The Science Behind This Site

Traditional, dominance-based training techniques are based on the idea of asserting yourself as the dogs pack leader through dominance. The problem with this approach lies in the fact that this is not how dogs become "pack leaders" naturally, and that this approach is based on old, outdated and flawed research.

To those who do not agree, please take the time to read the science behind why dominance theory is a flawed and simplistic view of a much more complex social system, before speaking out against it. Thank you.

Dominance-based training is flawed at its core

Dominance is a widely misunderstood concept. Dominance-based trainers (ie Cesar Millan) will very often blame a dogs problem(s) on dominance, when in reality the probability of that being the case is very low.

Thinking that dogs strive to assert dominance and rise in rank is incorrect

Dogs do not compete with force to become the "alpha".

Rather than viewing a wolf pack as a group of animals organized with a “top dog” that fought its way to the top [..] science has come to understand that most wolf packs are [..] family groups formed exactly the same way human families are.

W hate ver happened to the term "alpha wolf"?

Further more, the term does not accurately describe the behavior of neither wolves nor dogs.

The term "alpha" isn't accurate when describing most of the leaders of wolf packs. [..] Because it implies that that the wolves fought and competed strongly to get to the top of the pack. [..] In actuality the way they get there [..] is by mating [..] becoming natural leaders that way [..] like a human family.

D r. L . David Mech - Wolf expert

Using "dominance" to explain behavior is flawed

More recent scientific observation of dogs interacting freely has concluded that dogs are not out to "assert dominance" over one another, as many dominance-based trainers would have you believe.

[..] studying dogs freely interacting [..] concluding that individual relationships between dogs are learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert "dominance"

U sing 'dominance' to explain dog behavior is old hat — Bio-Medicine

The source cited above references this paper: "Dominance in domestic dogs - useful construct - or bad habit?".

Dominance-based trainers base their knowledge on flawed (very old) research

Dominance-based training derives much of its ideas from observing wolves in captivity many decades ago. There are many problems with these studies.

  1. The wolves were studied in captivity, not in their natural habitat, thus changing their natural behavior.
  2. The wolves were captured from many different natural packs, and then merged into very unnatural, violent packs, thus changing their natural behavior. The volatile nature of the unnatural packs promoted much aggression that would otherwise not occur in a natural pack.
  3. The studies focused largely on hunting/feeding behavior, which only makes up a very small percentage of wolf behavior.

You can kind of compare this to studying human behavior at Auschwitz during World War 2. You wouldn't get an accurate picture of human behavior.

More in-depth studies of wolves in their natural habitats over the last 50 years have since revealed that a wolf pack is made up of a family; the breeding pair who shares leadership, and their offspring, who stay with the pack until 2-3 years of age, when they start their own pack.

4 Paws University

Using dominance theory for behavior modification is dangerous

Using outdated and flawed concepts for training and behavior modification rarely does anything to change the dogs perception of the underlying problem, rather it suppresses (un)natural behavior in favor of a "quick fix". It has been shown to have great potential for increasing aggression and exacerbating problems as well as increase the dogs resentment towards the handler. Further, the problem tends to reoccurr later, meaning that the handler usually has to keep repeating the "behavior modification" due to lack of lasting effect.

[..] advances in behavior research have modified our understanding of social hierarchies [..] (yet) many animal trainers continue to base their training methods on outdated perceptions of dominance theory.

A meri can Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

Circular logic doesn't make sense

Dominance theory has many fallacies, one of which being circular logic. For example, when dominance theory blames a dogs aggression on "dominance", then asserts that you have to use "dominance" to solve the "dominance problem", it has used the same explanation for both the problem and the solution - thus it quickly falls apart on itself.

Use these free resources to learn more

To your right you will find a collection of selected work that clearly confirms what you have just read. If you care at all about being right, it is strongly recommended that you educate yourself on modern behavioral science. If you don't care however, you can continue believing the earth is flat, but know that your dog is likely to suffer for it.

Thank you.

Below you will find a series of (scientific) articles/studies confirming why dominance-based training is flawed. It is suggested that you read them before speaking out against the information on this website.

"What′s Wrong with Using ‘Dominance’ to Explain the Behaviour of Dogs?" by Dog Welfare Campaign

[..] it has been widely accepted amongst qualified behaviourists and trainers [..] that the interpretation of dog behaviour based on a ‘dominance model’ relies on unsupported assumptions, (yet) this outdated approach is still used by those that have not had the opportunity to study the most recent literature and clinical practice.

"If Not Dominance.. How do we Explain the Development of Social Behaviour?" by Dog Welfare Campaign

In almost all ‘real life’ situations, it is combinations of specific cues and contexts that predict particular events. [..] Rather than explaining how an individual interacts with others in terms of fixed characteristics, it is important to recognise that previous experience has a profound influence on the way each dog behaves with every other dog and person that it meets.

"The Dominance Controversy" by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

"Debunking the Dominance Myth" by Carmen Buitrago, CPDT, CTC

The truth is, there is not one documented case of a wolf forcefully rolling another wolf to the ground. Nor is there one case of a mother wolf (or dog) ‘scruff-shaking’ her puppies.”

[..] in the wild, animals who rule with brute force get eliminated from the gene pool, because force requires so much energy and puts the animals at high risk of death, injury, or predation. [..] the vast majority of alpha dogs lead benevolently. They do not stoop to physical domination to prove their points.

[..] alpha does not mean physically dominant or most aggressive. It means in control of resources.

In many aggression cases, [..] the dogs behavior (is) inconsistent with traditional understanding of dominance. So-called dominant dogs often show ambivalent, fearful, and anxious body language. [..] may shake and act very submissively during and after a bite [..] all this is inconsistent with our notion of (a) fearless, dominant dog.

"Why Won't Dominance Die?" by David Ryan, Assosiaction of Pet Behavior Counsellors

"Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals" by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

"Whatever happened to the term alpha wolf?" by International Wolf Center

"Forget About Being Alpha in Your Pack" by Kathy Sdao, MA, CAAB

"Moving Beyond the Dominance Myth: Toward an Understanding of Training as Partnership" by Morgan Spector

At most the “pack” concept is of limited metaphorical value. It does not accurately express the range of behaviors within a given association of wolves. It cannot be a basis for understanding the interaction between humans and dogs, much less for establishing a training approach.

"Beyond the 'Dominance' Paradigm" by Patricia B. McConnell, PhD

"Is the Concept of the Alpha Dog Valid?" by Stanley Coren, Ph.D

Video: "The Dominance Myth" by Adam Miklosi, Ph.D

"The Dog Whisperer Controversy" by 4 Paws University

Closer observations of wolves over the last 40 years have shown that (an alpha roll) is an act of submission, not dominance. A wolf voluntarily rolls on its back [..] no (physical) contact is made, thus avoiding dangerous physical conflict.

By (controlling) everything the dog wants, including food, access and attention, and not giving them away for free or on demand, it is not necessary to get into power struggles with our dogs. We are already "dominant."

Aggression is a response to something/someone the animal perceives as a threat. [..] Aggressive behavior is most frequently caused by fear due to various factors..

When a dog is pushed to the point that it reacts aggressively, the sympathetic nervous system (shuts down) [..] as does the dog's capacity for learning.

(Positive training) [..] does not mean [..] that the dog is not given boundaries (and) rules.

Suppression is typically done through the use of force or flooding. Suppression of behavior stops the behavior in the moment, but requires the dog owner to constantly repeat the steps necessary over and over.

"Fighting Dominance in a Dog Whispering World" by Jean Donaldson & Ian Dunbar

"Guidelines on the Use of Punishment for Dealing with Behavior Problems in Animals" by American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

Punishment has been shown to increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior in many species.

[..] punishment can suppress the behavior of fearful or aggressive animals, but may not change the association underlying the behavior. Thus, it may not address the underlying problem. [..] For instance, if the animal is aggressive due to fear, then the use of force to stop the fearful reactions will make the dog more fearful while at the same time suppressing or masking the outward signs of fear. Once it can no longer suppress its fear, the animal may suddenly act with heightened aggression and with fewer warning signs of impending aggression. [..] it may now attack with no warning.

[..] punishment can cause animals to develop a negative association with the person implementing it or the environment in which the punishment is used.

Punishment does not teach more appropriate behaviors [..] Owners should determine what’s reinforcing the undesirable behavior, remove that reinforcement , and reinforce an alternate appropriate behavior instead (of punishing the bad behavior).