Training a dog isn’t difficult to do as long as you stay calm, patient, consistent and committed to his training. A more willful dog, however, can be frustrating and one dog training technique may not work. One thing I’ve learned as a life long dog owner is, dogs are as just as individual as we are and a training method that works well for one dog may not be the single one that works for another. All dogs need to learn basic commands like, sit, stay, come, down and be quiet and all dogs can learn those commands. How to train them is an issue of controversy. Dominance dog training may be appropriate, for some dogs, and positive reinforcement works well for others. It all depends on the dog’s personality and sometimes both methods may need to be considered.
Cesar Millan, as well as other dog trainers and animal behaviorists, advocates for dominance training for “red zone” dogs with severe aggression issues. According to an article on his website, “Case Study: Aggression”, red zone dogs are aggressive because the owner hasn’t taken control of the dog. Cesar says, ” It is important to understand that red-zone dogs are usually frustrated animals. To control a powerful breed, you need to master the position of pack leader.” His goal is to train the dog owner as he rehabilitates the dog. His theory is based on how a wolf pack hierarchy operates. One alpha male who keeps the other members of his pack balanced and stable. To keep everyone in line, the alpha forces an offending member on his back and into a submissive posture. Having multiple dogs, I do understand why he supports and teaches submission to his clients. Dogs have their own form of a hierarchy, but since they have been domesticated by man and live in the social structure of the human world, it’s not exactly the same as a wolf pack. I have an alpha dog who’s in control and the other dogs jockey for their rank in their social structure. But dogs aren’t wolves and even though a group of dogs behave in a similar manner as a pack of wolves, there is a difference.
Those of us who aren’t professional trainers get caught in the middle of which approach works and is best for the dog. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) takes issue with Cesar Millan and other dog trainers and animal behaviorists who use dominance training. The AVSAB claim dominance dog training doesn’t work. They believe a better understanding of dog psychology, dog behavior and how a wolf pack operates proves Cesar’s methods are old fashioned and not based on how a wolf pack truly functions. They subscribe to positive reinforcement, desensitizing and operant training to help a dog with behavior problems. Their argument is TLC does more for training a dog than using force to make a dog submit to their owner. The AVSAB issued a statement in 2009 saying, ” We have been moving away from dominance theory and punitive training techniques for a while.” Dr. Laurie Bergman, who is a member of the AVSAB executive board, explains in the statement.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes dominance training is harsh, cruel and not necessary to properly and humanely train a dog. Positive reinforcement teaches a dog faster and with less stress on the dog and owner. Trying to dominate a dog into submission can create a situation where the dog shuts down and refuses to eat or drink. It can be dangerous for both the dog and owner. An aggressive dog is more apt to bite and fight the person trying to force him into submission and it often creates a clash of wills between dog and human.
I do agree with Cesar in that dogs, like children, need rules, boundaries and limitations and we need to be our dogs leader. Anyone with multiple dogs has to be in charge otherwise an atmosphere of chaos and confusion takes hold. You have to know each dog’s personalty and how they will react in certain situations. Supporters of Cesar Millan are quick to point out that he does use positive reinforcement with dogs who aren’t “red zone” cases. His method may seem harsh, but he does get results and has saved many dogs from being put down.
However, the question is, would aggressive dogs respond to positive reinforcement if given a chance or is dominance training their only hope? The group of dog trainers who use positive reinforcement get results using treats and praise without dominating the dog. Aggressive behavior is difficult to deal with mentally and sometimes physically, depending on the size of the dog. Some dog trainers won’t touch a dog with severe aggression issues and recommend putting the dog to sleep to solve the problem. Euthanasia is never an acceptable action to take just because a dog is aggressive and it’s easier than trying to rehabilitate the dog.
So, when it comes to dog training, which approach works best? For dogs who are already submissive, positive reinforcement is the best way to go. More aggressive dogs need more praise and a firm hand to make corrections and give discipline, when needed for aggressive behavior. I don’t want a dog to submit to me because of fear. If you don’t have your dog’s respect and trust, a bond will never be established. If a dog owner attempts to use dominance training, it’s essential to know your dog and what you are doing. If you go too fast, unintended consequences can cause a dog’s aggressive behavior to increase and sometimes a dog is pushed to a point where he shuts down and refuses to eat or drink.
I’ve tried dominance training in the past with more aggressive dogs, but I have found positive reinforcement and taking the leadership role has worked well for me. Dominance training does not mean you abuse the dog and make it fearful of you and positive reinforcement doesn’t mean you let the dog dominate you. For most dogs, positive reinforcement will give you the results you want, but for a more aggressive dog, it may take dominance training to get through to him.
As a dog owner, I want to do what’s best for my dogs. Positive reinforcement works well for a lot of dogs, but since dogs are individuals, it may not work for every one. My experience in dealing with multiple dogs is positive reinforcement works best. My perception of dominance training is more of a corrective action that’s closer to negative reinforcement over true dominance. Responsible pet owners need to have control over their dogs inside and outside the home. Aggressive dogs need guidance and if you, as a dog owner, can’t provide that, it’s up to you to find a dog trainer or animal behaviorists who can help you meet your obligation to your pet and to your neighbors and family.
Cesar’s Way, Achieving Balance Between People and Dogs, cesarsway.com
Veterinary Behaviorists Question Dominance Theory in Dogs, VIN News Service
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Canine Social Structure, PetPlace.com