Dogs Trust

The Outdated Dominance Theory

Unfortunately, there is an outdated but still widely believed theory, that all dogs want to be ‘dominant’ and therefore the owner must be the ‘pack leader’ to train their dog and prevent or ‘fix’ unwanted or problem behaviours.

Being the ‘pack leader’ may involve such things as: eating before your dog, not allowing him to go through a doorway before you or sleep on your bed or sofa, not playing games of tug with your dog or tugging sharply on his lead if he pulls while out walking and even rolling your dog on his side and pinning him to the ground (please don’t ever try this).

The dominance theory was based on the behaviour of Grey Wolves, however, the studies were carried out on captive wolf packs that showed unnatural behaviour. Wild Wolves live in family groups and go about their daily lives relatively peacefully without constant disputes over ‘dominance’.

The problem with the methods used to reduce ‘dominance’ in dogs is that they can destroy the relationship and bond you have with your dog. From your dog’s point of view, you are loving and fun to be around one minute but then you are scary, confusing and even painful to be around the next. This undermines his trust in you, makes him confused and this can lead to him becoming nervous, scared and suppressing his personality as he struggles to find ways to please you without getting into trouble. He may even become depressed and withdrawn and shut down to the point he feels that life is not worth living and there is also the big risk that he may become so scared of people that he bites out of fear.

Most dogs are not quiet, teddy bear like creatures that sit quietly in the corner and it is unrealistic of us to expect this from them. The majority of dogs, especially in their younger years, are active, inquisitive, playful and bouncy characters that need to feel safe and loved and have fun with their owners.

Rather than trying to dominate your dog, we think it is much better to be a friend to him, train him kindly, interact with him, care for and accept him for the dog that he is!

There is nothing wrong with providing some leadership to your dog, but remember that good leaders earn respect and trust through kindness and generosity, not force. If you need behaviour advice, then it really needs to be tailor-made for your individual dog by a qualified behaviourist, not a generalised set of rules from a book or TV show that may make the problem far worse.