Why I Disagree With Dominance Theory (Cesar Millan)
While I am not going to make the blanket statement that dominance theory does not apply to all domesticated animals, I do not believe that it applies to dogs the way some of us (cough cough Cesear Milan) seem to think it does. Here's why, in a nutshell.
The backbone of this theory is the idea that dogs should be treated like dogs, and that is initially what drew me into the whole idea. It has always bothered me how some people elevate their dogs to the status of little people.
Somewhere along the way this theory stops treating dogs like dogs and treats them like wolves- and that isn't right either.
Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.
1. Animal Behaviorists (people who study animals for a living) say it's wrong.
Ph.Ds don't always make people smart, but my bet is an educated person is more likely to be knowledgeable. Those that are educated in animal theories, such as Dr. Sophia Yin, say dominance theory is wrong.
Here is her enlightening page. I encourage everyone on the fence about this issue to check out.
2. Dominance theory makes something simple into something complicated.
Most issues with dogs arise from one simple fact: They don't speak English. Wouldn't it be great if you could explain to your dog why she can't chew on the electrical wires? Most often it's confusion that causes problems, not dominance. If your dog could tell you she was lonely and stressed out and that's why she was chewing, you might react differently.
Does your dog really believe he’s dominant over you when you try to take his toy away and he resists? Or does he just not want his toy taken away?
3. Dogs aren't wolves.
We should assume that most everything a dog does is a struggle for dominance over its human owners, much the same way a wolf in the wild would struggle with it’s own pack for the top rank.
Fortunately dogs aren't wolves. Millions of years of evolution has ensured that and things have changed. A lot.
Furthermore, Recent research actually suggests that wolves don't even use dominance theory! Funny, right?
"As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring's status is based on birth order. Mech, who used to ascribe to alpha-wolf theory but has reversed course in recent years, says the pack's hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents' lead."
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2007250,00.html#ixzz1zpTuiCvk
4. It's harsh.
Dominance theory doesn't try to be gentle. It tells you to shut off emotion instead. It asks you to do alpha rolls and "shh" your dog instead of work out solutions to problems. It teaches fear, not respect. Blocking a door with your legs might stop your dog from getting out, but wouldn't it be nicer if your dog willingly and gladly did it for you?
Many dog owners like dominance theory because it gives them an ego boost. I'm in charge. I'm the pack leader. I'm in control. It does a lot for controlling owners. Unfortunately it doesn't do much for the dog.
5. Dog hierarchy doesn't include us
Remember when we used to believe the sun rotated around the earth? Same concept. Dog hierarchy just doesn’t include us. We aren't dogs, and dogs know that.
There is an element of wanting to humanize dogs, and I think that’s okay in small portions. Everybody is going to want to talk to their dogs like they’re people every once in a while, allow them in bed to cuddle and treat them to human food. These things alone, in healthy dogs, will NOT cause any change to any pack structure there may or may not be, but most likely isn’t there to begin with anyway. At least, not with you in it.
6. It's taking the easy way out
So why do we watch shows like the dog whisperer and revere the theory? Are we stupid for doing so? I don’t think so. I think there’s an element of magic to the show. The hope that this
one simple easy fix will make everything better. Treat your dog like a dog and all his problems will go away.
But good dogs aren’t created by magic, and training doesn’t work like that. Training is hours of work, plain and simple, and there are no shortcuts. As for me, I’m turning off the idiot box and using positive reinforcement.
If you're looking for TV magic, watch Victoria Stilwell's 'It's me or the dog,' which promotes positive training techniques.
- Beyond the Dominance Paradigm
Another PhD that doesn't subscribe to Millan's training
- New York Times article about the "Dog Whisperer's" training methods
- Esquire names Cesar Milan misguided expert of the year