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The Myth of Alpha...

Discussion in 'Woof Memorial Critter's Corner' started by sy2k, Mar 8, 2006.

  1. sy2k

    sy2k

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    Just curious what people here think of this article:

    http://www.thepetprofessor.com/articles/article.aspx?id=456

    An article by an author/dog trainer who argues that force-based dominance hierarchies among wolves are non-existent (an explanation for wolf behavior that developed based upon observations of non-related wolves captured and kept under captivity) and that training methods for pet dogs based on dominance and being the 'Alpha' are inappropriate and harmful to dogs. His own methodology for dog training is based on the work of Kevin Behan who wrote a book called 'Natural Dog Training'. I'm using this method with my Ridgeback, a breed often times referred to as being 'stubborn' or 'independent', and I gotta tell ya, it's effective - more so than any other method I've tried including positive re-inforcement, operant conditioning, clicker (or marker) training, NILIF and others. The tenet of the book is that a dog's prey drive is the driving force of his behavior, and that because wolves (dogs) evolved to hunt large prey, a dog's natural instinct is for cooperation, not domination, with one another. The method emphasizes developing attraction, attention and obedience through play (rough-housing, fetch, tug), praise and contact (utilizing the dog's natural instinct to jump on you). Dogs are only taught obedience lessons when he is high in 'drive', after being worked up through play. Rather than supress the prey drive, the idea is to teach the dog that his prey drive can be satisfied only through you, the handler. You don't try to be the 'Pack Leader'; instead, you teach your dog that you are the 'Leader of the Hunt'. One idea in the book is that behvioral issues (aggression, barking, neurosis, etc.) are created due to ineffective training programs based on domination and supression of prey drive.

    Anyway, I'm not interested in 'stirring the pot', so to speak. I'm just curious what sort of discussion this might spark from dog lovers and trainers, as regards dog behavior and training.

    For those interested, here is a Canadian Journal of Zoology article by wolf researcher, L. David Mech, explaining the true nature of wolf pack behavior.

    http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/scientific/mech_pdfs/267alphastatus_english.pdf
     
  2. GotGlock1917

    GotGlock1917 Lifetime Member

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    I don't know about training methods based on dominance, but will state categorically that my younger bichon frise automatically assumed a submissive role to my older bichon. No training required.

    John
     

  3. fastvfr

    fastvfr Ancient Tech

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    This approach may work on some breeds, but on exceptionally dominant ones they will pay no heed to your attempts to get them to obey once they have established dominance over you.

    In cattle dogs and related working breeds, this is usually just annoying but can get ugly real quick-like. In larger, more aggressive breeds this can have catastrophic consequences leading to nasty lawsuits and euthanasia for the dog.

    Funny how 500 'Dog Trainers' preach one philosophy and a few trainers preach others that conflict totally with the others...

    I guess you'd both be best served by just studying the dog's behavior and tuning the type of training to be used to its personality.
     
  4. sy2k

    sy2k

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    I've always noticed that it's more like with 500 trainers there will be 500 opinions on how to approach the same problem - the only common thread being the need to establish 'dominance' over the dog.

    Agree - every dog is an individual.

    Submissive posturing is used by a less-than confident dog to assess the relative friendliness of another dog - especially on unfamiliar territory. Ultimately, cooperation and harmony are the goal - of both dogs. My dog does this all the time, even to smaller dogs. The sequence is something like...tuck tail, lower shoulders and lick the muzzle of un-familiar dog. If friendly, jump back into the 'play-bow' and begin frantic chase, bite, wrestling scenes. If not friendly, move away and ignore.

    I have a LEO friend whose retired male 100 lb. GSD police dog rolls on his back and lets my dog (63 lbs.) jump on him and playfully bite at his neck.

    Being physically dominant is one thing. For instance, I'm 5'7" and barely go a buck and a quarter. I don't go to bars and pick fights with guys twice my size. This doesn't mean I'm sub-ordinate to anyone (well, maybe the girlfriend). Possessing the mental capability to think of oneself or another as a sub-ordinate or 'Alpha' is entirely different. The journal article I posted by L. David Mech points out that wolf packs are a family - not disparate, unrelated wolves lumped together constantly vying with each other over rank. Since parents are naturally 'dominant' over their children, it's no more appropriate to call the wolf father the 'Alpha' than to call your own father the 'Alpha'. Further, aggressive dominance displays are typically only sexual in nature.

    It just seems to me that trying to be 'Alpha' to your dog is not appropriate and potentially harmful. How often have you heard not to let your dog charge out the door ahead of you because this is your dog being dominant and showing you he's the Alpha. Ummm, what if he's just really excited to go for a walk, especially if he's been in his crate all day while you were at work?
     
  5. fastvfr

    fastvfr Ancient Tech

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    Heh. I know where you are coming from, but...have you ever seen a dogpack and examined its politics? They will typically beat the crap out of each other for dominant position in the pack.

    I had an Australian Cattle Dog for a year, from 4 weeks old until just last week, and there was not a day that he didn't try to assert domination over every last thing he could. He was very well trained, but toward the end of his tenure he was refusing to obey simple commands that he had previously mastered more and more often.

    That aggressiveness and bullheadedness is the nature of a cattle dog, though, and we didn't begrudge him his personality. Instead, he was given to a family who own a small farm and who already live with one other cattle dog from the same litter.

    These two dogs, brothers, cannot leave each other alone. They also are disobedient whenever the mood hits them and unless their person rolls them over onto their backs and actually growls at them they do not get the message that obedience is not optional...and they will likely grow bolder and bolder until they begin snapping at people unless dominance is constantly reinforced.

    They are, in short, a pure woking line and are unsuitable for housepets or companion animals. Sled dogs are the same way...they just aren't wired for anything but rising through the heirarchy of the pack.

    The point I would like to make is, while purebred wolves may exhibit the behavior your linked article discussed, dog packs certainly don't.

    I got my dog from a cousin who has about a dozen dogs. There are two very domineering males there who will kill each other in order to be top dog. And they each have their followers...so if things ever 'blow up', which I tend to believe is imminent, there will be few dogs there who aren't maimed in the ensuing melee.

    Our domestic dogs do not revert to vulpine nature; they are more like jackals or hyenas, willing to tear each others throats out for the smallest of transgressions.

    Perhaps they lost that part of their nature, and maybe a few still have it. But when it comes to Permissive Doggy Parenting, it is a recipe for failure 99 times out of 100.

    You don't want a dog to think he is in charge. You DO want to let your mutt know that you are there to protect him and provide for him. And, regardless of what that article says, there are some breeds of dog where permissiveness will eventually kill them because they will become vicious otherwise.

    Your dog cannot make the rational decisions his people must make, so therefore he must never be allowed the illusion that he is in charge. You will have a jealous, food-guarding, neurotic pooch instead of a well-adjusted companion.

    He must instead be secure in the knowledge that you are trustworthy, that you are the leader, and that you will protect him from harm.

    Only then will the best relationship with your dog be achieved, since a weak leader will not gain his dog's trust and will not be respected.

    Best regards,

    Eric
     
  6. Apocalypse_Now

    Apocalypse_Now Molon Labe

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    Exactly so in Rottweilers. They are a breed apart and quite dominant or manipulative if they can get away with it. The males in particular are like stallions and need stiff discipline to become good canine citizens. You must establish dominance as early as possible or they will never respect or obey you. I've owned and trained Rotties for over 21 years
     
  7. DEUCE-DOBE

    DEUCE-DOBE Landshark&Sis'

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    Owning 2 Dobermans, a 75 lb female and 90lbs worth of muscle (NO fat) male, I'll stick with the dominance theory until I'm proven wrong.

    While my dogs would never harm my family, if my male ever decided to "take command", I really don't know if I'd win a life/death fight with him... best he knows who's boss to prevent it.

    I say this in part because I once tried to kick a ball for him while he was off leash... I tried to really smack that ball as hard as I could, but he stuck his alligator head in front of me, mid-swing, to get the ball... I caught him square on the side of his head... it moved him back, but he still went and grabbed that ball before I could even try comforting him (which he didn't need anyway)... as if my hardest kick to the side of his head never happened. I'm just over 200 lbs myself. Other than his lip bleeding a little, he could'nt have cared less.

    I've used the "theory" of alpha and the general pack mentality in training my pooches... and while they're protective as heck, they're little babies. They've been taught who's who and who's top... without hitting.
     
  8. sy2k

    sy2k

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    Sorry! I've been away for awhile, got caught up in things and forgot I started this thread. Lot of good points being made here.

    First, I would never advocate 'permissive doggy parenting' to anyone, regardless of breed, from Chihuahua to Mastiff. I have no problem issuing swift corrections at a level geared to a dog's individual size, strength & temperament, when appropriate.

    What I'm trying to say is that the 'Alpha' theory (force-based dominance hierarachy, with sub-ordinates constantly challenging the 'Alpha' for leadership) is supposedly based upon observations of wolf behavior. The assumption is made that dogs, being descended from wolves, display this same behavior. Another assumption is made that, in keeping dogs as pets, we must behave like the 'Alpha' to ensure orderly behavior in our pet dog. Right?

    But, naturally occurring wolf packs are families, and do not display this behavior. Further, in un-natural wolf (or dog) packs, it is the less naturally 'dominant' members, who engage in aggressive, challenging behaviors. Wolves prefer cooperation - this is how they hunt large prey. In fact, in the hunt, leadership is not solely possessed by any one member. There is no 'Alpha' issuing orders. The instinct for cooperation, present in each member, rules the hunt.

    Why is it logical that you, as a human, should attempt to mimic a dog? Even if there was cross-species validity in such activity, wouldn't constantly trying to physically dominate your dog, in essence trying to impress upon it your 'Alpha' status, actually impress upon your dog that you are an annoying sub-ordinate, constantly challenging him? But, because you win these contests, the dog loses confidence - avoidance, fear, anxiety are the result. Or, the dog begins to turn on you, feeling that he now needs to challenge you. Come to you when called? Yeah, right!

    There is no doubt in my mind that dogs receive calm and comfort from being taught how to behave around humans; that, to borrow Cesar Millan's catch-phrase, 'Calm, Assertive Leadership' should be the order of the day. Example: my dog displays separation anxiety at an unfamiliar person's home when I leave the room or house temporarily. But, if I issue a down-stay command, the anxiety disappears. I've taught her that 'down-stay' means 'I'll be right back'. She looks to me for direction, and I provide that. This respect was never won through domination. It was through tapping into the dog's natural instinct for cooperation, in the hunt, by stimulating and channeling her prey drive, and allowing fulfillment and expression of the prey drive into appropriate outlets. I find that working dogs are taught this way, but pet dogs are not. What is it that pet dogs are taught? Never bite, never chase, never growl, never bark, never play rough - never be a dog!

    Is it any wonder that millions of healthy pet dogs are put to sleep every year for their behavior?
     
  9. Tommy21

    Tommy21 Vexillary

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    When my male Bulldog was a puppy, we would play and roughhouse on the floor, he nipped me with his puppy teeth. I instantly bowled him over, grabbed the fur of his neck in my mouth, and growled. He went submissive limp. My (then) wife thought I had lost my mind.

    He has been a wonderful, even-tempered companion to this day, housebroken in two weeks, heels without a leash and loves everyone.


    He's six now (average age of a Bulldog is nine years) 82#, and has never shown a bit of aggression (ok, there was that squirrel he chased once).

    If you do the Alpha Male thing, does the dog eventually challenge you to unseat you (like a wolf)?


    Good question.



    Tommy