Sunday, October 27, 2013

Alpha is Out!

Alpha is out!

Many of us grew up with the idea that it was mandatory to be “alpha” to our dogs and two moves were particularly important in order to maintain that role:  scruff shakes and alpha rolls.  In the process many a gentle canine friend was frightened beyond words and a whole lot of people got bitten by dogs that felt things had gotten out of control and the dog needed to fight for its life.

A scruff shake, for those who never learned such heinous training procedures, means to grab a dog on either side of the neck, lift her until her front feet are barely (if at all!) touching the ground, lean over her and read her the riot act.  Alpha rolls meant to slam a dog down on his side or back and pin him there.  People were misguided in believing that these procedures mimicked how canines maintain order in the pack.  Wrong!  It doesn’t happen that way at all.

Dogs often demonstrate submissiveness and maybe even respect to a higher ranking individual by putting themselves on their side, tails often tucked between the legs and they may even urinate.  A higher ranking dog will often stand over the dog with an attitude of:  You got THAT right!  And that ends it.

The kinds of things that people believed  (And most trainers still teach this way!) justified such abusive treatments included not obeying a command, resource guarding, food stealing, etc.  Complete obedience and total compliance was the way to go.

New, humane methods include changing how we think about the dogs.  Rather than saying we want them to obey a command we give cues for the behaviors we have carefully taught and reward their successes.  We are leaders – not dictators.  Dogs are truly social creatures but not true pack animals - they do not work together to get food nor do they work together to care for young.  So if we are to lead that puts some responsibility on us to understand how the dogs see the world.  For example, a dog that has only been taught to sit, lie down, and stay on cue in the house is not likely to understand the cues for those exercises outside of the house!  True.

So, if you have only worked in the house or garden, step out onto the street and say: Rover, sit!, and Rover does not do it that is not insubordination.  We learn a bit  differently than dogs do.  We could pull that off because we generalize more easily.  Dogs have to be taught to sit under different conditions and the more distracting the situation the longer it takes to get the behavior on cue.  The bright side is that the more you teach and the more varied the conditions the better the dog gets at generalizing.  Never will be at our level but it can get pretty good.

Punishing a dog for something it has not learned how to do is cruel, to say the least.
Be a teacher.  Be a leader.  Learn how to understand your dog and forget the alpha nonsense.


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