Sunday, July 13, 2008

Debunking the Dominance Myth in Training

or "Stop 'whispering' and speak up for your dog."

It isn't my title but the tile of a seminar I attended yesterday given by Jean Donaldson. It was excellent and I learned a lot. I did take a photo but it came out dark and horrible. So here is this one instead.

I really liked this quote:

"Hey you 'whisperers', pinning, jerking, shocking and harassing animals - we want our word back." Susan G. Friedman, PhD University of Utah.


1. to speak or say (something) very softly, using the breath instead of the vocal cords
2. to make a low soft rustling sound: the leaves whispered
1. a low soft voice: her voice sank to a whisper
2. Informal a rumour: I just picked up a whisper on this killing
3. a low soft rustling sound: a whisper of breeze in the shrubbery [Old English hwisprian]
There isn't much "soft" about that type of whispering is there?

She had a great insight that our society is watching a "trainer" manhandling 80 to 100+lb predators in homes with children present. This is called modeling which children immitate because that's how THEY learn. A scary thought.

She also brought up the point that no training OR learning theory is required for anyone to hang a shingle and call themselves a trainer. Unfortunatly most of the general public doesn't know this and is trusting their dogs with people who are many times unqualified. Add to that these unqualified people are many times making things worse under the guise of training. They don't need to live with the dog after all so why do they care about fallout or failure?

The following is just a few great tidbits from the seminar:

On the biggest divide in training philosophies ~ There are trainers to elect to train without aversives-to not hurt, scare, or startle dogs to train them. (called positive trainers or "cookie pushers")

There are trainers who elect to use aversives-some call a spade a spade, some use less clear language. (called force or traditional trainers)

EVERYONE believes their way of training is the best way.

On dog social organization: There is little agreement and virtually no research regarding dog social organization. Researchers studying wild wolves disagree with researchers studying captive wolves about wolf social organization. Conventional wisdom on dogs seems to have been extrapolated captive wolf interpretations.

The wolf literature: Packs consist of a breeding pair and their offspring up to age 3. (sexual maturity) By age 3, offspring disperse and attempt to mate with other dispersed wolves to form new packs.

If you breed, you're alpha: "Individual wolves do not have an inherent permanent social status....the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island packm I saw none." L. David Mech

....And your likely to breed: "Wolves in captivity breed readily and I know of no mature captive individuals that failed to breed when paired."

"In the wild...I know of no permenant dispersers that failed to breed if they lived long enough." L David Mech

Free -Ranging Dog Populations

* Pariah Dogs in India, village dogs in Africa, feral populations in South America and Mexico, Cook Island Dogs, dingoes, semi-feral populations in Romania and Moscow

* Often drawn into proximity by food sources, however none form packs but rather "loose, transitory associations" (Dunbar)

* Functions of estrous cycle

What need does it (dominance) serve among dog people?

* Projection of OUR concerns about status?

* Justifies a need to coerce and punish?
(Last remaining legal bastion of systematic corporal punishment? Imagine the same techniques in a school or daycare. We did away with rulers to hands and backside of kids at Catholic schools, why are we still heavy handed with dogs?)

* Supports our wish for magical motivation?

*Keeps us revelant: at least dog's behavior is in relation to us?

No properly functioning living organism will do something for nothing.

Dogs are properly functioning living organisims and so spend their behavioral dollar wisely most of the time.

And, when a dog exits a doorway ahead of you, it may not be directed at you.
A "problem" according to whom?

Dunbar has famously pointed out that peeing, defecating, digging, barking, chewing, jumping up etc. are not "problems" to dogs, so the onus is on us to teach them when they can act like dogs.

How dogs learn:

Dogs learn via operant and classical conditioning.

OC = Operant Conditioning manipulates behavior via consequences.

CC + Classical Conditioning manipulates emotional responses.

Do you want him to do more or less of the target behavior?

More = Capture, shape or prompt and reinforce what you want more of.

Less = Install a more likeable behavior in its place and/or punish it. (non-violently)

That is only a tip of the iceberg. Then we went into lots of training theory and demonstrations of behavior and training.

Check out the blog at for my updated article on Growling.
I love attending seminars to keep up with my continuing education. It gives me a change to re-charge my batteries, network, visit with friends and learn new techniques. I just wish behavior seminars were mandatory for ALL trainers. I know I always learn something regardless of the subject. It was a great day and afterwards I stopped by PlanetDog to look around. They have a great store that I rarely get to. Unfortunatly I didn't have alot of pocket money for extras so I only picked up a copy of Bark magazine and Animal Wellness. Fortunatly I do have a great local store to hang out at and get great doggy things. (The Loyal Biscuit on Main Street in Rockland. Stop by and say hi to Lauren. Tell her I sent you.)
The next seminar Happy Tails has on deck is Ray Coppinger and "The Evolution of Dogs and Their Behavior" September 6 and 7. FMI visit the website at: Hopefully I will get to that one as well.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Sounds like a great seminar! I just ordered her new book and am waiting impatiently for it to arrive.