Thursday, July 06, 2006

On the "dominance paradigm"

I've never been a big fan of the view that domestic dog behavior and training issues can be seen in terms of (human interpretations of) wild wolf behavior, i.e. as some sort of "dominance vs. submission" continuum. This view is central to the "master trainer" approach (i.e. training by punishing undesireable behavior as opposed to rewarding desired behavior), but a lot of positive dog trainers place much stock in it as well. Nonetheless, I've never been really comfortable with the idea that to teach a dog to live in harmony with humans we need to try to act like wolves. First of all, dogs aren't wolves, and furthermore, even if they were, our understanding of wolf "dominance" behaviors is quite likely flawed.

Anyway, via The Austin Dog Trainer--Positive Dog Training Blog, I found a short article called Some Thoughts on Letting go of the Dominance Paradigm in Training Dogs. There isn't any "about the author" info listed, but I gather from the article that she is a "wolf educator" and may have some connection to Wolf Park, a nonprofit wolf education and research facility in Indiana.

At any rate, if anyone has interesting links they would like to share on this topic, please leave them in the comments.


Cara, Austin Dog Trainer said...

Hi Lisa! I can't wait to read some of your posts on agility - I'm planning on starting some agility classes with one of my dogs soon.

I'm glad you liked the Dominance Paradigm article. And, you're right that our understanding of wolf behavior and of the dominance continuum is quite flawed. There is a wonderful article by L. David Mech that discusses the status relationships of wild wolves. It is not at all the linear hierarchy (Alpha, beta, omega, etc.) that most people believe it to be. You can find that article here:

I do actually believe in teaching my clients how to be effective, benevolent leaders for their dogs, but I generally have to help them let go of a lot of myth first! Thank you for reading my blog,


Lisa B. said...

Thanks for the link!

seth said...


As a total idiot in ways of dog fu I have a question. My dog (okay my parents dog) was trained by what seems to me a kind of a combination of "dominance" and positive training. Basically I think my parents used the same method they used on me: mom=bad cop, dad=good cop.

Example: Dog jumps up on furniture, mom stops what she's doing, looks at the dog, but doesn't do anything then gives her a treat when she jumps down.

Example: Dog bites or even lets teeth come in contact with skin. Dad says very loudly "OW!!"

While it may seem to be inconsistent somehow it seems to have worked. What do you think? Is mom's way better, dads? both? neither? And if one or both are bad. How screwed up is the dog. For that matter how screwed up am I