The answers as to why dogs do what they do vary and for all intents and purposes, the answer is simple to the above question: No. No, you do NOT have to worry about dominating your dog more in order to get them to listen.
Dominance is not a personality trait. It is a situational trait – and only for certain situations regarding a multitude of DOGS. If you are human, dog rules do not apply to you...and vice versa.
Dogs are dogs. They do not come with the inherent understanding of human concepts: societal structure, interactions, and rules.
Humans are humans. We will NEVER be as quick to read a dog as they are. We may never truly understand why certain dogs get along and others do not. We cannot ask them, nor them us.
What we HAVE learned, however, is that dogs and people learn concepts in many similar ways. Learning theory and reinforcement theory apply here.
In short: Dogs are opportunists. They do what works.
If jumping on the counter means they get the tasty food...they do it.
If pulling on the leash to get to that tree to “check e-mails” means you follow them and they get there...they do it.
If lunging at the child when the child comes towards its bone gets the child to go away...they do it.
The simple solution to ALL basic training or any behavioral concerns is this: Change the Motivator; Change the Behavior.
I have a 4-step program that I use for all of my students. It's nothing new, but narrowing the main points of learning down to 4 basic steps means a higher, faster success rate for most students.
- Get the Behavior you want to occur...WITHOUT touching your dog or using a collar.
- Cue the Behavior.
- Mark the Behavior.
- Pay the Behavior
Many people skip to step two and actually MIS-CUE behavior. Or, their timing is so far off, that they are paying the wrong behavior entirely. If you cannot successfully deliver a treat on time...you have no business trying to correct or punish your dog.
Problem behaviors arise, not from dominance and the need for more punishment/coercion, but from the fact that you have not truly taught your dog what is expected.
A really good article on the explanation of some of these behaviors can be found here:
Whether for Basic Manners, Anxiety, or Aggression...“bad” behaviors are all too commonly reinforced (whether accidentally or from the mis-timed punishment doled out by unaware owners) or made worse (I am saddened when I am consulted AFTER a severe bite has taken place or a foreign body surgery has been performed for a dog who ate chicken bones from the counter) by methods not science-based.
The real truth is this: If you are having behavioral concerns, you should seek out:
- A veterinary behaviorist (especially for aggression or anxiety concerns) as these are licensed veterinarians who specialize in behavior and can also prescribe medications that may be necessary to help your pet overcome fear/panic.
- A professional behaviorist who has vast experience and expertise in the particular concern you are having. This is not someone who generally charges $20-30 per hour, accepts only cash, and "has been in dogs for years"...it is someone who has a professional reputation to uphold, can prove their methods and success stories by using their own dogs, and have several testimonials you can research. Sadly, there is no regulatory office – anyone can call themselves a professional dog trainer or behaviorist, so please do your homework as some behaviors can actually be made WORSE by choosing the wrong trainer.
- A referral from your veterinarian. Oftentimes, your veterinarian has an idea of which referral facilities can help you best.
As for me, I will keep my 84lb intact male Doberman (and my 5lb adopted Maltese) on the bed, cuddling with me every night, allowed on the couch by day, and acting as the ambassador for not only Dobermans (& Maltese) world-wide, but also as my examples of reinforcement and relationship-based training. He carries with him several titles and brings a smile to the faces of everyone he meets with his antics and upbeat confidence...and she is just starting her training career and hopes to earn her first title very soon!
I do the opposite of what every trainer based in dominance says and I have a happier bond and much-more reliable off-leash obedience than most of them.
...and It's not that I never say "No" - it's that I say "Yes!" far more often.
Until next time...Happy Training!