A franchise dog training business has recently opened in this area. I took a look at one of their newsletters and was pretty shocked to read their take on dominance in dogs. It's scary how little the company knows about dominance in dogs – especially since they're charging a pretty penny to help dog owners!
What they describe as dominance — dog doesn't listen, dog runs through doorways first, dog goes up or down the stairs first, dog eats first — has absolutely nothing to do with dominance.
If you don't teach your dog that you'd like to go first in and out of the house or up and down stairs, the dog isn't being dominant — you haven't taught the dog what you expect. It's not a dog problem, it's a person problem.
If you haven't taught your dog to come when called, you can't call him dominant because he doesn't listen. The label "dominant" is a crutch. It's a buzz word that lots of "trainers" use to help sell a product or service.
Look at the picture above – that's our Labrador, Lily, <gasp> on the sofa. Yes, on the sofa. Our dogs are allowed on the furniture. Even in the bed! Yikes – am I creating monsters? Everyone knows dogs should be relegated to the floor, lest they get the idea that they are better than the people, right?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Furniture privileges, who eats first, who goes in and out the door first… none of this has anything to do with your dog being dominant. What if it's easier for your dog to go out the door before you? Or if it's time for the dog to eat dinner, but you're not hungry? Do these "trainers" expect that you'll make your life inconvenient simply to "keep the dog in his place"? That you should eat dinner even though you're not really hungry? What if you had dinner at a restaurant and you now need to feed your dog. Your dog didn't see you eat dinner before him – do you have to eat a second dinner now, just so the dog knows you rank higher?
Silly and inaccurate – that's what their advice is.
Our dogs eat before we do (for convenience), they go in and out the door before us (they're faster than we are), they sleep in the bed and on the furniture (they're invited) and we don't have one problem with dominance in our house. So how can the "trainers" explain that? Shouldn't I be overrun by dominant dogs in my house – I'm clearly doing everything wrong.
Yet I don't have any problem whatsoever with dominant dogs. Could it be that I teach my dogs what is expected of them? That if I ask them to wait while I exit first, they do. That if I ask them to get off the sofa, they do? I teach them what they need to know, reinforce their correct behaviors, and live a happy life together with my dogs. Without ever once mentioning dominance.
Your life with your dog should be based on cooperation, not dominance. On teaching, not dominating. On being a good leader, not on throwing your weight around. For more on dominance, take a look at a Smart Dog University newsletter dedicated to this topic.