Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Dominance

  • Dan, thank you this is very interesting and confirms what we Basenjiites already know, don't we? (or very quickly find out!!!)

    I've copied this and am now going to email it to friends who try to impose the Alpha Dog theory, thanks again!

  • It's certainly a hot topic isn't it. I only tried using the dominance technique once on my second Basenji when she was a puppy back in 94 putting her on her back and holding her there and it just made her crazier. I said forget it!

  • Thank you for sharing this with us…

  • What an annoying read. It's pretty clear it was mainly just an attack on Millan.

    "But, AVSAB says, calling a dog's behavior aggressive, as Millan often does, should be reserved for the most violent animals"
    Eh yeah, that's what he is often working with! And what he is specialized in!

    "most famously the alpha roll, in which he pins a dog on its back and holds it by the throat ? are downright cruel"
    When has is done this? I have seen every episode so far. What I have seen is him holding them on their SIDE, and having his had on the neck/head area to avoid the dog biting him….which does not always work :p

    "We are on record as opposing some of the things Cesar Millan does because they're wrong."
    Yeah, and we thought the world was flat. Man would never fly. The moon was made of cheeze.
    Bonnie Beaver sure is luck knowing EVERYTHING without science saying otherwise. That's the whole point, to LEARN and evolve. Attacking someone because he uses an "old" method is pathetic.

    Keep in mind, I am not some crazed "Millan sympathizer". I just hate people that HAVE to correct people and attack them because they believe their method is better.

    There was little in the article about the Alpha-Male Dominance, and it sure didn't explain just what it is.
    Are they talking about hitting? Being physically hard to the dog? Or just making sure that the dog knows you are the boss? There is a big difference there. The article is very unclear.
    Or we just don't need to make sure we are the boss because the dog "naturally" knows this? I know MANY people that would say otherwise. And I have seen several issues here on the forums with dogs thinking they are the boss.

  • I am not sure that you really read this article. It addresses the issue of dominance versus leadership,

    "It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs. The organization's statement, which does not explicitly name Millan but references his terminology and some of his controversial techniques, argues that dominant-submissive relationships that do occur in nature are a means to allocate resources ? a problem that rarely exists between dogs and their owners. (Nor even, AVSAB notes, among feral dogs, which live in small, scavenging groups without alphas controlling access to food and mates.) House pets, on the contrary, bark too much, jump up on you, ignore your commands, growl and nip at you because they have been inadvertently rewarded for this behavior or because they have not been trained to act differently."

    Many forum members have recommended time and time again ways of being an effective leader that have nothing to do with dominance. Establishing consistent expectation and rewarding good choices is a much better way to build your relationship with your dog then methods like alpha rolls which have been shown in many articles cited on this forum not to be effective and to be known to increase the likelihood of an aggressive response.

  • I did read it. I just find it odd for "scientists" to go out and point fingers at people after making a new discovery.

    I expect an article to stick to it's findings and not go all drama on us and critique people. It looses it's integrity. It should stick to the facts, and let people take that information and use it.
    Not go all "Haha, you are wrong!".

    I am just very skeptical to the goal of this research. I would very much like to read the whole paper instead of just some reporter giving us a few words here and there.
    An article with 11 paragraphs, and Millan being mentioned in 7 of them, seems a bit excessive.
    It wouldn't surprise me if that established "group" that want Millan stopped actually payed for this paper/research to be done.

  • First Basenji's

    I think NerdyDogOwner is fair in pointing out what many of the respondents seem to be bristling at – pitting these two celebrity dog trainers as "rival camps". Worse, the difference in method is framed as a gender issue. That is, it's about "alpha-MALE dominance", as it says in the title, which implicitly suggests that Stilwell is... what? positive reinforcement from a specifically female perspective? I see no good reason that these training methods need to be gendered (though it is a curious observation that the majority of hire-able trainers happen to be female). Just as I've found that discussions of positive training techniques, which I am totally sympathetic to, seem to proceed much more smoothly when these "name brand" training institutions are left unmentioned. Sure, Millan brought an unprecedented level of exposure to "dominance"-based training, but these methods long preceded him. I think his show caught on because his methods amplified existing conceptions of how you're supposed to train a dog. And he does convey some kind of celebrity appeal that captivates people and, apparently, makes him worth defending.

    I don't think it's a great article specifically because it has inspired such kneejerk defenses with its namedropping. But I do find the intensity of the debate in the comments interesting, and a little disheartening…

  • It is called "alpha male dominance" because it refers to the theory that the "alpha male" wolf is the one that leads the pack which is a flawed theory. It is unfortunate that the two nationally known shows happen to be hosted by opposite sexes but that is the case so apparently that makes it a male vs female thing to people.

    This is also not "new" research, it has been known for long before Milan started his show that the techniques he uses are not the most effective and can lead to escalating aggression. This article, which is not a research article and not written by scientists, is in response to his popularity which is leading people to return to outdated training techniques that carry high risk of escalating aggression. It is precisely because Milan is a celebrity and people feel they can trust his advice that this article was written to point out that his methods are not based on currently accepted practices.

  • Huh? Since when was the alpha male amongst wolfs a flawed theory? This is a solid theory, and has been for many years. Do you have any sources saying otherwise?

    The article is not saying the wolf alpha male is a myth, in fact they even support it in the first sentences. They are saying we do not need to apply this alpha role to ourselves for our dogs.

  • The article itself cited sources about the flaws in the alpha wolf theory. David Mech who is best known for his study on captive wolves in artificial packs that he based his theory on has recanted that theory after his newer studies on non-captive wolves.

    If you are looking for a scientifically backed article about why trying to apply dominance theory to dog training is flawed then try this article by Dr Sophia Yin,

  • For an even more detailed look at modern theory vs dominance theory there is also this article:

  • Wow, that was really interesting! Thanks!

  • Thanks Lisa for the links!

  • @lvoss:

    For an even more detailed look at modern theory vs dominance theory there is also this article:

    The cat reacting to the dog like that was a no brainer that it was defending itself. I've seen it with my own cats and past Basenjis. It happens all the time with Buddy and cats. He wants to play with them (tail wagging), not dominate and they react like that because they see Buddy's quick movements as scary and not knowing that it's not a physical threat and defending themselves by hissing and running.

    The puppy in the firehouse definitely wasn't trying to dominate them. If they left food on the table of course he's going to jump up and get it. He loves people, is highly energetic and enthusiastic so he jumps up on them. He just needs to be worked with and of course overtime he'll mature.

  • First Basenji's

    See, it is possible to offer a well-written article debunking the dominance theory. I really like Dr. Yin's blog.

    My point about the weaknesses of the original article (which I'm very glad was shared with us) is in its journalistic framing and rhetoric, not its content. I suspect that basenji owners have long been savvy to the advantages of positive training, but like Dr. Yin mentions, a couple decades ago, most trainers probably didn't. And thus, dominance techniques are still very much in circulation. I distinctly remember being told when I was a kid (this would be 1990) that the best way to handle our Golden Retriever jumping on us was to grab his front legs and knee him in the chest (not enough to hurt him, but enough to make him uncomfortable). And holding him down until he submitted, and holding his muzzle, and all this stuff that in retrospect was clearly not the best way to handle a hyperactive puppy that just wanted attention. But of all the videos we rented, books we checked out from our small town library, obedience classes my family went to, and the vet, nobody ever told us differently.

    It takes a long time to untrain the general populace on these kinds of widespread beliefs, long-ingrained through authority figures like vets and hired professionals and now TV celebrities. I just don't think pitting two celebrities against each other is the best way to do it, since that just offends their fandoms. It's disappointing to see such a backlash against what is ultimately supposed to be a good message put forth in the Time article. Instead, focusing on the techniques themselves, not the trainers, as those other articles Lisa linked, gets the point across much better.

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