bit her in the shin.

The trainer told her to repeat the exercise. Over and over. The second time it was done, the dog screamed and bit through the leash and got away. But he was brought back, and he went through it again. And again. Until he finally lay down on the floor.

The owners took him home and, following the trainer’s directions, put the dog on the leash again, and this time she wore boots. And they did it again at home, over and over, until he would drop like a stone if anyone went near his leash. This was a huge success–as evidenced by the fact that when it was done the puppy immediately went to his bed and slept for hours.

This story is easily in my top ten of IDIOT TRAINER MEETS IDIOT OWNER tales. I want to go to wherever that trainer is and smack his face repeatedly, and then say “Do you think I’m your boss now? Huh?” and then smack him repeatedly again. Maybe knee his testicles too, because if he objects to the smacking that must mean he’s being dominant.

Anyone who has any experience with dogs, especially herding dogs, knows that what happened to that poor innocent puppy is that he is now pretty sure that his owner repeatedly threatened to kill him. And the only way he can avoid death is to lie down.

And because a thrice-accursed trainer decided that objecting to being choked down to the ground was a sign of dominance, that poor baby dog had to re-live that terror fifty or a hundred times.

Let me put this very simply: If your dog is screaming, gasping, rolling, howling, and finally after ALL THAT he bites… he is a normal, even submissive, very sane dog who thought you were going to kill him. And even once he became convinced that you were trying to kill him, he didn’t fight back. For minutes he fought to get away from you, to get somewhere away from your rage, until he finally fell back on something he’d been trying to avoid for every moment of panic. He bit what was trying to kill him.

Here are the things that this trainer (and now, tragically, the owner) do not understand about dog behavior:

1) Dominance theory is real, it’s useful, and it is effective. When used properly it’s a great addition to training. But dominance has NOTHING to do with choking a puppy into submission. That’s just cruelty and abuse.

Being a pack leader, being “dominant” in the right way, is not about forcing a dog to do ANYTHING. It’s about being the kind of person, having the energy and posture, knowing how much careful pressure to apply to a dog with your body language and very little else, that a dog WANTS to obey. The proper exercise of dominant energy makes a dog sigh, relax, and become calm. Aside from a very few specific situations, it has nothing to do with physical touch and it NEVER involves panicking an animal. In other words, using leadership has everything to do with YOU, not with the dog. The dog already knows it, trust me. It’s about changing YOUR behavior and attitude and energy.

2) Dogs are not primates; close physical contact does not equal love.

An exercise that forces a dog into a small physical area, close to its owner, is an exercise designed by people thinking like people, not people thinking like dogs. Dogs have a very, very rich sense of love and affection, but their idea of physical space is MUCH more acute than ours. To be polite, to show love, to a dog, is to immediately and happily give space.

Right now Clue is lying at my feet, snoring. She chooses, as she has since she was a tiny baby, to lie about eight inches away from my foot. If I move my foot over and touch her on the back, she will immediately wake up. I just did it, and she looked up, saw me, stood up, and walked over to her bed (which is about three feet away). Humans, thinking like humans, would say “Oh, she doesn’t want to be near me anymore; there’s something wrong.” In fact, everything is exactly right. I signaled to her (by touching her back, and then looking at her eyes) that I intended to take up more space, so she gave me the space I needed.

When a dog sees that another dog is being impolite, and the infraction is not stopped by a quick glance or head posture and so the first dog has to physically touch the impolite dog, the proper response from the impolite dog is to leave. To back off and walk or run away. Dogs very, very rarely pursue in order to punish. If the impolite dog turns and leaves, the interaction is over and a success. I’ve seen older dogs do this to rude puppies a hundred times–the puppy jumps on the older dog’s head, older dog roars and knocks the puppy with an open mouth, puppy ki-yi-yis and runs, older dog has a satisfied grin on her face and lies back down to sleep. There’s no “payback” or pursuit. Simple message, looking for a specific response.

That poor baby herding dog felt “pressure” from its owner. It immediately tried to do the correct, polite thing, which is to move away. It was not allowed to do so; it was instead dragged closer and forced into greater and greater proximity. Its attempts to politely walk away became a panicked fight to RUN away, which brings us to the third behavior:

3) Dogs bite when it works to bite. It has nothing to do with submission or dominance. Mouths are how dogs communicate when body language fails. Using the mouth is the dog’s megaphone. A normal, sane dog who trusts the people and dogs around it will offer many, many behaviors and attempts to communicate before it uses its mouth. It’s a tragic thing that most of us completely ignore those communications.

When a dog feels that it has exhausted every “word” it knows, it will finally resort to using its mouth. When dogs are very afraid, they can run through a shorter set of words or more quickly resort to mouth. When a dog learns over time that its words will be ignored, it will begin to skip them and move right to mouth. That’s why when a dog perceives itself as the leader of a human group it often bites a lot–in a normal dog pack it could establish and maintain order through body language and small “words,” only very rarely resorting to mouth, but it has learned that humans are incredibly stupid and you have to bite them every single time because nothing else works.

In this case, the dog tried in a hundred ways, for minutes on end, to avoid using its mouth. He finally became so terrified that he bit. The second time he was tortured, STILL he tried to avoid biting. He bit through the leash instead, and must have felt incredible relief when he was finally able to give the human the space she was demanding so loudly. But instead of the leash cutting being read as what it was–the dog trying to obey and avoid this confusing and horrifying punishment by being a good baby and running–it was labeled disobedience and the puppy was punished further and further and with more and more intensity.

The final piece of our very, very terrible day for this poor puppy is

4) Dogs emotionally shut down by separating and sleeping.

When you get a puppy, you MUST physically exhaust that puppy every day. You want a puppy who sleeps for hours when the day is over. But what happened here is totally different. A happily exhausted puppy toddles over to its bed, still laughing, tail wagging, and flops down in total relaxation. Happy puppies sleep happy.

This puppy was not physically exhausted. All he’d done was lie down a hundred times–that’s a tiny calorie spend. What his owner saw was him emotionally and mentally shutting down, in the same way that a dog who has been beaten will sleep or a dog who knows he is very sick will separate from the others and seek out a place to hide and sleep.

The ultimate tragedy comes at the end of the story… the “successful” conclusion. “It totally worked. When he woke up, he did not want to mess with me at ALL. But now he won’t come when he’s called, even when I have a toy or a treat in my hand. I’m so glad my trainer offers phone support because now we have to work on this new sulky attitude.”

Good Lord. This poor, poor dog. Yes, you’ve definitely succeeded–he no longer trusts you or wants to be anywhere near you. But he’ll drop like a rock when you put his leash on. Hope you got a good price for that soul of yours.
 

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Forget dominance - how can anyone do that to a puppy? A helpless little creature like that?

I don't understand that, even if dominance theory was real and fully proven for dogs.

It makes me wonder if Wally suffered anything like that, considering how shy and fearful he was of even us in the house.
 

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Why in the world people buy into that theory is beyond me.. I don't see for a second how forcing a dog to do something (behaviors) is teaching the dog TO WANT TO do it. I have a friend whose mother is dead set on "dominating" their out-of-control (he is so because of their failure to train him). She is trying to use a pinch collar to teach him to lay down.

She pulls him down (forcing him) until he is in the laying position. No praise, no treats, no positive attention. When he doesn't lay down on command, she attributes it to him being a "dominant male". Hmm, alright, so he's a dominate male because he doesn't UNDERSTAND/HAS NO MOTIVATION to do what you're asking him to do?
 

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1) Dominance theory is real, it’s useful, and it is effective. When used properly it’s a great addition to training.
Dominance is real, but it is not the major factor determining behavior in domestic dogs. IMO, a dog's self interest is a much more powerful motivating drive.

I don't see for a second how forcing a dog to do something (behaviors) is teaching the dog TO WANT TO do it.
Especially with obedience commands, the dog's wants are not a consideration. It's best if they are enthusiastic workers, but second guessing is not allowed. That's why they call it obedience.
 

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That is sickening... poor puppy... and I'm so sad to think of all the puppies that have to be subjected to that kind of "training." :(

I found the thread that Ruffly Speaking is writing about... on mothering.com in the Pets forum... wow, some of the responses there turn my stomach.
 

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Why in the world people buy into that theory is beyond me...
We could write volumes on this subject, but in a nutshell this theory is tightly bound by our own genetic, cultural and personal perspective. Furthermore, the dominance construct is not falsifiable; observations that contradict can be explained away with a new, just-so addendum.

But if you really want to know why...it's because we're not much different than dogs. Our brains are built to find patterns, and if we've been taught/exposed-to a catchy idea like social hierarchy, we'll fit dog behavior into that model even if the model is demonstrated to be false.
 

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Especially with obedience commands, the dog's wants are not a consideration. It's best if they are enthusiastic workers, but second guessing is not allowed. That's why they call it obedience.
I'd have to disagree with you there only in that if a dog does not have a DESIRE to do what you're asking, they're sometimes more likely not going to do it. But, I suppose that's not always the case. In my experience with my puppy I haven't used force or anything like that and she is the best behaved dog of anyone I know's. She obeys because she WANTS to because she has made the connection with her action and a POSITIVE reward/reaction from me. NOT because she "HAS" to or I will force her/punish her.

In the long run, I suppose I just believe that a dog that is willing to obey no matter what because it has been taught there is a pleasant experience awaiting them is a more "stable" animal than one who obeys out of fear of force or punishment. Sometimes you can't always have that, I suppose. It's just what works for me.
 

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She obeys because she WANTS to because she has made the connection with her action and a POSITIVE reward/reaction from me.
I read Marsh referring to 'traditional' obedience trials, which makes his statement true. In traditional obedience the dog's wants are not valued...points are. What you're referring to is what most companion-dog guardians value. The two systems are different.
 

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I read Marsh referring to 'traditional' obedience trials, which makes his statement true. In traditional obedience the dog's wants are not valued...points are. What you're referring to is what most companion-dog guardians value. The two systems are different.
Ahhh, I misunderstood, then. I apologize. ;S

Thank you for correcting me, Curbside Prophet. It makes more sense now.
 

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I read Marsh referring to 'traditional' obedience trials, which makes his statement true. In traditional obedience the dog's wants are not valued...points are. What you're referring to is what most companion-dog guardians value. The two systems are different.
The dog's wants are valued...just differently. Especially in more advanced training, a minimum level of drive/desire is essential for a dog to be any good at it. If the dog wants to perform a task he will do it better and with more style. If standing in the glow of my awesomeness is the dog's highest reward, then I'll get a phenomenal recall response. If the dog finds something out there that he considers--even for the moment--to be more rewarding than my eminence, he's got to abandon his wants and obey mine. Every_Single_Time.
 

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The dog's wants are valued...just differently. Especially in more advanced training, a minimum level of drive/desire is essential for a dog to be any good at it. If the dog wants to perform a task he will do it better and with more style. If standing in the glow of my awesomeness is the dog's highest reward, then I'll get a phenomenal recall response. If the dog finds something out there that he considers--even for the moment--to be more rewarding than my eminence, he's got to abandon his wants and obey mine. Every_Single_Time.
A successful trainer walks a tightrope between "Every_Single_Time" and the "he will do it better and with more style" In competition life can be hard with a mediocre trainer. You can spot the mediocre trained robot dog in any type of competition as they don't make mistakes but look like a pc of garbage doing the work. These dogs and trainers excel in less than adequate competition but you never see them on a national level. Of course the training of a quality dog takes more knowledge and a lot more time as it is not something that can be rushed.
 

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You can spot the mediocre trained robot dog in any type of competition as they don't make mistakes but look like a pc of garbage doing the work. These dogs and trainers excel in less than adequate competition but you never see them on a national level.

I have only observed a few regional level obedience competitions and have little/no experience in what goes on in that discipline/world. Do dogs get points/get points deducted based upon how happy they appear in doing the required elements in the competition? Do dogs trained/conditioned with type x methods appear differently in obedience competitions than dogs trained with type oo methods and type xo methods? Interesting

Thanks for any insight on this..thats something I will pay more attention too especially when I observe a trial next time.

cheers

The dog's wants are valued...just differently. Especially in more advanced training, a minimum level of drive/desire is essential for a dog to be any good at it. If the dog wants to perform a task he will do it better and with more style. If standing in the glow of my awesomeness is the dog's highest reward, then I'll get a phenomenal recall response. If the dog finds something out there that he considers--even for the moment--to be more rewarding than my eminence, he's got to abandon his wants and obey mine. Every_Single_Time.

You got me to thinking about hunters and herdsman especially the ones who trial thier dogs at advanced levels. I wonder what training approaches they use to establish a highly reliable recall under all of the distractions in the environment? More to the point at issue is I am curious as to how much priority,focus, or effort is put into using methods or approaches that may take longer,require more resources, and more effort in developing a dog that appears less mechanical in it's performance? And more to the topic I am curious as to whether studies have pointed to DOMINANCE in other species. I read something awhile back about government dolphin trainers using a form of remote shock collar in experimenting with developing a more reliable recall because of a huge problem with non-compliance of dolphins used for military and other types of work.

Maybe too much off topic..sorry

cheers
 

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My experience was 14 yrs of GSP field trialing. A finished dog must run big (horseback run) they must find a bird, point the bird and then when bird is flushed must remain steady to wing-shot-kill. When dog is sent for a retrieve he must deliver back to hand. If a bird flushes wild the dog must stop to flush, the handler then heels dog off and casts dog off in a different direction and the dog must not veer back and delay chase the wild flush. If the dog happens upon the brace-mate (dogs run 2 at a time) who is pointing a bird the dog must stop and honor the point. A recall is the easiest part of all the work mentioned above. Retriever field trialing is even more intricate with double-triple and blind retrieves directed by whistle or hand signals, again a recall is the least of worries. Obvious the better the product looks the longer it took to build the product. Now let's get into judging, I have seen judging that was totally negative, which means in laymen language that a dog that looked like a noodle on point(lack of style because of an idiot training poorly or bad breeding) could win. This dog placed over a dog that was extremely stylish on point but when bird flushed took 1 step. As I am an X-judge who actually has judged a National trial I could not have placed either because a true national champion is the dog who is stylish but does not take a step. I could actually place the both dogs and withhold the championship title. All the above info is dated from 30 years ago. Please take all with a grain of salt. How all the above was accomplished is another story as it was a hard life for the dogs with most trainers(especially if they wanted to win)
 

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Pointing dogs, retrievers, spaniels, and continental versatile breeds all have their own competitions. To say nothing of squirrel dogs, rabbit hounds and coon hounds. There are trials and hunt tests. Trials are elimination events where dogs compete against other dogs for a win. Think: top level billiards or golf tournaments where a minor mistake or two can knock a competitor out of the running. Hunt tests are judged against a standard and are a bit less competitive, though at the higher levels, still quite demanding of dog and trainer. Then there are hunt tests put on by kennel clubs, and there are those conducted by other organizations. Retriever trials in the UK are a whole different type of affair than those in the US and Canada. Schutzhund is for police and protection dogs.

Basically if there is a job dogs do, there is a competition to prove "my dog is better than your dog".
 

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I just thought of something.

If dogs don't think like humans, why do we insist on knowing how they DO think?

If they live in the moment, why do trainers like this seem to think showing dominece for no transgression is useful?
 
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