Category Archives: Dog Behavior

Being Wrong is Right

Being Wrong Is Right

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., PDBC, CAP2

Introduction

Turns out that humans have a huge problem– we love to be right. The problem is that this is dangerous and actually causes serious tragedies and even death, according to Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error author Kathryn Schulz. Schulz explains how planes crash as a result of a pilot refusing to admit error. And as Schulz delves into the topic you can’t really blame the pilot, but rather punishment. It seems that as tiny kids we are already conditioned to be right.That if you are right you are good and if you are wrong you are bad. Of course this is really not helpful as life is comprised of a whole bunch of grey areas, situational dilemmas and most importantly of humans who desperately long never to be wrong.

So I need to confess, I have been and am wrong. I was wrong for using choke chains and prong collars on my first dogs, I was wrong when I alpha rolled my terrier and inadvertently caused even more problems. I was wrong when I sprayed fluid in my dogs face and when shook shake cans. Frankly when I saw the door to clicker training I jumped through it, I wanted out. I was happy to be wrong, because using aversives did not feel right. But being wrong isn’t always that simple.

Ego

Being wrong is not easy. I don’t know why but I feel attracted to being wrong, perhaps it’s the rebel in me, but I see that others struggle and suffer when being even potentially wrong. I don’t relate. Maybe it was my childhood conditioning that prompted a strong opposition reflex. For most of us, years of cultural conditioning have programed us to avoid being different, to go with the crowd and to avoid conflict. Not too long ago conflict was so dangerous that even just triggering one person could cost you your life. The conflict avoiding programming that resulted persists even though the risk involved today for most of us is minimal, but the fear of being wrong persists.

When I am honest I realize there have been things I have dreaded being wrong about. I did not want to be wrong about my marriage failing years ago. I did not want to be wrong about my terriers being really hard to train for agility. I wanted to do agility and so it was really hard to accept that they really did not want to do agility. I was wrapped up in my ego, my want, my joy, my outcome and not considering the truth that one of my terriers had monumental stress issues that made living as a pet difficult and consistently performing in agility nearly impossible. My terrier and I did the impossible we got an Agility Excellent title in AKC and then I retired him. I agonized about retiring him and then noticed that he was unconcerned, relieved to not be doing agility anymore. 

Being wrong is not easy.

It had been my ego that drove me to do it. I had set goals, I had wanted and not listened to what my dog was saying: hey this competition stuff is not for me. I enjoy doing agility in the back yard and at friend’s places but this competition stuff is too much. I had lacked awareness. I had lacked the ability to see the severity his stress so I blindly made decisions. I was wrong. But there were lucky side effects to my bad decision. Doing agility had empowered my scared terrier to become a more confident dog. 

Empowerment

Empowerment training is really just good training. If you follow science along it’s trail of evidence you will find empowerment training. Efficacy, how well a training method works, is not enough; we need to ensure that dogs learn via methods that empower them. James O’Heare has written an outstanding book on Empowerment training which outlines the process of good training. Exploring the book you will find that the road to good training is not an easy one, but is ultimately rewarding to both the learner and the teacher. Empowerment training does not mean that your dog is going to take over your house and that you will be making out your mortgage check to her, it means that your dog will enjoy the learning process. The ultimate compliment to any teacher, an enamored student!

However my being wrong about my first agility dog’s desire to do agility ended up being very disempowering to me. The instructors I was choosing to train with were motivated by being in control. I was told that I should use more deprivation, that my dog’s problems were the result of my bad training. I internalized that I was a horrible trainer but could not accept the concept of needing to deprive my dogs in order for them to play a game with me. I realized that for me control was not going to be motivating. To me the feeling of unity when playing with my dog was what really mattered. Illogically I slipped into learned helplessness. But ultimately what I learned was that I had been wrong. Selecting trainers based on fame and their own personal success was not working for me.I learned that I had to be true to my values and find trainers who were aligned with those values. I committed to learning everything that I could about behavior by enrolling in a trade school and reading every book on behavior I could get my hands on. I became empowered. I started feeling pretty good about myself, I started to think that behavior was everything, that I could solve all dog training challenges. That there wasn’t a challenge I could not meet. I was ranked myself up high and enjoyed being in charge. Then it happened again. 

Dominance Paradigm

I learned I was wrong about dominance. When I first became a professional trainer I told clients they had to do a variety of things to be dominant over their dogs. Turns out two beings of the same species can’t form a dominance hierarchy and that much of the original wolf research was flawed, so my neat hierarchy tumbled. While I did not have the advantage of Barry Eaton’s excellent summary of the scientific findings in Dominance in Dogs: Fact or Fiction? It was the far more technical text by James O’Heare in Dominance Theory and Dogs that prompted my submission. O’Heare states that humans are the ones obsessed with rank and power and that the most likely explanation of our desire for control over others is our own need for dominance. A dominance that we have easily obtained, historically speaking; it hit me like a blow to the gut. The neat system I had in place that explained everything, bad behavior is dominant, good behavior is submissive –was wrong. Suddenly everything was infinitely more complex and I had to reorganize my entire way of thinking.

I no longer had dominance to blame.

My terrier’s stubbornness became my challenge to be unpredictable and their ability to think around me. I no longer had dominance to blame and again I noticed feeling empowered. Being wrong was becoming even more reinforcing. I began asking why is anyone training anything with force? What is it about force that is reinforcing?

Functional Analysis of Force

I analyze everything, all the time. Maybe it is from parenting too many terriers and border collies but I can’t stop the obsessions; thinking about behavior. Learning that behavior is happening all the time I realized this included not just the dog but also the humans. While I thought I was training my dogs, they were also training me, but on an even deeper level the tools I used for training were also having an effect on me. So like layers of an onion, I started peeling. If I used a remote citronella collar to punish a dog for barking the fact that my button pressing stopped the barking was having an effect on me. 

Behaviorally I was being reinforced for punishing my dog. This was something that I found aberrant. Fundamentally it struck me that enjoying punishing another being was controlling and possibly sadistic. A road, I was not going to be traveling on. Yet I remembered training horses and feeling an awesome sense of power being able to control such a big animal. But power over another being was not going to be my reinforcer instead I intentionally chose being a team with my dog. Whether heeling, running an agility course, or throwing a disc I began to build reinforcement history with sharing joy and fun with my dogs. Sharing games and play increased my empathy for all dogs. We were having so much fun, feeling such powerful connection and exchanging communication, I began to feel a burning desire for all dogs and humans to share their time like this. Why didn’t everyone want to be a team with their dog?

Empathy

Enter empathy, our most affiliative and important emotion. Empathy isn’t easy and it is frequently confused with sympathy, but nothing can be more powerful than empathy. It can literally move mountains when it comes to conflict. When beings feel empathized with, powerful bonds are forged. Marshall Rosenburg travels the world bringing his Non-Violent Communication to seemingly insurmountable conflict. Of course empathy isn’t a new idea, entire cultures are built on it, i.e. Buddhism. 

I started empathizing with dogs, and feeling impatient with people, this caused a lot of problems. Humans don’t always like it when you take the side of the dog. Humans can get defensive when they feel judged and view your training advice as a demand. I was wrong to empathize with the dog. The answer was empathizing with the dog and the human. Both needed empathy to be able to be heard, to be able to listen and to learn.

Just a Word

Dog trainers are taught to give commands to dogs, and that dogs follow these commands. We are expected to create beings that flawlessly follow the wishes of their masters. One of my formerly favorite words: dominance –had already partially opened my eyes to the potential damage of labeling, but now I was seeing even deeper problems. The word “command” was a powerful label. It implies needing control over others, addiction to power and dominance – placing yourself above, all things I had learned to leave behind. The Stanford prison experiment randomly labeled normal college students as prisoners and guards, within a few days the experiment had to be stopped because the guards were seriously abusing the prisoners. However the Stanford prison experiment was only the tip of the iceberg the world over labeling had caused intense and horrifying problems. The power of a word demonstrated, I began to wonder what happens when people label a dog? What happens when I label a client? What happens when I teach people to give their dogs commands? The words we choose matter, just as much as I had to leave that choke chain and prong collar behind I now needed to learn to choose my words much more carefully. Just using one word, could be wrong, and possibly life-ending for a dog. 

Researching Non-Violent Communication, I stumbled across an important word: request. The word request is extremely powerful and an antithesis to the word demand. Both words are so powerful that you don’t actually have to use them to effect communication. It is in your tone, your non-verbal communication that makes the difference. Demands cause beings become resistant. Opposition reflex is activated. Defensive and even aggressive behaviors can be triggered, not helpful for work with humans or dogs. But magically by just changing one word—and the attitude that goes with it, demand becomes a request. The fascinating thing is that when we request, most beings that you have a reinforcement history with, comply and they usually comply immediately. 

By just changing one word, “demand” becomes “request.”

So I request that trainers start requesting. I request that we coach our clients to use requests rather than demands when communicating with dogs. I request that we lay aside the tools of demand: choke, prongs and shock and that we enter the world of compliance with just one word. 

Love Being Wrong

Being wrong is right. Being wrong allows for growth and learning. I challenge all of us trainers to embrace being wrong. To make a commitment to openness and embracing a dog and client centered approach. To side with compassion, kindness and let all your requests show your love. Ask what am I wrong about? And to embrace what you learn. 

Is Your Dog Bored?

Is Your Dog Bored? Enrich Your Dog’s Life!

By Kimberly Archer, Dog Behavior Technician 

 

Have you ever wondered what a day is like through your dog’s eyes? You may wake up, have breakfast, catch up on the news, do work, socialize with coworkers, relax with your partner, eat dinner, watch TV or read a book, and maybe even do some more socializing at a restaurant or bar. How does this compare to the day your dog has? 

Many dogs have very simple lives: they wake up, eat, take a walk, nap, eat again, and sleep again. Though these dogs are still well loved and have a great time with their parents, there are many ways we can enrich the day for them. 

Enrichment is the process of providing your dog with mental and physical outlets which entertain and exercise them to give them a more fulfilling life. Often enrichment mimics activities which dogs would do in the wild to satisfy the needs, instincts, and desires that are not inherently satisfied by domesticated life with humans.

Mealtimedog using nose to push sliding puzzle blocks and find food

The first enrichment opportunity of the day is mealtime. There are many ways to feed your pup other than to just hand them a filled bowl. The options range from simple to challenging, free to costing money, and quick to more time-consuming to set up. These games are not only fun and interesting for your pup, but they also work out their brains: many dogs need to nap after these brain workouts!

 
 

Food Puzzle Toysdog with Kong in mouth

There are tons of fun food puzzle toys that you can put food in, from simple things like Kongs to fancier food puzzles that your pups have to solve. A Kong is a bee-hive shaped rubber toy with a hole inside it. You can fill this hole with food or with healthy snacks like mashed banana, and your pups will spend time slowly licking it like a popsicle. 
There are also “puzzle” games with different moving parts that you put food in. Your dog has to push, roll, and move around different pieces to solve the puzzle and get at the food. These puzzles come in a variety of difficulties so you can use the challenge level that best suits your dog. 

 

Free / DIY Food Puzzles dog with head in paper bag searcing for food

Get creative. Put their food in a cardboard box and encourage them to figure out how to get it out – yes, let them destroy it! Put food in paper towel rolls, inside a crumpled towel, scattered across the floor, in the grass, or in paper bags.

 

Searching Games

Hide their food and let them find it! Have your dog wait in a room or in a stay while you hide their food somewhere in the house, then let them have fun using their nose to find it. 

 

Trick Trainingdog standing tall for a trick

Use their food as trick training rewards! If you can spare a bit of extra time, breakfast is a great time to practice some trick training with your pup. Not only will this work out their brain like all of the other food games, but it will also increase your bond and training skills.

Toys

Many of us are very susceptible to impulse purchases when it comes to pet toys – we see a super cute plush duck that quacks, and we just have to get it for our fur baby. There’s nothing wrong with that! However, we should also make intentional pet toy purchases to ensure our dog has a good variety of toys to choose from. Rather than just considering quantity, we should also consider some other characteristics of the toys.

 

Noise dog with squeaky stuffed animal toy in mouth

Noise is the most obvious characteristic, and many of us already consider it. There are different types of sounds toys can make from simple squeaks to crinkling or animal noises. Listen to the different toys and try to offer your pup different options so they don’t all just sound like the same generic squeaking.

 

Texture dog with textured rope ball toy in mouth

Regardless of whether you have a super chewer, there are different texture and material options to choose from for your pet. Of course, you always want to keep safety in mind and never offer your dog something you know they will consume, but try to offer them a safe variety. Some different texture options are soft, squishy, ribbed, rough, hard, smooth, and flexible.

 

Playstyledog with rope toy in mouth

There are so many playstyle options both in how the toy is designed and in how you use it. Dogs that don’t enjoy balls may enjoy fetching a plushie, and dogs that don’t like ropes may prefer to tug with a squeaky toy. Try a variety of toys and use them in creative ways rather than just how they’re typically advertised. Types of playstyles and activity types include chasing, fetching, jumping, running, pawing, rolling, bouncing, chewing, sucking, licking, ripping, and noise making.

 

Prey Drive Toys

One specific type of toy is a toy that’s intended to cater to a dog’s prey drive. If your dog likes to chase things then they would probably love toys like this. The flirt pole is a great option: it looks like an oversized cat toy that you can spin around and move back and forth so your dog can chase it. One side is a pole that you hold, and the other end has a string with a toy dangling from it.

Sports

Dog sports can be tiring for us, but they’re even more tiring and enriching for your pup. There are many different categories of sports which your dog may enjoy and that don’t necessarily require a commitment: many places like Courteous Canine Inc. offer classes and private sessions where you can learn and play various dog sports, whether you want to compete or just have some fun.

 

Waterdog jumping from dock into swimming pool

Water sports offer everything from dock jumping for length, to retrieving a toy in the air, to getting a toy as quick as possible, or even just swimming. Other places like the beach can be great spots to take your dog, but ensure you discuss water safety with your veterinarian. 

 

Nosework

Similar to finding treats, you can teach your dog to find a certain scent (like birch or clove) and challenge them to find that scent in a room or even outside. There are also tracking trials that mimic a search and rescue. Though this sport is more mental than physical, they’ll surely be exhausted afterward from working out their brain.

 

Lure Coursingthree dogs running to chase a lure

Like the flirt pole but on a large course, in lure coursing a lure (simulating a toy or animal) is quickly moved around a course by pulleys as your dog chases it. This is a great burst of high-speed running that dogs don’t usually have an outlet for.

 

Discdog with a disc (frisbee) toy in mouth

There are many different disc (think frisbee) sports that range from distance to more performative like dancing. With the range of options you’ll be able to find one that suits both your and your dog’s physical ability and skill.

 

Freestyle

If you’re into dancing but not discs, in canine freestyle you choreograph a dance with your dog and together use movement and tricks to finish a dance routine. 

 

Agilitydog running through agility tunnel

Agility has many specially designed obstacles which test certain physical and mental skills of your dog such as balance, speed, strength, and patience. This is a great whole-body workout.

 

Flyballdog jumping over hurdles playing flyball

If your dog is into jumping but nothing else, consider flyball. Flyball is a race for your pup to jump over hurdles to retrieve a ball and quickly bring that ball back to you.

 

Herdingdog herding four sheep

Herding dogs like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are known to try to herd children and bikers, but a safer way to cater to this natural herding instinct is by actually herding! Don’t worry if you don’t own acres of land to house your own sheep, because there are facilities that specifically host herding lessons and trials for this reason.

Other Activities

There are many other activities that can provide enrichment similar to sports, ranging from more mental to more physical. 

 

Nature Trailsdog running on dirt nature trail

Nature offers many different opportunities to hike, run, bike, and explore so try getting in touch with nature with your best furry friend!

 

Sniffing

If your dog tries to sniff on your walks, take them on sniff-walks! Go somewhere or at a time there are fewer people and dogs around, use a longer leash if safe, and walk extra slowly so your dog can sniff everything around you. Bonus points if you bring them somewhere with fun smells like a park or a garden. 

 

Socializingtwo dogs sitting together

Find ways to socialize your pup with other pups so they can have a social life as rich as yours. For safety reasons, we recommend against dog parks, so if you’re not sure what to do instead feel free to read our article Say No to Dog Parks which offers safe socialization alternatives.

Getting Started

We’ve discussed many different options here, so try to consider the types of things your dog already enjoys doing – for example sniffing and chasing – and choose a few options that would best cater to those interests. If you need any help figuring that out or getting started, feel free to email us at CustomerService@CourteousCanine.com, and we’d be happy to help! Or sign up for our Boredom Busters class which offers many more enrichment ideas!

 

The Truth About Dominance Theory

The Truth About Dominance Theory

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., C.D.B.C, CAP2

 

The truth is there is nothing noble in being superior to another being. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self.

-Whitney Young, Civil Rights Leader

 

What is dominance theory? 

As humans we view the dominant animal as superior. Labeling one being as superior causes problems, both in human relationships and in dog and human relationships. A famous study showed how labeling normal college students into two groups, one superior to the other, caused the powerful group of students to become abusive of their classmates. This same dynamic occurs when humans are labeled as being superior to dogs. It seems that an ideal solution to dog and human challenges is to acknowledge that we are different. Dogs don’t do calculus, but we can’t smell a drop of blood in a gallon of water either! 

So what is this dominance thing all about? Social dominance theory only applies to one aspect of dog life: conflict. What social dominance theory predicts is the outcome of conflicts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in conflict with dogs. It seems most people get a dog for companionship, not to have an argument. Social dominance behaviors allow dogs to resolve conflict in a more friendly way, ideally preventing aggression. 

 

Dangers of Labeling 

When you use the word dominant to describe a dog you may mean one thing but another person may mean it to be something entirely different. In addition when people label a dog as dominant it is often thought that violence is the only solution to make the dog submissive. When the frightened dog cowers the situation is misunderstood as the dog signaling submission, when the dog is actually signaling fear. This is why labeling is potentially destructive. 

The most dangerous problem with labeling could be that some dogs, already in need of behavior modification, may become aggressive when humans interact with them using force or violence. Or even worse, the aggressive dog may be intimidated and the aggression will slumber until it is triggered possibly without any warning signs. Aggression without any warning signs is very dangerous to humans. 

It is easy to avoid labels by simply describing the behavior that you are seeing. This is the ideal way to communicate about a dog’s behavior. 

 

Dominance Within Species 

The original intent of the scientists who came up with dominance theory was to use it to describe interactions and explain and predict patterns of conflict resolution within a society-forming group of animals. The concept of social dominance deals with social relationships and was originally developed for bees, then chickens, and eventually applied to other species including wolves. Dog trainers of the 1930’s and 1950’s used their interpretation of the wolf research to try to understand dogs. These people were not professional researchers; they simply invented ideas and concepts based on what they had read about wolves. Obviously, this would lead to some serious problems in terms of being accurate. The amazing thing is that much of the misinformation is still being passed around today.

Unfortunately even many professional trainers have failed to update their education and continue to circulate inaccurate information.

Another huge problem with using wolves to describe dog behavior is that dogs are descended from wolves. Dogs are domesticated, which is a genetic process that makes them very different from wolves. Ask anyone who has tried to train a wolf, and you will hear many stories of how tremendously challenging they are to deal with. 

 

The Alpha 

Dominance theory predicts that all the animals in a wolf pack form a linear hierarchy. Early wolf researchers added the concept of wolf packs having one male and one female “alpha”. These alpha animals are allowed special privileges and access to resources that others are not. However, there are numerous problems with this concept. 

Wolf researchers now know that wolves form family units, pups defer and are dependent on parents, and wolf parents engage in different roles, which help the pack survive. It is a cooperative living situation, not a dictatorship. 

Yet unfortunately for dogs, the concept of dominance communicates to many humans that they must be masters over their dog and that dogs must obey. This leads many dog-human relationships to the path of force and violence. 

Just say no to violence and focus on the love that you and your dog have for each other!

According to linear social dominance theory the alpha wolf always wins all fights over other members of the pack, the beta loses fights to no one but the alpha and so on until the omega which is the wolf considered least likely to win any fights. Researchers agree that the terms “alpha”,“beta,” and so on are “inappropriate for typical [wolf] packs consisting of parents and offspring. … The linear [social] dominance hierarchy concept has been adopted and perpetuated by popular educational materials about wolves. … However, in most wolf packs, family dynamics are more complex (Mech, 2003).” 

Packard recommends considering variation in individual temperaments, as well as mood. She goes on to say,“The autocratic leading wolf does not exist (Mech, 2003).” According to Packard, wolves live in groups that are “qualified democracies (Mech, 2003).”

 

Misunderstandings 

Most of us have heard the terms alpha roll and scruff shake. Here are the facts. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that alpha rolls or scruff shakes are useful dog training techniques. 

There is evidence that positive punishment (the scientific term for what alpha rolls and scruff shakes are meant to achieve) damages your bond with your dog and may cause stress or even aggression. The originally observed alpha roll was actually a submissive wolf offering his or her belly rather than being forcibly bowled over. Unfortunately for dogs, the alpha roll became popular world-wide. To this day, misguided humans alpha roll dogs thinking they are showing their dominance. In reality, alpha rolls and scruff shakes frighten dogs and may cause some to become aggressive and bite. 

Gradually it became known in professional dog training circles that alpha rolls were not  effective dog training. Yet many trainers cling to the disproved methods either unable or unwilling to adjust their behavior. Now that you have read this article, you can educate them! 

Scruff shakes are used by wolves and dogs to communicate or to kill prey. Tactile communication of wolves is an area relatively unexplored by research so it is unknown what exactly a wolf may be communicating when she grabs her pups by the scruff and gives them a light shake. Other scruff grabbing and shaking behaviors are very easy to understand; they are intended to break the neck of prey, so that they can be consumed. If you grab the scruff of your dog’s neck and shake her, you risk that you scare her and that she bites you. 

According to dog training historian Glenn Martyn, the origin of the scruff shake and alpha roll appears to be from dog training literature in both Northern American and English dog training books of the 1930-1950’s. That was a long time ago; it’s time to get updated!

 

Punishment Temporarily Stops Behavior

If you have tried alpha rolling or scruff shaking your dog, you may want to argue that it appears to work.

Here is why – both scruff shakes and alpha rolls intimidate the dog. In most dogs, this will cause a freeze response or gesturing of stress signals which are communicating that the dog means not harm. In other words, your scruff shake or alpha roll is aggressive toward the dog and most dogs will respond by stopping what they are doing and signaling that they mean no harm. 

But the plot thickens! When a dog momentarily stops an unwanted behavior, humans are rewarded so they will likely repeat the scruff shaking or alpha rolling. The dog has learned nothing but to fear the human and the human thinks it is working so keeps repeating it. This is a vicious cycle that can and has ended tragically for many dogs and families.

The dog has learned nothing but to fear the human

 

Muzzle Grabbing 

Another myth states that a human can demonstrate dominance to a dog by grabbing the dog’s muzzle. However, according to wolf researcher Packard, the muzzle grab may actually be a cohesive behavior rather than communicating conflict. This is based on researchers observing that pups are not afraid of parents who muzzle grabbed them and that the muzzle grabbing is followed by the pup moving closer and engaging in affiliative behaviors. In contrast, a human roughly grabbing a dog’s muzzle may frighten a dog and lead to a bite. If your dog does not object to having her muzzle grabbed then you are doing the equivalent of saying hello! 

 

Myth Busting 

Here is information on common myths in dog training and behavior: 

 

MYTH: Dogs should walk behind their owners on walks. 

TRUTH: Your dog’s position to you on a walk does not create dominance.

 

MYTH: In order to be dominant, you must walk in front of the dog on walks. 

TRUTH: There is no scientific evidence that the animal walking in front is dominant, rather who is socially dominant would depend on the situation. Tens of thousands of people world-wide teach their dogs to do obedience, frisbee, herding, flyball, and agility. In all of these sports, the dog is sent ahead of the human in a variety of different situations. To say that these dogs, who are better trained than the vast majority of pet dogs, are all socially dominant over their trainers is illogical. 

 

MYTH: In order to be dominant, you must walk through doorways ahead of the dog. 

TRUTH: Again, there is no evidence that this affects dominance. Teaching your dog to politely wait at doorways will make your dog easier to live with, but it will not give you “dominance brownie points”. 

 

MYTH: In order to be dominant, you must eat before the dog eats.

TRUTH: Again, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. To be helpful, concepts presented by a dog trainer must be logical. If you eat before your dog eats, then after your dog eats, and you will eat again at the next meal, does this mean that the dog actually ate before you ate? Maybe the rule of eating first would be effective in establishing social dominance if you and your dog ate from the same plate, but without an actual study, we can’t say for sure. I love my dog, but we are not eating from the same plate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

MYTH: A female that lifts her leg when urinating is dominant. 

TRUTH: Keep in mind that dominance is about conflict. In this scenario what exactly is the dog in conflict with? Her urine? The grass? Is urinating a conflict? Clearly, it is a bodily mechanism that eliminates waste and can have a marking function, but it is impossible for a dog to have conflict with objects. In reality, it is probable that a leg lifting female may have been partially masculinized in the uterus by being sandwiched between two male puppies and, as a result, flooded with testosterone. 

 

MYTH: If a dog chews or urinates on an object, she is trying to dominate that object. 

TRUTH: Again, there is no relationship here and no conflict over a perceived resource, so social dominance theory does not apply. 

 

MYTH: Playing or letting the dog win at tug-o-war will make your dog dominant and aggressive. 

TRUTH: There is an actual study that was done on playing tug. The study found no connection between tugging and aggression. Turns out, tug is just a game. Another study found that letting your dog win at playing tug increased motivation for the game of tug. No dogs playing tug or winning at tug were found holding researchers captive or plotting a takeover. 

 

MYTH: A dog that fails to perform a cue is being dominant (or stubborn) and needs a correction. 

TRUTH: The relationship here would be between human and dog. The conflict is presumably over the performance of a cue, however the problem is that there are many reasons for why a dog may not comply with a cue: not feeling well, poor training, poor handling, confusing training, lack of generalization training, and so on. It is much more probable that the reason for a lack of compliance is connected to our training than a dog’s secret plot to take over. Although I do think that my Papillon is plotting to take over the world; prepare now or you will be doomed. 

Not feeling well 

Poor training 

Poor handling 

Confusing training 

Lack of generalization training 

…and more!

 

 

The Role of Leadership 

Dominance is equated with exertion of influence and control. Submission is viewed as losing and possibly death. There is a problem with this. Wolves could not survive without each other; every member in a pack plays an important role and all are interdependent on each other. A true partnership can’t exist in a relationship where one being is considered superior (dominant) to another. 

We are all interdependent on each other. We are most effective when working as a team. Be a team with your dog! As Dee Ganley, CABC, author of Teaching People, Teaching Dogs puts it,“I feel the human dog relationship is like dancing. Sometimes I lead and other times the dog does!” 

*Social dominance is an ethological theory of conflict management in society forming species. This theory has common interpretations in the area of dog training. I will be addressing the false information commonly spread by some dog trainers.

 

Recommended Reading & Resources 

Duman, B. (2011, July 7). Letting Go Of Dominance. Dogs Naturally. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/letting-go-of-dominance/. 

Mech, D.L., Boitani, L. (2003). Wolves Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. The University of Chicago Press. 

O’Heare, J. (2017). Aggressive behavior in dogs: A comprehensive technical manual for professionals. Dogwise Publishing. 

O’Heare, J. (2003). Dominance Theory and Dogs. DogPsych. 

Overall, K. L. (n.d.). Aggression: Treatment Options. ACVC 2001. http://www.vin.com/VINDBPub/SearchPB/Proceedings/PR05000/PR00380.htm. 

Rooney, N. J., & Bradshaw, J. W. (2003). Links between play and dominance and attachment dimensions of dog-human relationships. Journal of applied animal welfare science, 6(2), 67-94. 

Sidman, M. (1989). Coercion and its fallout. Boston: Authors Cooperative. 

 

Acknowledgements

A special thank you to both Beth Duman and James O’Heare, CABC, www.JamesOHeare.com for help with this article. Appreciation to Ann P. Fox (Obi) for comment. This article is dedicated to Russell, now Mak, a fearful dog that was labeled dominant and nearly killed as a result.

Say “No” To Dog Parks: Here’s Why & Better Alternatives

Say “No” To Dog Parks: Here’s Why & Better Alternatives

By Kimberly Archer
Dog Behavior Technician

As a dog parent you just want the best for your pup, and as such most of us want to provide our dog with a rich social life. The easy way to do this is to regularly take your dog to the dog park… or is it? Though dog parks are technically designed for this purpose, dogs having amazing experiences at the dog park before coming home to happily sleep on the couch is more fantasy than reality. Unfortunately, dog parks actually present lots of problems for dogs and their parents, ranging from behavioral repercussions to health dangers. Fortunately, there are better options. 

Potential Behavioral Issues

The types of experiences your dog will have at a dog park are completely unknown making it impossible to carefully create positive socialization experiences.

It may be strange to hear a dog professional mention dog parks as a potential behavioral nightmare, as we constantly tell you that continued socialization is imperative for every dog. However, when socialization isn’t carefully controlled and crafted out of happy and stress-free experiences, it leads to the opposite of the desired effect: traumatic experiences causing your dog to lose confidence rather than build it. A dog park is incredibly unpredictable, and the types of experiences your dog will have there are completely unknown, making it impossible to carefully create positive socialization experiences. To make it worse, you have no idea what experiences the other dogs there have had. You may enter a dog park seeing that all of the dogs in there look to be happy and friendly without realizing that one of the dogs actually has a serious fear of golden retrievers, the breed which you are currently bringing in. In a matter of seconds a playgroup can go from happily playing to completely stressed out and dangerous, leaving you without much time to intervene to protect your dog. Furthermore, most parents just aren’t familiar with dog behavior, and even if their dog was giving off signs that it was stressed they likely wouldn’t notice these signs until the stress has developed too far to appropriately redirect. 

Even if every dog is friendly and well socialized to the point where they typically do well in group environments, dogs playing have many different playstyles, arousal levels, likes, and dislikes. Your herding dog may love to run circles around the other dogs, whereas the boxer there hates being herded and would prefer to run up and paw at your dog. There are many different appropriate playstyles between dogs, but they are not all compatible with each other.

These are especially important points to consider for working dogs as they need to only have positive experiences. This is to ensure the working dog is never concerned and is always perfectly confident and happy to do their job. As Courteous Canine’s head dog behavior consultant, Angelica Steinker takes on the most challenging behavior cases. These especially challenging behavior cases tend to have one or many distinct dog park experiences which have led to their issues. She goes on to say that service dogs are generally never allowed at dog parks due to the high incidence of people mistakenly taking dogs with issues to dog parks for socialization – it only takes a single event to cause life-altering trauma, and service dog owners know better than to take that risk. In Angie’s words, “all dog owners must practice defensive dog parenting, just like service dog users, and avoid the use of unregulated and unmanaged dog parks.”

Even if every dog is friendly – dogs have different playstyles.

Another thing to consider is your dog’s specific personality. Some dogs may be incredibly extroverted and love playing with new dogs. But for the most part, it can be a lot of work and potentially stress to figure out the playstyle of each new dog, and many dogs are happier making specific friends and sticking with them. Just as humans make friends and mainly socialize with them, if you already know a few dogs that yours loves to play with, then why roll the dice with strangers? 

Health Risks

Moving past all of the behavioral challenges that dog parks pose, health dangers may also present themselves. Even if everyone immediately picked up their dogs’ potentially-infected feces (which they don’t), the dogs may not be up to date on their vaccinations. Even when vaccinated they could still be carrying one of those diseases without knowing, or a number of other diseases. Frequently interacting with dogs that are not in your regular play group greatly increases the chances that you’ll come into contact with a sick dog, especially considering the other dogs at the dog park are likely regular attendees who also frequently come into contact with other random potentially-sick dogs.

Alternative Options

Though reading this information may leave you feeling sad that your dog will never be able to play with another dog again, that’s not the case! There are many safe ways to allow your dog to socialize with other dogs and get their necessary exercise.

Great options are forming a playgroup or joining a daycare – ensure to carefully assess daycares first.

A great option to consider is forming a playgroup for your dog. Talk to some friends and neighbors about their dogs’ breeds, playstyles, and health history in order to find other dogs that would make good candidates as new dog friends. If your dog has never met one of these dogs before, be sure to introduce them slowly and don’t force them into anything. If they seem to get along, then great, you found a new friend! If not, there’s no need to coerce a friendship, just move on to the next candidate.

Once you have a few dog friends you’ll need a place for the dogs to play. If someone has a large fenced yard then that is a perfect place. If not, you can go to the dog park when it is empty so that you’re just using the space rather than meeting new dogs. If this seems like a lot of work, consider a doggy daycare! You’ll want to carefully assess daycares and find one that keeps mostly the same dogs in playgroups, employs small playgroups, gives them lots of space, has a knowledgeable human ensuring appropriate play, requires vaccinations, and uses lots of toys and force-free methods to redirect any uneasiness. Here at Courteous Canine, we have an excellent playgroup which is constantly monitored and adjusted to ensure all dogs are happy and enjoying play with their friends.

Or maybe your dog is not very social, so you have been using the dog park mainly for exercise. If this is the case, consider an option that doesn’t include other dogs. Even if you don’t have access to a fenced area you can use a long line (a very long leash) to still play sports like frisbee with your dog. You could also consider jogging or running with your dog, and even dogs without much obedience training often stay close to their human and have a great time running beside them. Your dog may also enjoy a dog sport like agility or dock diving which are both excellent ways to keep your dog fit. And just as the more social dog playgroups may do, you could always just take your dog and some toys to the dog park when it’s empty. 


Moving Forward

When deciding where and how to play, ensure that you keep your dog’s personality and well-being at the forefront of your mind. You also want to carefully observe potential play areas for any safety concerns such as obstructions, feces, toxic plants, anthills and nearby dangers. Parks equipped for positive experiences would typically have shade, a sturdy fence, lots of space, poop bags, small pools, and access to fresh water. The dog park in my personal neighborhood actually has metal agility equipment “designed for dogs,” but I would never encourage a dog to jump over or through a heavy metal object for fear of hurting their leg if they don’t jump perfectly! Keep little things like this in mind when you’re choosing what’s right for your dog. 

 

Happy playtime!