Dominance in Canine Behavior: Reality or Myth?


Photo: (c) Can Stock Photo

The concept of dominance in dog training is still pervasive today in some circles in spite of the advances made in behavioral science. Photo: © Can Stock Photo

It was in the September of 2002 that the first version of this article appeared in Paw Prints, the Green Acres Kennel Shop newsletter. I update the article on a regular basis because sadly there are still too many people promulgating the dominance myth. Unfortunately a popular reality TV show has captured people’s attention and is talking about dogs as pack animals and again perpetuating the idea of using “calm-assertive energy” (read: fear and intimidation) to resolve issues with problem dogs.  Like most “reality” TV shows there is very little that is real here. The methods and approach used on this show are contraindicated by science and behavioral experts and many consider them inhumane. Unfortunately, many viewers do not seem to understand that the show is edited but instead believe “miracles happen in 30 minutes.” Even though each show contains a disclaimer; “please do not attempt any of these techniques on your own, consult with a professional,” people do try these techniques at home and cause further harm to dogs that are already suffering. As result the two largest organizations of professionals that deal with animal behavior; the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) have issued official positions warning against the use of the dominance approach in training or dealing with behavioral issues with dogs. In 2010 Green Acres elected to do the same in an effort to educate dog lovers about our position on this topic via a position statement.

If you attended a dog training class anytime  through the 1990’s, if you read any dog training books written during this period, or if you have had any behavioral issues with your dog, then you have most likely heard about dominance. You were probably told that in order to prevent your dog from becoming dominant that you had to do one or more of the following things:

  1. Always go through doorways first,
  2. Always eat before your dog,
  3. Never allow the dog on furniture where they might be elevated above you,
  4. Never allow the dog to sleep on your bed,
  5. Always punish your dog for stealing or chewing things that belong to you,
  6. Push your dog away when they jump up or paw at you, and
  7. Never let your dog pull on leash.

Essentially you were advised to be ever vigilant and to show your dog that you were the boss in order to prevent him from taking over your home and becoming disobedient and even possibly aggressive.

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Pet Professional Guild publishes open letter to pet industry associations on the use of shock

Calls on organizations representing pet professionals to drive significant change by publicly saying “no” to any training technique that causes pain or fear

PPG Logo Hi Res Dog and CatTAMPA, Fla.March 6, 2017PRLog — Pet Professional Guild (PPG) has released an open letter to pet industry representatives on the use of electric shock as a tool for training and behavior modification in pets. In the letter, PPG draws on a number of scientific studies and surveys to explain why shock constitutes a form of abuse towards pets, and should no longer be a part of the current pet industry culture of accepted practices, equipment or philosophies, particularly when there are highly effective, positive, humane and scientifically sound alternatives.

One such study is Ziv’s (2017) The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs – A Review, recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Ziv concludes that “there is “no evidence to suggest that aversive training methods are more effective than reward based training methods” and that, in fact, studies suggest “the opposite might be true in both pets and working dogs.” At the outset of the letter, PPG asks three key questions of professional associations and credentialing bodies, speculating whether they can work within the confines of applied animal behavior without endorsing or enabling shock collar practitioners; whether they can redefine the rules for humane hierarchies simply by applying a layer of ethics that rules out certain equipment choices deemed highly aversive and invasive; and whether they should be identified by training philosophy and tools of choice, thus enabling pet owners to make informed and transparent choices on behalf of their pets.

PPG notes that there are many “organizations, associations and councils responsible for the representation, guidance and certification of pet industry professionals” that still adhere to the belief that “shock is an acceptable way to train, care for and manage pets,” and sets out the many problems with such an approach, not least the infliction of stress and pain (unintentional or not), global suppression of behavior (or “shut-down”), generalization, escalation, redirected aggression, and suppressed aggression, amongst others. The letter also refers to glossy marketing terms that “mislead unsuspecting owners looking for humane ways to train their pets” and states that such terms are “carefully crafted to appeal to pet guardians who may not always understand the various training methods available, or the fallout and unintended consequences of making the wrong choice… [and do not] provide consumers the autonomy to make ethical decisions on behalf of their pets.”

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Why Are so Many Dogs Going Gray as Early as Age 1?

By Dr. Becker

If you’re familiar with the term “the graying of America,” you know it refers to the fact that the American population is increasingly dominated by older people. In other words, the median age of Americans is going up.

But what about the graying of America’s dogs? Have you noticed all the white muzzles out there these days? Have you been surprised to learn a very gray dog is just 5 or 6 years old? What’s going on?

Please read full article here >


Dog Training’s Dirty Little Secret: Anyone Can Legally Do It

Dog training is an unregulated industry although dogs need to be licensed.

By Marc Bekoff Ph.D.

Dogs and humans beware

During the past year I’ve had a number of emails from people both lauding and severely criticizing the dog trainers to whom they went to help them teach their dog to live with them in their homes and elsewhere. Of course, different people have different needs and dogs are unique individuals, so it’s essential that a dog trainer/teacher be well versed in dog behavior and various principles of ethology/animal behavior and psychology. They also need to be able to assess the nature of dog-human interactions.

usernetsite free images

Source: usernetsite free images

In her scholarly and well researched law review article called “OCCUPATIONAL LICENSURE FOR PET DOG TRAINERS: DOGS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO SHOULD BE LICENSED,” Elizabeth Foubert notes, “In the United States anyone can work as a dog trainer, regardless of the person’s qualifications. Scientific research in animal behavior and canine ethology indicate how to humanely train dogs, but nothing in the law requires that dog trainers apply these proven methods in practice. Dog trainers may use training techniques that bring harm to dogs and deceive consumers as to its efficacy. The onus is on consumers to educate themselves to these dangers when selecting a ‘qualified dog trainer.'”

There’s a lot at stake when a person entrusts their dog’s life to a trainer. Thus, I was shocked to learn that in the United States anyone can call themself a “dog trainer.” I went online and did many different searches, and while there are many excellent certification programs, it is the case that anyone can legally hang up a shingle that says “Dog Trainer” and begin to work with dogs and their humans. I also queried a number of trainers and they also agreed that there really is a “dirty little secret” about which many, perhaps most, people are unaware, as I was. And, if course, it’s not a little secret at all, but rather a huge one, because of the incredible damage that can be done by someone who isn’t trained to be a dog trainer. Of course, certified dog trainers also can cause harm but that goes beyond what I want to write about here.

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Update on NEW AKC Trick Training Titles

By Marie Macher

puppy_gymTrick training is a fun, engaging, and great way to build a bond with your dog!  Not only do you and your pup get to show off tricks to family and friends, but your dog is staying mentally stimulated while gaining confidence.

As trick training can be practiced almost anywhere, it allows both social and reactive dogs the ability to participate, recently trick training has been growing in popularity!  As a result, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has partnered with Kiera Sundance, Do More With Your Dog, and now your dog can even earn an AKC title for doing tricks!

Beginning on May 1, 2017, AKC will officially offer its Trick Dog Program, which will include four level of titles ranging from Novice to Performer allowing dogs of all levels to participate.  To earn an AKC title, the dog will need to be registered with AKC.  Not registered yet?  No problem – it is easy to obtain an AKC number for your pup.  Simply register for Canine Partners (mixed breed) or Purebred Alternative Listing (purebred) on the AKC website

There are two ways that a dog can earn the AKC Titles.  The first option is to perform the trick for an approved CGC Evaluator who can help witness the tricks by filling out a form from their website ( or, in collaboration with Do More With Your Dog (DMWYD), titles earned through DMWYD can be submitted until the end of 2017 to be reviewed for the AKC Title as well!

At Courteous Canine, we have instructors certified (in AKC CGC and Do More With Your Dog CTDI) to help witness for both AKC and Do More With Your Dog titles and we are excited to offer this to our clients! Call us 813-949-1465