Day 8: Dominance Debunked, oh, and Door Manners

Today I’m gonna let you in on a little secret… You do not have to be “dominant” and your dog can not be “dominant”. Dominance is a relationship, not a personal characteristic of oneself. Besides, you already have the “power and influence” over anything your dog might want! So take a big deep breath and let me explain.

Dominance – (n) Power and influence over others.

Wow, I really dislike that word and what it’s done to dog training. The Dominance Theory is a myth based on a poorly constructed study done on wolves (not dogs) and has been debunked over and over again. Alas, popular culture finds it entertaining to watch samuri “dog whisperers” abuse and injure their pupils and themselves all in the name of training. Since there have been so many articles on the topic of debunking the dominance theory I’m not going to go into huge detail since it would be redundant but you don’t have to take my word for it, please listen to the animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, and experts:

  • APDT – Association of Pet Dog Trainers
  • AVSAB – American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
  • APBC – Association of Pet Behavior Counsellors
  • Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS – Specializes in Behavior, This link is one of the most in depth explanations I’ve seen.
  • Karen Pryor – Author and one of the founders of clicker training as we know it today.

There are a lot of different behaviors that are commonly called dominant. These behaviors are mislabeled so I’d like to consider them problem behaviors instead. By relabeling these behaviors it allows you to approach the problem in a different light. What are some of these behaviors? and what would you like your dog to do instead?

  • Going thru the door first – wait politely
  • Pulling on Leash – walk next to you or with a loose leash
  • Begging – lay down on a mat
  • Barking – this one depends on the reason for the barking
  • Biting – this one is potentially worrisome please see the disclaimer below
  • Jumping – sit or 4 feet on the floor
  • Getting on the Couch
  • Anything else a person thinks is unbecoming behavior

Disclaimer: if your dog is showing aggressive behaviors such as growling, lunging, or biting its time to consult a trustworthy trainer that uses positive reinforcement. These are very serious warning signs and if ignored or punished can be dangerous and can cause a lot of damage to you, another person, or another animal. Please seek expert help.

Today’s Training Exercise to a Better Dog:

Which of these puppies would you want at your house?

Which of these puppies would you want at your house?

Naughty Behavior #1 – Going thru the door first.

Explanation – If your dog goes thru the door first it is not the end of the world. Evey goes thru the door first all of the time. This is mostly because I find it difficult to hold the door open for her once I’m thru the door 🙂 However, going thru the door first or bolting thru a doorway can be dangerous for your dog. Dogs that learn to bolt thru a door often run into streets and be hit by a car, they might knock you over, or they might run head long into an unfriendly person or dog.

Desired Behavior – Waiting for a release word to go thru a doorway and then waiting on the other side of the doorway.

Training Plan:

Prerequisites – your dog must know how to sit on cue or as a default behavior (a behavior that is offered when no clues are given) and your dog must have a release cue that tells him it’s okay to move.

  1. With your dog on leash and a pocketful of treats ready to go, walk up to a door. Place your hand on the door knob and cue a sit or wait for a default sit. Only cue your dog once! If he’s too excited to sit, that’s okay, wait for him to plant his tush. As soon as his tail hits the floor give him a treat. If he gets up, still give him a treat, but take your hand off of the door knob and repeat until his tail remains on the ground after he’s received his treat.

  2. Turn the knob (do not open the door). If his tail stays on the floor, give him another treat. If he gets up, ignore him, take your hand off the door and start over again at step 1. Repeat until his tail stays on the floor while you turn the knob.

  3. Crack the door open (do not open it all of the way). The criteria remains the same, tail on the floor equals treats, get up and the door shuts and we start over again. No big deal. Shut the door in between repetitions.

  4. Okay time to open the door a few inches. Watch your dog closely. If he starts to get up at all, a little shift in weight, head dip, paws inching forward, Shut the door. This is important that you notice him getting up BEFORE he’s in the door. Do NOT shut the door on your dog if he gets the jump on you. If your dog does manage to get thru the door tell yourself you’ll shut the door quicker next time and try again. This is why he’s on a leash. If your dog’s tail stays on the ground give him a treat, shut the door and repeat.

  5. Getting a little braver, open the door more and more each repetition until it’s all the way open. Keep your rules and be consistent! Dog moves = Door shuts, Dog waits = Treats. Leave the door open, release your dog to the other side.

  6. Once your dog is outside either cue him to sit ONCE or wait for a sit and reward it with treats.

  7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until he waits for the release cue and automatically plops his bum down on the other side.

Training Tips:

  • This behavior will maintain itself with life rewards once it’s established using treats. The life reward is the opportunity to go thru the door and then the opportunity to run in the yard, go to the car, or go for a walk.

  • Good release cues, if you don’t already have one, are; release, break, all done, free, go, and anything else that you don’t say normally. “Okay” is often a release as well, however, I use that word too frequently for me to want it to be my release cue.

  • In the beginning be liberal with your treats while your dog is sitting.

  • Do not repeat the words, “Sit”, “ssssiiiiiittttt” or “stay”. Remember the more you say now the more you’ll have to remind your dog in the future. Be lazy and let your actions (treat or door shut) speak for you. Actions speak louder than words, at least that’s what my mother used to say.

Have fun. I think that you’ll be surprised at how quickly your dog picks up on this. Work it into daily routines and within a week you won’t have to think about it. You’ll just have to maintain it with those life rewards! Stay tuned to learn more about how to fix some of these problem behaviors.

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