Your dog’s place in the pack

July 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

It may not come as a surprise to those who know me that I am not a fan of “dominance theory,” Cesar Millan, etc. He advocates for outdated training practices designed to intimidate. Those practices are outdated because they were based on flawed studies of captive wolves forced into a pack. Current research is done on domestic dogs, and has found that dogs learn more quickly, and retain what they learned longer when they are trained with positive reinforcement.

But, this post isn’t about training methods. If anyone is interested in learning more, please comment, or contact me privately (see the About page). This blog is to help dog owners who are concerned that their dog will assert its dominance over their new infant.

I tend not to use words like “alpha,” “dominance” and “submissiveness.” Dominance is variable. Someone may be “dominant” over their child, but submissive to their boss. The same is true with dogs.

Dogs know that we are humans, not dogs, and do not recognize us as “alpha” over them or as part of their pack. They understand that we are in charge when we regulate their access to resources such as food and toys, and implement training methods like “Nothing in Life is Free” (aka, NILIF).

So, how do you help your dog understand that your new child is “in charge”? It’s not really possible as an infant. But once your child is able, have the child help you feed the dog (but always making sure that your child NEVER bothers the dog while it’s eating), giving commands that the dog knows (and rewarding them when they obey), and helping with training new tricks.

Never, EVER, roll or pin your dog down. Dominance theorists believed that alpha dogs (and wolves) did this to correct their young, or to establish dominance in the pack. It is not true. Wolves and dogs only perform this behavior as a severe threat, when they intend to kill the other dog.

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