We all are aware that being top dog is a critical fact when living with and training a dog. What is the difference between dominance through leadership and dominance through force? There is a big difference between being a strong influence and being a bully!
I spent the breeding season of January and February ’96 with the pack at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana, observing behavior and rank changes for five weeks. Chinook was the leader of his pack. He was alpha male and Altair the alpha female. During this period, when aggression is at its highest, I never observed Chinook grab another wolf by the scruff of the neck and pin it to the ground to maintain order. For that matter, I never observed him or any other wolves seriously reprimand either of the two male pups that were ten months old at that time. Mostly, he presented a ritualized attack (a general term for an attack with rules). If Altair started across the ice, the other males would start to follow. As Chinook started in her direction, all others would stop in their tracks until he passed. All it would take was a look or a step in their direction. That’s real leadership!
It bothers me when I hear of instructors still teaching their students (who trust them) to grab a dog by the scruff of the neck, shake and pin them to the floor. They are not teaching their students to be leaders without being bullies. They are teaching people to behave aggressively to dogs.
We accept the fact that shaking a human baby is wrong and can cause severe and permanent damage. What kind of damage can you do to a puppy? What about the risk of the student being bitten by their pet? I don’t care how big or little the dogs are, the student can still cause damage.
This is also putting the life of the dog at risk – if the average dog owner is bitten, it is the dog that will most likely “pay” by being destroyed.
For example, I had a young woman (and mother of two children) come to me for help with her new puppy. She had been taught at someone’s training classes that she must be dominant over her previous dog, a Malamute. She was instructed to correct him by grabbing and forcing him to the ground. Unfortunately, she corrected him in the manner she was taught and was bitten so badly that her husband immediately had the dog destroyed out of fear for the children. She didn’t want to have that happen to her new puppy!
Now, maybe the instructor told her to do it slightly differently, but sometimes people hear what they think they hear, or they misunderstand the instructions. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If there is a chance that the misunderstanding could be damaging, then we must be very careful what we teach.
I heard another sad story just before I left for my vacation in August. I received a call from a woman who said she was a NADOI instructor. One of her students had a dog that liked to chase his tail. One evening he started the tail chase during class. As the dog started to spin, the instructor reached over the dog and grabbed the check chain and the neck. The startled dog must have felt he had to defend himself, because he tried to bite her. I asked why she felt that was the way to correct the dog’s problem. She told me that another instructor in her area told her she should pin the dog every time he started to chase his tail. I wish someone would take the time to explain to me the benefits of this type of correction.
What do you (the instructor) gain? Better yet, what does the dog learn? Why would you put yourself, your student, or the dog at such a risk? I find it hard to understand why people feel they have to be so hard on dogs to train them!
Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated by humans 12,000 years ago. Over the centuries, breeds were developed to serve different needs. From hunting to being pampered, from the hills of Scotland to the laps of Parisians, dogs have served us well. Have we evolved so much that we have forgotten how to communicate with the other creatures of this earth? If we are going to train a dog by using dog language, then maybe we should take extra time to learn the language first!
©1996 George Phillip Quinlan