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Alpha dog theory vs. Positive reinforcement method

Updated on February 28, 2013

Dear reader,

Today I am going to tell you my story and discuss with a dilema I had. I have two dogs. Pekingese named Dobby. He is 13 years old. And a cute 3 months old labrador puppy named Oscar. I must declare that I am not a proffesional dog trainer. I am just a dog owner who wants to keep his dogs happy and well behaved. When I took Oscar home I started to ask myself what is the best way to train him. So naturally I started searching information. I found two oposite theories and I got very confused. The first one was "The alpha dog theory"the second one was "The positive reinforcement theory". Both theories had their supporters and none of them was willing to agree with the other. So all the reading and surching left me with a strong feeling of frustration and anxiety.Which path should I take?Which methods should I use?

The Alpha dog theory

This theory is mostly famous thanks to Cesar Millan's TV show The dog whisperer. In a matter of fact this theory is very old. It states that dogs are decendens from wolves and therefore dogs and wolves have some common behavioral patterns. For insatnce wolves are pack animals. In every pack there is hierarchy. On the top of this hierarchy sits the alpha dog. He is a leader and he sets the rules for the other members of the pack. When a dog is adopted the family becomes his pack and If you want your dog to behave you must establish dominace over him.

What do positive reinforcement supporters say about this?

They think that the alpha dog theory techniques bring back the dog training back to the dark ages. They say that this methods are abusive.

What do I think?

I belive the theory is right about one thing-every dogs needs a leader. You can't spoil your dog and expect him to listent to you.The dogs must look up to you. You are the one who sets all the rules not the dog. Being a leader doesn't mean to abuse your dog There are some simple and effective ways to show your dog that you are in charge. For instace feeing the dog in a way that you can show him that you are the one who provides the food. One thing that is common in Alpha dog theory are corrections. I do belive that you must correct you dog when he is acting inappropriate. In this case the timing is important. You can't correct when the deed is done you must correct him when he is in a process of doing something wrong. Correcting the dog does not mean using a phisical powr. In most cases a sound or just aproaching a dog with a dominant posture is enough and will work just fine.

Positive reinforcement theory.

This theory states that just like a child the dog needs a reward for good behavior. Positive reinfocement method uses treats to reward the dog when he is doing something that we want him to do. The reward must come immediately after the good behavior occures. Some trainers use markers like clickers . The dog associates the sound with the good behavior and the reward. This technique is based on conditional and unconditional reflexes.

Alpha dog belivers thing that using positive reinforcemet will turn your dog into a cookie addicted freak.

What I belive is that you must reward your dog. That way he ll know that this is the good behavior

Individual aproach

I am strongly convinced that every dog owner should take the time to find out what works for his dog. I dont see anything wrong in using both theories. I correct the unwanted behavior and reward the good one. After all wouldnt you do the same with your child. Dogs are not humans they have their own psychology and we must understand them and teach dem what is right and what is wrong. You can expect the dog to understand your reasons why he shouldn't do that or this you have to show him .


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