“Dominance in Dog Training Debunked” or is it?

1. Dog behavior can’t be explained through wolf behavior.

2. Dominance is not a factor in dog behavior or dog-human relationships.

Are these revolutionary discoveries or is it irresponsible twisted science?

Watch the video below and read on to decide for yourself:

According to The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the largest association of dog trainers in the world, these claims are absolutely true and based on scientific research. Because of the APDT’s large following, these claims have ran like wild fire through the dog training community. The web is flooded with blog posts, youtube videos, and literature mimicking these claims.  It is impossible to estimate the amount of people, dogs, and children that are injured and killed as a result of the organization's false claims, but there are no regulations or policing in the dog training field.  From 1993, the year the APDT was founded to 2008 the amount of hospital admissions due to dog bites spiked a staggering 86% (click here for reference).  All found references from 2008 to present seem to reflect that the amount and severity of bites are only getting worse.

According to their position statement located on their web site(http://www.apdt.com/about/ps/dominance.aspx):

"Dogs are not wolves. The idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain the intricacies of human behavior.” – Association of Pet Dog Trainers

This statement then gets irresponsibly twisted even further by any commercialized "positive dog trainer" with an agenda that is more important than teaching true canine behavior:

"Dogs and wolves are in fact quite different species", "Today’s domestic dog is approximately as genetically similar to the wolf as we humans are to chimpanzees." - Victoria Stilwell, positively.com, the truth about dominance, dogs vs wolves.

Although, these statements do not make reference to any specific studies, I will share with you some of my own knowledge about this statement.  I possess a college education that included both the biology, behavior, and scientific classification of canines and primates.  I have worked and directed training on a professional level with humans, chimpanzees, dogs, and a wolf:

For one, scientifically dogs are in fact wolves. They are considered the SAME SPECIES by scientists and can interbreed, produce fertile off-spring, communicate, and coexist quite well together if placed together in an enclosed environment.

...there is no biochemical genetic test that can even distinguish wolves from domestic dogs. "....I would taxonomically identify all wolves, wolf hybrids and domestic dogs as the species Canis lupus.

I. Lehr Brisbin, Jr., Research Professor, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Chimpanzees, on the other hand, are NOT the same species (not even in the same genus) as us, and can’t interbreed with us (despite the urban legends). Their methods of communication are completely different than ours. Judging by media history and what I have seen with my own eyes – it is at best a great challenge to deadly for humans to coexist with them.
Humans and Chimpanzees have diverged about 5 million years ago and we have evolved into a species with a brain weight nearly 4 times as large as a chimpanzee’s, of much higher intelligence, complex culture, and vast lingual abilities.

A wild wolf is genetically little more distant from the domesticated dog than a wild mustang is to a quarter horse.

Dr. Michael W. Fox, D.V.M., Ph.D., D.Sc

Dogs are actually the domesticated version of the wolf (we are NOT domesticated chimpanzees!) and have interbred for thousands of years and still to this day (just search google and buy your very own wolf/dog cross - NOT recommended). Technically a dog/wolf cross cannot even be called a hybrid from a scientific point of view since they are the same species.  Many breeds of dogs in the world are the result of modern interbreeding with wolves (Saarloos Wolfhond, Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, Lupo Italiano, etc…).

Domestication was mostly accomplished through selective breeding for neoteny, which is retention of traits normally seen only in juveniles including a personality that better accepts a submissive role within a human pack. Neoteny
Whether breeding for neoteny was purposeful or not, it did make for more docile “wolves” which were not as difficult to control and hence more likely to succeed in human establishments.  These were more likely to breed to other “easy to handle” wolves - and the path toward domestication began.
Some of the many breeds we see today are the result of thousands of years of selectively breeding for physical characteristics and enhancing or suppressing behaviors inherent to the WOLF in different combinations to suit a specific purpose.
Think of the strong predatory and kill behavior of most terriers – even more so than the wolf, but from the wolf.
Think of the strong tracking instinct of the bloodhound – an enhanced skill originating from the wolf.
The many hunting breeds that are skilled in hunting in packs like wolves, and herders that are skilled at stalking like the wolf.
Not all domestic dogs show all the behaviors of the wolf – most have had some suppressed so that they would not kill the sheep they are herding, or will will stay in a fight with odds stacked against them (terriers), or for countless other reasons.
But, all these working behaviors will find an origin and can be explained through some suppression or enhancement of the wolf which in fact can be considered the complete dog – where all the pieces originally came from.  This makes the wolf invaluable for studying pet dog behavior.

Some dogs can be more similar to wolves in their behavior and interaction than extremes between the different dog breeds. Dark colored wolves are due to crossbreeding with domestic dogs 12,000-15,000 years ago. Wolves, Dogs, and Dingos are all subcategories of the same species and have all been proven to have crossbred to some extent and in the case of the dingo started as a wild animal, became domestic, and then back to the wild. Also, dingos have been bred back into some modern breeds such as the Australian Cattle Dog. Environmental conditions with all these varieties of the species have led to their fine differences in behavior and physique - just like the wide variety of differences seen within our domesticated versions.  In the photo above a wolf and dog play using the same body postures and facial expressions understood by both varieties of the species.
Some dogs can be more similar to wolves in their behavior and interaction than extremes between the different dog breeds. Dark colored wolves are due to crossbreeding with domestic dogs 12,000-15,000 years ago. Wolves, dogs, and dingoes are all subcategories of the same species and have all been proven to have crossbred to some extent and in the case of the dingo started as a wild animal, became domestic, and then back to the wild. Also, dingoes have been bred back into some modern breeds such as the Australian Cattle Dog. Environmental conditions with all these varieties of the species have led to their fine differences in behavior and physique - just like the wide variety of differences seen within our domesticated versions.  In the photo above a wolf and dog play using the same body postures and facial expressions understood by both varieties of the species.

Virtually, all of a dog’s body language and communication skills will find an origin from some point in the wolf’s life cycle and most dogs can communicate quite freely with wolves.
Just about every behavior problem plaguing dog trainers and behaviorists can also find a source from the behavior of wolves:

Food aggression and resource guarding although normally suppressed during domestication is a normal behavior in all wolves.

Separation anxiety, a common behavior problem in our dogs, is also normal if you separate a wolf from his/her “pack”.

Social related aggression in dogs toward each other and their human “pack members” are directly related to the potential triggers and developmental stages in wild dogs and wolves.

Wolves are fiercely territorial and mimic exactly the body language and  intensity of dogs labeled with "territorial aggression".

Fearfulness and skittishness may be labeled “weak nerves” when attempting to shoot a shot gun near a hunting dog, but the same quick reflexes and hypersensitivity to the environment protect wolves from falling trees, hunters, and countless other dangerous situations.

Not only can most our domestic dog’s behavioral problems be traced back to wolf behavior, we can actually see a trend of reverse domestication because of the reversal of good selective breeding practicing in this world (especially the US where the mighty dollar rules most breeding decisions).  Skittishness, resource guarding, and more serious adult like behaviors are common among the products of puppy mills and back yard breeders.  Domestication takes effort to maintain, and it is well documented that in all 50 states feral populations of dogs exist.  Left unchecked dogs can return back to a complete wild state in a short amount of time and will adapt to everything from scavenging, hunting in packs to take down big game, and raising pups in dens with a single alpha female and male as seen in grey wolf populations.  Additional reference to this can be found here: Feral Dogs

Now for the APDT statement on dominance:

“There has been a resurgence in citing "dominance" as a factor in dog behavior and dog-human relationships. This concept is based on outdated wolf studies that have long since been disproven. Contrary to popular belief, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an "alpha wolf" who is the most aggressive pack member. Rather, wolves operate with a social structure similar to a human family and depend on each other for mutual support to ensure the group's survival.” - Association of Pet Dog Trainers

So what they are saying is that wolves are not like dogs and humans are not like chimpanzees, but wolves ARE like humans… Does that make sense? Of course it doesn't.

The only thing that does make sense is the motivation for such outrageous statements.  Commercial competition and professional jealousy drove Dr. Ian Dunbar, who failed to go mainstream, to make an attack on the emerging TV star Cesar Milan.  Other "positive dog trainers" who made their living mostly selling books and videos joined the bashing effort.  This article here best reflects their bitterness.

Trainers, such as Cesar Milan, were the natural manifestation of a field commercially dominated by positive trainers who were busy focusing on political correctness, the next training gimmick (gentle leaders, clickers, etc.) and making sales.  There were, and still are, hoards of dogs that these trainers simply will not work with or will fail if subjected to simply rewarding behaviors, ignoring dog culture, and giving "verbal reprimands".  Cesar brought attention to areas that were largely ignored during a time when people were using clickers more than giving affection to their dogs for doing a good job.  Affection was becoming an afterthought and entitlement that dogs got for simply jumping on the couch with you.  The dog as a follower was being replaced with the dog as a perpetual human baby.  Spoiled puppies were turning into bossy and aggressive adults.  Cesar was "discovered" and thrown in the spotlight.  He never tried to fool the public and even asked Dr. Ian Dunbar to include his unedited "wisdom" in his first published book.  There was much to disagree with in Cesar's techniques, but there was plenty that was valid through the heart of his message.  He was not educated, so his terminology was not always scientifically accurate.  This was not done to deceive man or dog.

Cesar spoke of dominance often, sometimes incorrectly, but mostly in correct context.  He would talk about "dominant state" vs "submissive state". This is extremely valid and universal.  It is based on truth and not gimmick.  Dogs like humans can play two different roles depending on their company.  We act one way as a boss and another way as an employee.  We will make decisions or we will take orders.  A request from a boss vs an employee will yield two different results.

With dogs it is the same.  A dog can be a great follower, but a horrible leader.  In the canine world a dog that is "leading" is the one that makes the important decisions.  Attack intruder vs not attack, travel vs stay put, hunt vs not hunt, etc..  The canine that leads group activity is most often the "dominant" dog.  The dominant dog has first right to limited resources, and controls who else will or will not get the resources.  This may include preventing others from fighting over resources and making sure others receive resources.  I can confirm this through two decades of working full time as a trainer of problem dogs and results from studies with other canines, most importantly WOLVES.

Notable publications are from David Mech (click the links to read):

Mech, L. D., and H. D. Cluff. 2010. Prolonged intensive dominance behavior between gray wolves, Canis lupus. Canadian Field Naturalist. 124(3):215-218.

Peterson, R. O., Jacobs, A., Drummer, T. D., and Mech, L. David. 2002. Leadership Behavior in Relation to Dominance and Reproductive Status in Gray Wolves,Canis lupus. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80:1405-1412.

Mech,L.David. 2000. Leadership in Wolf, Canis lupus, packs. Canadian Field-Naturalist 114(2): 259-263.

Mech, L. David. 1999. Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77(8):1196-1203. (En Español – Posicion Alfa, Dominancia y Division del Trabajo en las Manadas de Lobos – Translation by Marcos Randulfe.)

You can read all his publications here.

Interestingly, all references to DOMINANCE BEING DEBUNKED refers to the oldest of these studies by taking a section waaaay out of context.  Mech acknowledges that dominance and alpha status is 100% valid in every situation where you have wolves of reproductive age residing together either in captivity (which most mimics multiple dog households), or in large wild packs with multiple wolves of breeding age.  But he states that the majority of wild packs only persist of the breeding pair and their sub-adult offspring  therefore in these situations, "calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha.  Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so "alpha" adds no information." From this statement APDT erroneously spread a giant lie about dominance being debunked, despite that even in studies 11 years after David Mech allegedly "debunked dominance" he writes:

"Dominance is one of the most pervasive and important behaviors among Wolves in a pack" and

"Dominant wolves, which are usually the adult parents of the pack (Mech 1999) commonly dominate offspring by forcing them to the ground. We have found no literature documenting how long such interactions typically last, but in our experience observing wolves over a 50-year period and close up during many summers (Mech 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000), such behavior generally ends in less than 30 seconds. Domination usually ends when the subjugated wolf jumps up."

Dominance debunked?  I think not.

What you will find when you go through wolf research is this...

Parent wolves are dominant to their pups by default.  Although there are no challenges or fights for the position the parent wolves still play the role of leading the group decisions and controlling resources such as food.  Parent wolves DO discipline, but since they have the correct role it is minimal and mostly done through warnings which are consistently abided too.

This is also true with domestic dogs

When wolf pups reach reproductive age (about 2 years of age) they are usually driven out by prolonged harassment from the parent or leave on their own when beckoned by a lone adult potential mate.  This is how new packs usually form.  If the wolves are in captivity and young adults cannot be driven out or leave on their own there is much more conflict.

This is also true with domestic dogs.  Studies show that dog on dog aggression within the home happen as a younger dog reaches 2 years of age.  (Interdog household aggression: 38 cases (2006-2007).
Wrubel KM1, Moon-Fanelli AA, Maranda LS, Dodman NH. )

Common triggers included conflict over owner attention, food, and found items.  FIRST RIGHT TO RESOURCES - DOMINANCE!

This is also true with dog on human aggression within the home.  It is most likely to occur about 2 years of age.  Same triggers!!  (Dog bites to humans—demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, and Molly Love, MSN)

2 years of age is also when wild wolves will drive out the young adult, when humans will bring a young adult dog to the shelter that has become more adult like, and also when dogs will attack and sometimes KILL their owners or human challengers in the home. (dogsbite.org)

And that brings us to the other misconception of APDT's statement - that dominance in dog training, dog culture, and wolf culture all have to do with violence, aggression, certain dog training tools, and HARSH training methods.  It has nothing to do with this unless they want to claim that THIS IS what dominance in training is about.  Dominance in training is about CONTROL using the least amount of force necessary just like how canines do it so that there is no need for violence.  When there is no control as when you put a bunch of adult wolves together in captivity for the first time or you raise a puppy with no clear leadership this is when conflict arises and violence occurs.

To wipe away the complex nature of our dogs and their undomesticated counterparts is as irresponsible to the student dog trainer as it is to the dog that suffers when sentenced to euthanasia for not being understood and the child that gets bitten in the face.

I have made a career over the past two decades wiping up blood that the positive training movement has left in their path.  I would much rather be out of a job than see another person mauled because of their propaganda.

YouTube player

By definition, the leaders in the positive reinforcement movement are charlatans and should be held accountable for any injuries resulting from their negligence.

Related: Criminal Acts by the Positive Dog Training Community (THIS IS IMPORTANT PART 1 TO THIS POST)


  1. Well put! I loved this post, I will most definitely be sharing this with my dog friends. Thank you for writing this article, I felt it was long overdue! I enjoyed reading it very much (:

  2. Very interesting article.
    I will not get into my opinions on “dominance” but will say this.
    Dog are not humans, and humans are not dogs. To try and mimic what a dog would use as a “correction” or “dominant seeking” behavior is not fair to the dog.
    We do not run our lives like a pack of dogs/wolves and most of our behaviors during the day are not consistant to say we are the leader (we do not eat their food, chew their bones, sleep in their beds, etc). To try and do something like an alpha roll is stupid. A dog does not use hands, voice, the same posture etc. as a human would. So what we are doing just stresses and confuses the dog. It will often send them into a fight or flight response.
    I am glad to see you say it isn’t about physcial punishment.
    The only issue I have with the using the whole dominance theory is the way the some tv trainers push it they make it seem like it is all physical and the average owner thinks that is what they need to do in order to be the king in their household. so personally as a trainer I do not use the “D” word with my clients.

  3. First off this article is stupid, also Mrs. Bright this article is very misinformed. I won’t go into all detail about why but simply put this: While dogs are domesticated and while it is good to establish gentle pack behavior, the idea of being a bully, forceful and acting wolf-like to a dog is really inconsiderate and scary for the dog. Yes dogs are from wolves, yes they can breed with each other, but just as well as they are physically domesticated, so is their mind. Mind set is far more fragile than a wolves’, so you need a positive way to teach. People who fallow the old school way with the D word have animals that are more than less respecting the owner out of fear, not understanding. Anyway people in short need to up date their thinking, and not be so old school and ignorant.
    * And just as a side note I have saved 3 dogs in my life from being put down, and I had not once needed to act like an Aluph with them. I simply showed them that the display of aggression is scary for others and that that attitude will be frowned upon. I did all this by speaking dog, not wolf. If I was a wolf I would have flanked them instead of sending negative stimulus. SAY YES TO POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT!!!

    1. Samantha, the article is not telling anyone to be a bully or forceful. You seem to be the only one claiming that wolves are forceful (flanking). Also are you saying that you use ‘negative stimulus” on your dog and in the next sentence saying “yes to positive reinforcement”?

      I am glad that you feel it is important to establish gentle pack behavior, I beleive the absolutely largest problem in the dog training world at the moment is the battle between those who feel pack structure within the home is not imprtant and those who feel it is (but think it all about force). In reality very few people understand what it really about and how pack structure should relate to dog training. Its basically a battle between two major groups that both have it wrong.

      Your comment mostly confirms to me as to how confused many people are because of this.

  4. Me parece que el metodo de K9-1 es muy responsable porque no pone en peligro al ser humano en el proceso de entrenar a un perro, y es al mismo tiempo muy generoso con los perros permitiendo a estos encantadores animales llevar una vida alegre y feliz, permitiendonos tener una comunicacion lo mas adecuada entre dos especies de manera progresiva en beneficio de ambos.

  5. SUPER! Just what i’ve been looking for. Matter of fact, just discussed it with a fellow dog lover yesterday.

    He was so CONFUSED, why in the world would his personally, carefully, accurately, softly (no room for alpha roll), trained dog (and still training him)…. listens to a soft calm whisper of “Max, don’t do that please…” of his wife, ONCE! Compared to his loud and clear “NO” during training or non training time!!!

    I will ask him, but I think I know the answer now from Mike’s post… His WIFE must RULE in the house!

    Thank you MIKE! Will let you know… super!

  6. I am not sure about what you are saying in the end regarding the alpha role, it should always be filled, not by force as you say but by consistency, if you control the dogs actions in the areas that need control, such as claiming objects and owning food, you, in the dogs eyes, are automatically the alpha… This along with controlling the walk allows for total “dominance” (control) over you dog. So what you saying seems a little mis-representative but most of the ideas you have here seem pretty much spot on. I would be very interested to see your training methods for attack training. And what was posted earlier by Samantha seems insane since you never said to bully the dog or be forceful, if she has never had to dominate or control her dogs they obviously did not have huge issues with aggression or insecurity. Establishing dominance over an aggressive/dominant dog is a must for safety reasons ( I refer to dominance as social control not aggression or frustration) and for their well being. Reffering to Eriks post, being soft and asking dogs to do things will not work with all breeds, it is obviously a very submissive dog; as they are pack animals they must have a dominant member to tell them what to do, where to go, when to fight or attack and to show them their place, as in the wolf world where a large amount or dominance is asserted during feeding. Without guidance you can create insecure or unstable dogs. Positive reinforcement is not necessary but can improve the bond when used with certain types of obedience training. It will not make a dog respect you though, and this is what is important for companionship and control. Always be calm, never shout, but always know what you want, direct and correct with intention, if you don’t have a clear idea of what you want, neither will the dog, this must come across in your body language and speech.
    Dog psychologist and behaviourist.

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the input. I think there was some confusion. I was referring to the act of forcefully alpha ROLLING (which truly is based on misinterpretation of dog behavior [they roll themselves])not “playing the part” of an alpha.

      I do believe that someone must fill that spot, but not by force. Most people don’t undetstand what it is really about because the most popular resources link it with force.

      Erik’s claims of control with soft commands are possible with dog’s with a more “dominant” personality type if leadership is properly in place.

      The style of training we teach here is called “foundation style” training which basically means that there must be certain foundation layers in place before you can achieve results during training that are considered higher on the structure of the overall plan.

      Most of the things in the style are not new concepts, but it is just a standardized way that different techniques are put together so it is easier for multiple trainers to troubleshoot the same problem – since it is assuming everyone using the style is following the same steps (within a reasonable variance).

      For instance, if you watch some of our youtube videos (http://www.youtube.com/user/k91dogtraining) you will see that unless volume is necessary for the dog to notice our commands through the chaos – soft commands are all that are necessary, and we actually teach that as part of the “style”. Currently there are a few trainers in the US, Poland, and students in other countries that are learning this style. So if a trainer is training with unnecessarily forceful commands they represesnt outside the standard of the style.

      We created the style and a standard that we add to in the members area so that we can together improve on it overall and always have a “bag of tricks” unique to all trainers experience. But, within the standard we try to put what works on the greatest amount of dogs regardless of temperament. The photo of the wolf in the blog post is an actual student that we base a lot of our techniques on. If it does not work on her, it is not part of the standard, and i can promise everyone that what works on a wolf will almost always work on a dog, but not vice versa. A wolf will never tolerate the disrespect that some owners display to their dogs or rough handling. Steps can’t be skipped with her so we give the dogs the same level of repect because it is the right thing to do. Many trainers out there will be overly forcefull or skip steps with a dog just because they can (this is the product of domestication).

      Also, many owners will rely only on Operant Condidtioning and Classical Condidtioning because they can and it wont be a big deal because their dogs have a naturally more “submissive” personality type or their problems are not extreme so they can get away with it.

      But, there are many dogs that don’t fall within these parameters and that is what we focus on here, and what works for wolves in a human household (never recommended) and difficult dogs will also get the best out of the average dog.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful insight.


  7. Regarding Dawns post, I do not agree, dogs have evolved along side us for over 10,000 years and it has been proven they can read our body language, expression and tone of voice. They look first the the right side (emotional side) of the face to gauge reactions. As mentioned before nothing is about punishment, ever but filling the role of a leader is essential to gain respect from a dog, especially dominant aggressive dogs. Wasn’t even going to comment but it seems that many views are misguided and unsupported. Filling the role of “dominant” is an essential, providing it is done properly.

  8. I agree with that, force is not generally needed, and if power (force applied should never hurt the dog physically) is applied it should not be with aggression, frustration or anger… impatience etc. (which obviously stops any mental anguish) I was just making the point that this role (alpha) must be filled to have a truly stable dog that will listen and respond under all circumstances especially with the more dominant ones.
    Also I agree that if you have filled the leadership role you can use soft commands, and should when possible. I was talking in the context of rehabilitating aggressive dogs, not so much the training, that may not have been clear. I mainly work with aggressive/dominant and anxious or insecure dogs, never stable ones (not to start with anyway) but it sounds like we may have similar methods.
    I will definitely check out your videos, and maybe make a visit next time I am in the U.S.
    Also in agreement that training complex attack commands should be done based on a “foundation” of training, respect, trust and knowledge on the human part, no arguments there… must have been crossed wires. Always a pleasure to talk to talk to another professional (well not usually but I’m sure you get my drift) it is rare to find people that actually seem to understand dogs and not just apply human psychology.

    Matt (U.K)

  9. This is an interesting one really, I am currently writing a paper on this subject “the domestic dog as a pack orientated animal for training purposes, Yes or No?”. Here is my take in a nutshell, we are tribe orientated animals (just like chimps) several hundred thousand years ago when two tribe met violence was far more likely than it is today amongst the human species, we were nomadic tribes and presumably most tribes would fight to keep other tribes out of their territory. We still see tribal behaviour in modern man (religion, football teams, even dog training methods), tribal behaviour in modern man is not the be all and end all of how we learn. I reckon the same is true with modern dogs. Leaving the house first calmly for instance, call it modelling (in learning theory) or call it calm pack leadership (in dominance / pack theory) makes no difference to me (it’s just a difference of word) is it a good idea, I reckon it is.

    Is it important to make sure we always make a dog work for a reward (ball throw tug or food) once again I really don’t care what someone wishes to call it whether it is maintaining a positive reinforcer as such or keeping their alpha position in the pack, to me it is just different words for the same thing.

    So long as the training is carried out in a non abusive manner what we call it is up to the individual.

    I have watched your videos and have learned from them. I have been rehabilitating a nutter of a dog, mentally aggressive towards other dogs, cats, cars, bikes, motorbikes and some people. I am having real difficulty improving his focus on me outside without visual cueing of a tug or ball. I am open minded and must say your results speak for themselves.

  10. Hi Mike,
    First a big hello to you and the entire family, including everyone at K9-1. Please send my best to all. I’m settled in the UK now, living in Sussex, and was following another great thread on your site and saw that Matt was from the UK too. So Matt if you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them. I train in the Foundation Method and I must tell you Mike is a genius. His comment on this thread about standardization in training is really the root of Mike’s cause if I may say. Mike want’s to save dog’s lives, not just some, but as many as he possibly can and as soon as he possibly can. I am here in the UK with his method and have started to teach and train. Life is balance, understanding, respect, patience, compassion. I’m already navigating my way through different cultural waters, but I am finding people here to be open and already taking to the method quite quickly.
    All the best,

  11. I find that dogs do have a hierarchy, however, we now have some evidence that it is non-linear. Even wolves’ more rigid hierarchies are now thought to be dependent upon breeding rights rather than the dominance model of the past. However, regardless of which camp you fall in on this argument, one cannot dispute the fact that the so called dominance model has lead to some treatment of dogs that is inappropriate at best, and cruel at worst. Humans have this odd habit of equating dominance with force, coercion, or aggression – which is why I, too, prefer the term “leadership” which implies respect, not fear. In the dog world, if you have ever witnessed a powerful dog stop another dog in its tracks with a glance, or you’ve seen a subordinate bitch keep a powerful male away from her bone with the same sort of look, you know that communication does not have to take the form of shocks, jerks, and pinches to be effective. After all, how many wolves or dogs go around with remote collars to control their pack mates? In fact, dogs’ social order and culture is intended to *avoid* aggression, not elicit it. The mark of a species that hunts cooperatively:-))
    Dogs also understand that we are not dogs. We are the ones with the higher executive functions secondary to having that great big prefrontal cortex, and we have those thumbs that dogs love to see manipulating the bait bag or the front door. Whichever side of this debate you find yourself on, the worst thing you can do is communicate like a Neanderthal, rather than a thinking human who should be able to train a dog without pain or intimidation, regardless of whether the dog likes to walk ahead of you or not.

  12. I really like this article, I agree that dogs are a complex species with their own psychological capabilities. It has been quite some time now that this debate has been going on. let me just say that I really hope the other side of the community isn’t too sensitive. while we do not encourage violence towards goals, we want to ensure that the ideal leadership be bestowed upon.

    It is just like the training equipments out there, case in point the misunderstood Prong collar. Just because it looks nasty we would actually discard it. True majority do not have the slightest clue how to humanely use it. But this just proves what I am trying to say. People judge too much on skin surface only. Case in point the prong collar might even be more safe than those choke chains. I agree that Calm leadership should be the term with the issue. People who call it Dominance are kind of over reacting. True some trainers are too brute. we can teach them the proper way.

    In the positive reinforcement only method, i think it has its good points. But honestly guy, if a dog that gives you the body language that your toast, I don’t think doggy treats or even a steak can stop him. That is why I Think selfhelpdogtraining is effective, you get to see some of the cesar millan stuff as well as the victoria stillwell stuff.

    Why can’t we just help each other, focus on a better solution rather than making a division claiming who’s who’s method is better. seriously grow up guys.

    I like the article by the way, very balanced and well thought out. Most of all, it isn’t like one of those random ranting.

  13. I noticed how you pick out certain parts of the statement to refute, perhaps you should post the rest of the statement since the rest of it addresses some of your concerns. Since you’re interested in studies that are behind the APDT position statement, some of them can be found here: link (pdf download). It’s an excellent article with references.

    I’m not going to debate methods. There will always be two sides of the camp and neither will turn the other side, but there is far less psychological damage done to a dog when you use humane methods than when you use pinch and e collars. But it today’s ‘instant gratification’ society, it’s so much easier to push the button or to yank up on the pinch collar. If find most clients that choose to use aversives, at the detriment to the dog, are either a) very lazy or b) have some kind of ‘power’ issues they need to work on. When you use aversives, you create an atmosphere of learned helplessness. If you are aversive enough, you will not only inhibit the ‘bad’ behavior, you will inhibit ALL behavior. The dog never learns to think for itself for fear of constant correction. How does that promote the human animal bond?

    I find the video of the wolf and the yellow lab somewhat disturbing. If you are an expert in canine body language you should have been able to see that was not “play;” the lab was giving clear signals it was not interested in engaging and the wolf was not “playing” either.

    “Not only can most our domestic dog’s behavioral problems be traced back to wolf behavior ” –I call xxxxxxxx (censored for vulgarity by moderator).

    Most domestic dog’s behavior problems stem from actual or inadvertent reinforcement for the behaviors. Resource guarding does not happen because the dog descended from wolves. It is learned behavior that stems from humans taking and taking and taking and the dog actually getting pissed off and learning growling works to make you go away. Jumping up is not a ‘dominant’ behavior, is is an ASB that has been reinforced by humans. Neither is pulling on a leash; the dog has learned if I pull, my walk will continue. You can not trace domestic dog behavior to that of the wolf.

    “Also, many owners will rely only on Operant Condidtioning and Classical Condidtioning because they can and it wont be a big deal because their dogs have a naturally more “submissive” personality type or their problems are not extreme so they can get away with it.”

    Huh??? Of course, that’s how organisms learn!!!! They learn by either “a predicts b” or “if I do x, it will result in y.” What else are you relying on?

  14. Also-In 1975 by Alan Beck and William H. Nesbitt performed studies on feral dogs. Their studies showed that feral dogs do not live in socially structured packs as wolves do, but in unstructured group associations. Most of the feral dog packs grew from the recruitment of stray companion dogs and the behavior of these dogs was loose, varying, and extremely unstructured as compared to wolves that had tight, constant, and highly structured packs. In these studies, social dominance was defined with respect to “repeated conflicts between conspecifics over a scarce resource” (Kerkhove, 2004). In these conflicts, the same animal always gained the access to a resource. Dominance is not a personality trait. So even though feral dogs don’t have the same behaviors or social rituals of wild wolves, the wolf model (regardless whether captive or wild) should be used for understanding domesticated dog behavior?

  15. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for your feedback and opinions. I’ll try to address all your concerns since you seem to feel so strongly about them.
    1. The blog post does have the link to the actual APDT statement. I do not post the whole statement because of copyright concerns – but I did put the link so everyone can see for themselves.
    2. You said you were not going to debate methods, but than you do….? Anyway, this post isn’t about ecollars or pinch collars, but I am aware that many trainers are not aware of how to use these humanely. You seem to be confused in that certain training equipment, if on a dog, must automatically be used inhumanely. Training equipment in itself is not inhumane but some types are obviously more easily abused. If you haven’t been formally trained on the humane use of pinch collars or ecollars I would highly suggest you join our online site to learn not only how to use these humanely, but know when they should be used in conjunction with “positive methods”. What you see in the video are a wolf and a dog that are trained in a balanced way using the best of all operant conditioning techniques and being rewarded with conditioned reinforcers and punished with conditioned punishers. Using conditioned punishers isn’t something to be taken lightly, but is extremely humane if you know what you are doing. Humans use them naturally, all canines in their interaction, and is a no brainer that a human can use these humanely with a canine. And, it can be done without ever making a canine cry or be inhumane in anyway. It certainly isn’t a shortcut or a lazy way out – because to be dome right the dog has to understand the positive reinforcement and negative punishment side to things first. Your concerns mostly address my concerns why there has to be more regulations in the dog training industry where someone who calls themselves a trainer should be educated on the full range of dog training methods and equipment and not just the ones that they choose to learn about. Some trainers, like myself, have spend thousands of dollars and hours taking college courses on operant conditioning, behavior modification, formal dog training schools, etc.. only to have other “trainers” call them inhumane by abusing terms and making false inferences. Anyway, these two youtube videos are more on that subject, but you can look out for future blog posts concerning the topic that will probably be coming soon:
    Operant conditioning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xaM6m8NpAQ
    Foundation Style Dog Training: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZ37IfQ1E7Y
    3. I don’t quite understand why you are so disturbed about the lab and wolf “play”? It is pretty obvious the lab wants to urinate and not play when he enters the pen, and the wolf is assertively trying to initiate the play that the two canines engage in every week. After the lab urinates he still isn’t ready to start playing he is being more standoffish until he is ready to start the game. This is actually more what dominance is about in a relationship between both dogs AND humans if I dare use that word.
    4. Your link to the article also reinforces what my blog post is about. In no way does it state or prove anything that the APDT says in their official position statement. The article is good and based on facts and like most articles interpretation of those facts. I hope readers go to the article themselves and make their own judgements. I believe it is irresponsible of the APDT to make their claims about dog behavior not being related to wolf behavior because in fact they are both CANINES. This is a fact. For you to say that resources guarding is not related to being a canine, like a wolf, is just plain silly and why the APDT has to reword their statement. Dogs have always been prone to resource guarding from the moment they were first domesticated and you see it with very young pups among each other. The fact that you are explaining to me about the wolf’s body language the same way you are reading the dog’s language proves my point. Both the wolf and the lab presented to me with resource guarding issues – and they were managed the SAME way. Sure humans can make resource guarding issues worse – but that would be the same if dealing with a wolf or a dog. By trying to find fine differences in a group of feral dogs compared to a wolf pack to prove that their behavior is different is like comparing a fox hound to a great Pyrenees to say they are different. Take away the garbage that feral dogs were eating and add some larger game animals and see how many generations it takes them to form “packs”. Environment and differences within the breeds and subspecies of canines will give them all fine differences but doesn’t mean that you can’t trace origins of their behavior from common ground.
    5. To answer what else I’m relying on besides operant and classical conditioning to deal with a dog’s behavior problems is it is their CULTURE. It is another point of how irresponsible the APDT statement is by making people feel that dominance is not a factor in our relationships with them. When a child gets bit in the face for hugging their unneutered male Rottie who lounges on the couch all day and leads the show – it is more than an operant conditioning problem. Just like raising a child you need to give the dogs a bit more credit to their complexity.
    I strongly believe that the APDT will eventually rewrite that statement when they realize how misleading it is to student dog trainers. I feel it is overcompensation for the Cesar Milan movement. Eventually there will be more truth and balance as trainers come together more as already can be seen at recent IACP and APDT events. I am not anti-APDT. Ian Dunbar was one of my earliest and most important influences and I was a member of the APDT during its early years. It’s just not right to make a statement that goes against facts and common sense.

  16. I’m curious Mike, are you aware that urination can be a stressed-induced behavior? As is sniffing the ground, which the lab does right before the wolf’s owner calls her back. Then there’s the obvious eye contact avoidance of the lab as he’s peeing. These are all signs of stress brought on by the wolf’s actions, especially the mounting attempt, after the release, they are not that of a healthy play, even the lab’s owner appeared uncomfortable enough to question it until you told him it was normal. My observations of dogs at play are that they stay in the group and follow each other unless they are uncomfortable. In that case, they will break and try to return to their human, or any human for that matter, who should be a source of protection for them. What I saw in the play session was that of a culturally rude animal.

    That brings me to my next point, the cultures of dogs and wolves. Your claim seems to be that the culture of canines is universal. While I would agree that there are similar elements, there are subtle differences, and it is those differences that matter. Even within dog breeds. If we put this in human terms, then history has shown us time and again that the human cultures of different regions vary greatly and have often clashed with each other. My point is that culture, as a whole, is not universal, and what might be acceptable behavior in one culture is taboo in another.

    That being said, I do approve of respecting your dog as a dog and setting boundaries. Boundaries tell the dog what acceptable to live in your culture, and once the dog has learned those boundaries, and I mean really know what they are, not just you think your dog should know, then most dogs will not push those boundaries unless they are taught otherwise. For example, five of my dogs know proper mealtime etiquette, they wait behind the kitchen threshold until invited in to eat. I do not remind them of that boundary because they know it is there. There is one, and she is new, who does not yet know that boundary. She gets it right about 80% of the time now, but that’s still guess work on her part. In my book, she’ll know that boundary when it’s 100% and I don’t have to tell her. I can break this boundary by inviting them into the kitchen before I set the bowls down and invite them to jump on me. This creates a new consequence if I then give them their dinner.

    Life is about consequences, and that is the heart of operant conditioning. I think people tend to forget that there are four parts to operant conditioning: positive reinforcement (something is given that increases the rate of behavior), negative reinforcement (something is taken away that decreases the rate of behavior), positive punishment (something is given that decrease the rate of behavior), and negative punishment (something is taken away that increases the rate of the behavior). I have yet to find anything that disproves this, including human behavior, and so it makes sense to me. It is happening all the time. The key is what you use; it has to have value to the subject, and I’ve seen enough to say it happens both ways. Classical conditioning is a much simpler module that has to do with association. If I remember right, classical conditioning was the precursor to the more complex module of operant conditioning.

    Then there is the dominance theory. Perhaps it is a misconception by ill-informed trainers from the past that has made it into such a mess, but I don’t understand it. I get that if there is not a boundary in place, it creates a void and dogs will revert to what is socially acceptable to dogs to fill that void. I don’t see that as a dog trying to be dominant though, I see it as the dog trying to make sense of something she doesn’t understand. I don’t have to eat before my dogs, or walk through a doorway first, or use adversives to get them to respect me. I don’t have to that with my clients’ dogs either. If you’re talking about dominance as controlling your dog’s resources, and gently teaching them how to live with humans, then I have to agree, but I’m afraid I don’t get over-assertiveness or pushy-ness as an explanation of being dominant. I call that being a bully, and bullies are that way because they are insecure about their own place in a situational context.

  17. Blast if I didn’t forget to mention sensitization and desensitization. Those are also forms of classical and operant conditioning. Your example of the Rottie biting the child’s face can be explained away by that. The Rottie was never properly desensitized to children to see them as a source of good things, or perhaps the Rottie was not taught bite inhibition and the child startled him so he reacted as a dog. I can’t see that as a dominance problem, it’s a misunderstanding between two species because the Rottie reverted to what is proper for dogs to do, but not not what is proper for dogs living in a human world. And the Rottie was definately never taught that it’s in his best interest to give way to the child, or his owners if he’s growling at them too. He was taught though, probably through negative reinforcement, that he can have that nice comfortable space and he doesn’t have to give it up. The problem can also be remedied through operant conditioning, I’ve done it many times and have never had a failure nor has the dog reverted after the new behavior was learned. It’s not, “I want my dog to stop doing that,” it more like “I want my dog to do _____ instead.”

    I wanted to point out one more thing: bangle cats. They can breed with domesticated cats and produce offspring, but are the two the same? Cat people will tell you no because of the inherent personality and tendency differences between the two. The object in question is domestication, and it holds for dogs, wolves, and dingos too.

    One more thing, I believe that a truly great trainer has more than just one set off tools in his or her bag. They can specialize in one and use that as a base, but I agree that they should know how to effectively use others. With that, I will say that even though I know how to use prong, choke, and e-collars humanely and effectively, I don’t because the risk of abuse is too great. I work with aggressive dogs, and the only time I have ever been bit is when someone used the prong collar wrong. It’s not needed the way I teach, so we don’t use it.

    1. Lynnette,
      Thank you for your feedback and I appreciate your interpretations.
      Although, there are some things to know about the video that may help clarify things. The guy letting the lab into the playpen is not the owner, he was only getting Shelly from the kennel for me so he doesn’t know the past history between the two. The lab and wolf were regular playmates. The video is a clip from probably their twentieth or so play session. They are generally equally excited to see each other when one doesn’t have to pee first.
      The video was shot at about 2 pm in the afternoon, and the lab was last out to urinate in his usual spot (the pen) at about 7 am (he does not pee in his kennel).
      I can assure you what you are seeing is not stress induced sniffing and urination. The lab would have done the same behavior whether the wolf was there or not. This is a lab that has to pee. Even without these facts the lab is not showing any of the usual body language you would see with a “nervous or stressed dog”. His body language clearly reflects a confident dog who just has “going potty” on his mind first.
      Generally with “stress induced” sniffing the dogs are seemingly sniffing without a purpose. It is really a way to seem non-threatening or avoid interaction more than anything else and not necessarily linked to stress. I see this a lot when introducing new dogs (and I do the equivalent by pretending to write on my clipboard when meeting a new, potentially confrontational client dog), but what you are seeing in the video is a lab simply finding a place to pee and checking out the usual new scents, dropped treats, etc.. before HE is ready to play. I can’t recall ever seeing a dog combine a non-threatening sniff behavior with a high wagging tail if they are trying to stay under the radar.
      You are calling the wolf’s behavior that of a bully, but if you look past the fact that she is very large – she is mouthing the lab very soft and is mostly excited to start their usual play routine of play fighting and play hunting each other – if we played the whole clip you would see is very give and take once the lab decides it is time. We deal with plenty of dogs that we classify as “bullies”, but to fit into that category it is a dog that gets more aggressive even after a dog clearly sends a signal back that it does not want to interact. The lab is a very tolerant dog that is just ignoring the behavior. This, in fact, is a non-aggressive way to “dominate” aka “control” the pace of the interaction. This is a predictable behavior from this dog with any other he interacts with.
      The wolf has a long history in our play groups of easily respecting the protests of even the smallest Chihuahuas. She understands what she can get away with, with this very tolerable lab. The lab, Shelly, currently works as a detection dog in a correctional facility and was chosen specifically for his strong nerves around loud noises, yelling, etc…
      Anyway, the blog post was never really meant to focus on the body language of the dog and wolf in the video, but it does illustrate one of my main points how their behavior are strongly related. By average dog enthusiasts being able to interpret the same behaviors from the wolf and dog proves this. The biggest difference is that the wolf’s language is much more expressive, complete, and in the raw form. This cannot be argued without arguing for the sake of arguing. I would be very surprised if anyone can come up with a video of a wolf truly doing something abnormal such as skipping steps in the aggression cycle while interacting with a dog it knows well.
      As far as the statements about desensitizing an unneutered Rottweiler to being hugged by toddlers while he is lounging on a couch – this further emphasizes my point of the irresponsibility of the statements made by the APDT.
      At our dog training school the students must know their operant conditioning inside and out and how to apply it properly. BUT, they must know as a prerequisite what is normal dog behavior and what is reasonable to accomplish. Just as I wouldn’t give a client false beliefs that I can desensitize their Jack Russell Terrier to share a bed with their gerbil, I would never claim that a dog of certain profiles can be desensitized to behaviors that go against their instincts while in fact we ignore factors, that have little to do with simple behavior 101 operant conditioning, such as social structure with human family members and other natural instincts. It does exist.
      Claims such as these are what get children mauled. Yes, desensitizing a dog to any potential aggressive trigger should be a part of any training plan. But, it shouldn’t be ignored that strong predictable social instincts are connected to these bites. The primary plan should always be to understand why these things happen and it is NOT a lack of desensitizing or bite inhibition training! We are not talking about irrational fears or puppy mouthing here. A plan should focus on education of why that particular dog is prone to that behavior, even with the desensitizing, compared to the submissive neutered lab that sleeps on the floor and never met a trainer in his life. There is a much more obvious source to this type of problem that doesn’t involve hours of exercises that no one has the time to do in real life such as have children lined up to hug this imaginary aggressive rottweiler while we feed treats.
      I am sorry that my reply may seem confrontational, but I do have a responsibility to the people who come here to learn and to the potential children that may be bit in the face.
      I strongly suggest you check out the free members area accessed through my facebook page.
      Facebook Dog Training

  18. Well written and explained, including in the comment responses. Myself I have no doubt about dogs being wolves in the sense that they are fundamentally tamed, special purpose wolves, bread over many generations. When I recently started to take care of an adopted 1 year old German /Shepherd Husky, which got added to our 2 other outside dog – I saw what this is all about first hand. Came across Cesar Millan’s material, helped a lot. Yes, we – humans – had to establish leadership – and fast…out of sheer necessity. The dogs do look at us as their pack. Our little terrier “thought” and acted like he was alpha dog to all of us here – and though I am not trained enough and neither was he aggressive enough (yet, though he had started being not only dog but people aggressive in the last few months) – I can see where an alpha roll might become a useful/necessary tool in the hands of someone truly competent to administer it and in a dog that needs it. Not everyone’s dog in need of such can get sent to a healthy dog pack for rehab. And yes, I actually did see our new “puppy” big girl “roll” the terrier once when it was just too much. It was not a big deal either. And yes, in the end, they did work-fight it out, with some supervision. Now they “roll” each other playing – with the big girl volunteering. It was very interesting to see how the Shepherd/Husky was teaching “normal” rough-housing to the other 2 dogs.
    Unfortunately the word dominance is so fraught with a connotation of abnormal, cruel and aberrant human behavior, that is it indeed not a good choice of word imo. It seems to also mean disrespect of the beingness of another, dog, human or otherwise. That may be what instinctively humans react to negatively. Calm assertive leadership works well – and teaching and transmitting the means to provide that is a key. This can include more than 1 method – best the ones that actually work for a particular dog/human combo. In my experience, our dogs actually want/need us to be in charge…and for the sake of peaceful coexistence, including frequent visitors, we need to provide it. Luckily, treats, marker training, consistence and limits are working…but it’s not over yet, and I have this suspicion that we’re gonna need to keep at it.

  19. This was a very nice post. I like how you give a good amount of attention to balance. To me that is one of the most important things in dog training, balance. I am so tired of hearing from the “Pure Positive” dog trainers that it makes my head spin. Firstly, they use negative punishment all the time. And I have yet to find a competent explanation of how that is positive.
    Positive reinforcement works wonderfully for teaching new behaviors, or desensitization, but it doesn’t fix everything. And from what I’ve seen, can often make certain behaviors worse, dog aggression comes to mind. This fantasy land mindset of only positive interactions is in my opinion one of many reasons that millions of dogs a year are euthanized.

    Using a pinch collar or an eCollar to many people is terrible, but I’ve seen every tool available to the public be abused. Even a simple flat collar and leash. Does that mean no one should use those? No, it means people should understand how to use the tools, before they implement them into their dogs life.

  20. I’ve seen many dog trainers or dog behavior expects are fighting with each other, saying that their theory or method is the better or the right one. Why?

    For me as long as the methods don’t abuse or hurt the dog, that’s still ok. Why are we so into the “method” or “theory”? Isn’t the results that matters? I’d learn anything I can about dog behavior and dog training methods. I’d try it with my dogs as long as it doesn’t hurt the dogs.

    I’m living with 12 rescued dogs at home. Most of them were strays.They all have their own individual characters, some methods work with some of them, some methods don’t. Some methods work better with certain dogs. I’ve seen my dogs doing the “dominance” thingy like pawing and pinning another dog down. But they all still play with each other after that.

    And I think if you’ve seen how these dogs fight in their pack, you might also think that martingale, pinch or prong collar are nothing compared to their teeth. I’m NOT saying that you MUST use these collars, but if other methods are not working, and you KNOW how to use it in a non-abusive manner, why not?

    I just observed that a lot of trainers over react and emotional about these things. Relax…

    For me, it doesn’t matter whether dogs are wolves or not. I respect them as they are…. an individual being.

    Humans might not be the same species as chimpanzees, but I saw some who act like chimpanzees 🙂 So, I don’t really care about species or where they come from.


    Best Regards,
    Chetz Yusof

  21. 1. “For one, scientifically dogs are in fact wolves.”

    The taxonomic classification bears little relevance to the ethological and behavioral realities that divides dogs and wolves.

    There are several other species posses the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring, and we still consider them separate species – Polar and Grizzly for example. The fact is that how a species is defined is rather nebulous and the constraints tend shift depending on the species, the researcher, the field or the research topic in question.

    2. “Their methods of communication are completely different than ours.”

    The methods of communication are very similar to humans. Goodall, van derWaal have documented these similarities in their research and their books.

    3.”Dogs are actually the domesticated version of the wolf”

    Wheat is the domesticated version
    Maize is the domesiticated version of teosinth
    Chicken is the domesticated version of
    Cattle are the domesticated version

    4. “Many breeds of dogs in the world are the result of modern interbreeding with wolves (Saarloos Wolfhond, Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, Lupo Italiano, etc…)”

    The example mentioned were intentional wolf-dog crosses in attempts to “recapture” imaginary aspects of the wolf in a dog. But these owners know that that the breeds do not behave like dogs and they are not wolves.

    5.”Separation anxiety, a common behavior seen in our dogs, is also common and seen if you separate a wolf from his/her “pack”.”

    This is false and the author should have figured it given that he already mentioned neotony. Separation distress is seen in just about every juvenile mammal. Juveniles from Pack-less species display exactly the same response as we seen in dogs.

    6. “Social related aggression seen in dogs toward each other and their human “pack members” are directly related to the potential triggers seen in wild dogs and wolves.”

    Like in the previous example, we see the same social aggression in many animals that do not form packs. The author isn’t even presenting an argument, he is simply declaring that aggression is related to pack dynamics.

    7. “So what they are saying is that wolves are not like dogs and humans are not like chimpanzees, but wolves ARE like humans… Does that make sense?”

    Of course it doesn’t make sense because the author is corrupting the message for his convenience. What the APDT states does make sense and they restrict their comparison to one specific aspect.

    8. “A dog, just like a wolf, will need to know who has the dominant role in the household in order to relate properly to the humans and know who makes the important group decisions–”

    This is a declarative statement without any support. Aside from it’s inherent flaw, it is also circular because it is based on the assumption that dominance is the de facto social scheme. It also sets up an adversarial relationship between dog and owner in the eternal quest for ‘dominance.’ This is why people like Millan and others like him often and repeteadly tell people that you have to be on the dog 100% of the time – eternally afraid the dog will ‘take over.’ This also assumes that dogs are only capable of relating in a dominance/submission paradigm when they are capable forming of far more complex relationships.

    9. “Dominating your relationship with your dog has to do with who is making the initiatives, who is in control of unclaimed possessions, play, and other activities.”

    Presumes that dogs assign abstract value and ownership to various objects not immediatly available. There is no evidence that this is true. And like in the previous cases, the author assumes that dominance is real even though he has not met the basic evidentiary requirements to make that statement. So, he “proves” his thesis is true by assuming it is true and then claiming it is true which leads to his examples of how it’s true.

    10. “This is what gives you the upper hand needed in the dog-human relationship and tools to motivate your dog for further training. It involves calm leadership with precise relationship rules. It is not about “alpha rolls” or physical punishment of any kind”

    Motivation is not based on dominance, nor is it essential for training. Note how the adversarial tone of the article. While motivation is essential to all training we know from the experience of many trainers that ‘dominance’ in what ever it’s flavour is not required.

    11. “that brings us to ultimately what is wrong with the APDT’s statement – that dominance in dog training, dog culture, and wolf culture all have to do with violence and aggression.”

    Like in the previous case, the author is misrepresenting APDT’s position for his own misguided thesis. The “dominance” training that APDT critcizes is about aggression and violence. However, they make it clear that what people percieve as dominance in wolves is not dominance at all. So what is the author criticizing?


    Finally in the comments the author writes

    12. “Also, many owners will rely only on Operant Condidtioning and Classical Condidtioning because they can and it wont be a big deal because their dogs have a naturally more “submissive” personality type or their problems are not extreme so they can get away with it.”

    This is an incredibly ignorant statement. In fact it is pure B.S. It is catagorically false that OC and CC will only work on what he calls submissive dogs. The fact is that we know this method works across all species, no matter who ‘dominant’ we think they are.

    13. But, there are many dogs that don’t fall within these parameters and that is what we focus on here, and what works for wolves in a human household (never recommended) and difficult dogs will also get the best out of the average dog.”

    Finally, I will make the observation that ‘dominant’ trainers always get dogs that are trying to dominate them – from 10 week old pups to geriatric dogs that can barely move. These people can’t seem to get away from being dominated. While those like Karen Pyror have never met a dominant dog.

    The ‘dominance’ excuse is old and tired. Not only does the research not support the claims made here, we know from practical experience that no such scheme is needed to properly train dogs. It is a crutch for the lame, incompetent trainer.

    1. Hi Charly,
      Your post really represents someone who argues for the sake of arguing.

      Dogs and Wolves are the same species, but that doesn’t mean they are the same species?! Really?

      If I placed you in an enclosure with some chimps you are going to communicate with them as well as dogs and wolves can with each other?…!

      It is not relevant that dogs ARE domesticated wolves?

      I wonder, Isn’t there a point where a person has to admit that they are making a huge stretch to try to justify something that just isn’t right?

      It’s really not worth the effort to review common sense and facts with you, but I thank you for the amazing link which helps explain where some of the blind leading the blind comes from. My post represents common sense and what has been working for me and other similar trainers in the trenches with a great documented track record. Your link and your rambling is representing the overcompensation for the Cesar Millan movement which is not what this post is siding with anyway. Seriously, anyone reading this should check out Charly’s link – what a great example of butchering the word dominance from two sides and also comparing wolves and dogs in two completely different environmental scenarios (as if dogs never have to compete over anything or live in a pack environment). This is the kind of twisted and butchered information that thousands of student dog trainers read on the internet.

      The major problem is that your experts that you blindly follow do not have the right understanding of dominance. Dominance and aggression are two different things. The most “dominant” dog is not necessarily the most “aggressive” or “forceful” dog (as per the definition in your own link). The studies where wolf families raise pups and there is no “aggression” observed is not proof that dominance is not part of their social systems or those of dogs, humans, and any combination of the three living together – it only reaffirms that aggression is not necessary for dominance. A dog, wolf, human, and any combination of these three living together can have a position recognized by the other as “dominant” without anything commonly recognized as aggression occurring. Dog’s are obviously easier for humans to maintain this role with because they are DOMESTICATED, but it can also be done with a wolf if someone understands the concepts very well. This I have my own case study and can also prove through video documentation.

      Aggression can be observed within these combination through “resource” guarding despite any social position (even by an omega) and not related to dominance or can arise during a rare dominance dispute, but still is a separate behavior which should NOT be part of the term “dominance” in its raw behavioral terminology because it is COMMON SENSE that it is not necessary in stable “pack” environments as seen in both domestic and wild situations.

      This explains why aggression will be obvious when you throw a bunch of unknown to each other adult wolves together in an enclosed environment or you adopt a bunch of random adult dogs from the shelter and bring them home you are likely to see some aggression until the dust settles.

      Compare this to the wolf pups being born to the already established wild pack or you bringing home an 8 week old pup.

      There will be a form of dominance showing its face in all scenarios, but the latter examples are not likely to include the magnitude of conflict leading to the levels of aggression as expected in the prior examples(if someone understands the concepts) because the pups are brought into an environment which is already under the control of an established leader while themselves are still juvenile and not within nature to have a conflict over “alpha” position. Domestication has given the advantage of keeping most domesticated dogs in a juvenile state (compared to the undomesticated versions) even toward adulthood making it easy for the average person to hold a dominant position (even if they call it by another name – leadership, boundaries, parenting, establishing operations, etc…). But, domestication can be thrown into reverse when breeders don’t pay attention to temperament and some domestic dogs do develop more “adult like” personalities where it is important to understand precisely how to maintain the position. It is true that a majority of dogs are not looking to overtake an “alpha” position. It is almost always the case with the worst behavior problems that it is just the owner failing to fill the position. When these dogs are calling the shots and feeling the responsibility that the human “alpha” should have in the human world – this is where problems happen and when dogs get euthanized or brought to the shelter when a “behaviorist” or “trainer” turns a blind eye to the importance of social position within the human – dog relationship.

      It all DOES relate and is important. The overcompensation shift has gone so out of hand that I truly believe that the field is going backwards in its progress in many of the behavioral colleges. I have debated myself, if I should toss my certificate from Cornell University’s behavior department “solving canine behavior problems” that I proudly hung on my wall 16 years ago – and since have had their department come to the shelter I help and suggest that 90% of the dogs be euthanized because they couldn’t offer a behavioral solution for them, when all that these dogs needed was some common sense structure common to both dog AND wolf behavior which does NOT include aggression, but does include guiding these dogs while maintaining a “dominant” role. Cornell didn’t explain the correct concept of dominance then and it doesn’t now. If anything they went a step in the wrong direction.

      Just because Cesar Millan and scholarly “experts” have butchered the term and don’t quite understand it (and often contradict their own statements)- doesn’t mean that those that understand it and use it successfully should jump on their failed bandwagon.

      Practice comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from practice. I think there comes a time when the “scholars” have to take their noses out of the books and start paying attention to what is actually working in the trenches. Advances in the field are not going to come from a one way street.

      Many that use this site are in the field of helping some dogs that are in serious need. Most of those that I help have already been abandoned by those who follow your similar views (including followers of the APDT statement).

      If you want to send Karen Prior with her Golden clicker (not to negate her contributions to the field) and yourself to any of the shelters that need help with the difficult dogs that have already been suggested to be euthanized by “experts” with your views be our guest. Show us how it is done.

      In the meantime I strongly suggest that you read through the pages of this website and educate yourself on a system and new views that have been working.

      Other than that I think everyone on the site, including myself are burnt out on the same argument that goes against common sense.

  22. Mike, could you do me a favour and look up Dr. David Mech?

    The APDT’s position is based largely on his work, which is with wild packs of wolves on
    Elsemere Island (12 years living with them), and abroad.

    He’s the leading wolf researcher in NA.

    As opposed to : “What they are referring to is the original study where wolves were observed in captivity.” – this statement is false and misleading.

    Accurate information regards,

    Wayne Dibbley

    P.S. Please do not take offense, your work is referred by some of your clients with high regard, so you
    must be knowledgeable and good. I just challenge you to use accurate facts, and to realize your denial
    of current wolf pack/dominance theory (modern) is in fact denying the position statements of one of if not
    THE leading wolf researchers in history AND whose very work is the foundation for the old dominance theory

    Dr. David Mech is all over youtube speaking to this.

  23. Further to your position on OC and CC Mike.

    OC and CC are at play even where using compulsion. They aren’t exlusive to positive only methods and unfortunately people are mislead to not LEARN the science of learning because they think OC is positive only.

    OC encompases positive reinforcement (this is NOT “good” reinforcement, positive is like a mathematical sign and it means something given to the dog at a time that makes it’s behavior more likely to happen again = reinforcement), negative reinforcement (this is NOT “bad” reinforcement, this is something taken away from the dog at a time that makes it’s behavior more likely to recur), positive punishment, negative punishment and etc.

    If you are using a correction collar or anytime and a lead correction and your dogs behavior is imporving you ARE following the laws of Operant Conditioning (wether you are aware of it or not). If you are using treats and your dogs behavior is NOT improving you are breaking the laws of Operant Conditioning, wether you’re aware of it or not – and etc.

    Operant Conditioning isn’t a “dog training” approach, it’s a learning science that describes why behavior happens again or doesn’t, how it is strengthened (reinforcement schedules) or isn’t.

    Regardless of training approach, correctional, positive, mixture…anyone serious about behavior and training, will learn and recognize how this science is at work in their training.

    It’s time positive vs correctional debates stop leaving OC in the camp of positive only, and it’s time that responsible trainers stop misleading the public about what OC is.

    If you’re training works like your clients say it does Mike, bravo, somehow you’re applying the laws of learning (operant conditioning), wether you are aware of it or not. : )

    Best regards


    1. Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for your feedback. Although, I think you are misinterpreting my statements. I largely agree with you. I understand how important OC is and I don’t believe I ever implied that corrective based training wasn’t part of it. I have a video on the subject here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xaM6m8NpAQ I couldn’t imagine that we have a difference in opinion…

      As far as Dr. David Mech is concerned, I am familiar with the confusion his past and recent statements have caused. I believe this is the video you are referring to:

      If you watch the whole video you will see that he is not only contradicting himself, he says that a hierarchy does exist in just about every wolf situation besides the breeding pair and pups scenario, because no one had to “fight” to get to the top. Well, there is no one to “fight” in those simple situations. I think it defies common sense that just because there is obviously less aggression that there is not a hierarchy (not to mention the hierarchy that establishes at a very young age even among the pups). The hierarchical behavior that we see in these “artificial” and “complex” packs that he explains toward the end of the video is relative to what see in our homes with our own artificial and complex packs. If you look at some of my responses to the comments on this post, I would think my statement is more aligned with Dr. Mech’s statement than the APDT’s statement is. I think his reason for the statement may have been for the same reason that the APDT wrote their statement, and that is the “dominance” has been butchered and used as an excuse for everything BECAUSE it has been paired with aggression which it should have never been. But, that still doesn’t convince me that it (dominance) doesn’t exist – especially when I see it blatantly in front of my face everyday. They would have been better off just explaining what it really is about, instead of saying it doesn’t exist or renaming it. Dr. Mech still implies that fighting has to be present for it to exist instead of saying that you don’t need fighting or aggression to be in a dominant position which would have made more sense, works, and more in align with the raw definition of dominance.

      I will restate as I did in other posts is that the main issue here, is that someone has to admit that “fighting” and blatant aggression does not have to be present for their to be a hierarchy. This may be a by-product of a conflict related to this, but still separate from the concept. Without admitting to this Dr. Mech is all over the place and in a circle during his video.

      I mention that solving our dogs problems are more than OC, because in order to solve many problems you need to understand them. My example of the Rottie on the couch and showing aggression is not a behavior that is generally learned. There are lot of behaviors that are based on the instinct and culture of the dog. You CAN and generally do use OC in any training program to work on those problems, but there are ALSO other parts of the plan that hasn’t to do with clean cut OC. Neutering a dog because testosterone will exasperate some of these problems has nothing to do with OC, but can be part of a plan. Telling children to pet a dog under the chin instead of hugging and kissing a certain dog has nothing to do with OC but involves understanding the dogs natural behavior and culture. There are many examples, but in reality, like I said, I would be surprised if we really disagree with anything here. I think certain things are being lost in interpretation or assumed.

      Thanks again for your contribution to the post and good points!

  24. Mike,

    Thanks. We may agree mostly without further interactin it’s hard to determine.

    I’m with you, there is a hierarchy of course…since I control freedom (crate, kennel, on lead, off lead), food, play, etc. etc…it hierarchially speaking (was that a word?) I’m more “dominant” than those relying on my letting them out, providing their food and etc.

    Here’s the trouble, too many bad ideas and approaches, some blatantly abussive and dangerous to both dog and handler, have been labeled with the “dominant” descriptor. So…it might make more sense in just discussing heirarchy, to begin using a new word that isn’t diluted with so many different experienced concepts associated to it.

    However, I have no idea what word you would use – but finding it and describing it away from all the muddy water would be immensley helpful to achieving a clearer understanding of what you advocate.

    Thanks Mike, very best regards,


  25. Adv. 1. hierarchically – in a hierarchical manner; “hierarchically organized” – The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

    lol! See what happens when we have to search for new terms to replace the butchered ones…

    I rarely do use the word dominance anymore besides when i’m writing or talking about its demise as a dog training term.

    Thanks again!

  26. While I agree that of course any good trainer needs to take control of reinforcement within the environment to effect behavior, I believe that you are wrong when you say that dogs will either become nervous or become their own boss if they are not dominated by the owner. Dogs evolved to fill a distinctly different niche than wolves. A dog would almost certainly not survive living in the wild where wolves do. Feral dogs live close to human civilization, as they evolved to live off of our waste. There is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that dogs self domesticated. Now, in doing this as you said brain size and other traits changed. One thing that changed was behavior. Dogs have less of a flight distance, ability to be socialized to humans, and unlike wolves feral dogs choose to live alone or with one other dog, and typically say bye bye to their babies at a mere eight weeks of age. This would suggest that dogs do not have a similar social structure to wolves.

    Thus, it makes no sense that a dog would go looking for a leader. Why would looking for a leader have any part in the brain of an animal designed to scavenge garbage? It does not make much sense. Certainly I control all of my dogs access to everything they want. I have thumbs and operate the doors after all. According to some definitions, this in itself would be dominance. However, would you say that you are dominant over your children? Is an adult dominant over an infant?

    Also, just because I control everything does not mean that what is going on in the dogs brain is that they are associating me with some construct of leader that they have thought up. What is more likely is that due to the nature of applied behavior, they are working for me. If dogs were looking for a leader, feral dogs would live in groups. And they most certainly do not. How do you explain this?

    Dogs want things, and they know that there are rules to get them. But this is true for every single animal… not just dogs. We all play by the rules, from solitary animals to humans. Does that mean I am dominated by others?

    1. Hi Gia,

      I think you are confused by a few things. Especially by what I mean by dominance. You seem to be confusing it with pack (especially hunting) behavior. Canines are very adoptable and dogs and wolves will both scavenge and adapt to that lifestyle if needed. But, there are 100s of examples of dogs interacting in packs not only in our homes, as used as hunting dogs, and in feral situations.

      The social rules of dominance is pretty consistent across the board with many animals including us – and yes we do dominate our children by the true definition.

      Dogs and children do suffer behavioral consequences when there is no one who is in control. Dominant is to be in control. I can tell you this as a parent and a professional dog trainer.

      If your definition of dominance is the same as those who believe that it is about alpha rolls, force, etc… then I guess I would agree with you.

  27. Dogs are dogs – a domestic species, which species by definition are changed by domesticity.
    They are not by any stretch of imagination, “domesticated wolves”. Factually, dogs SHARE a common ancestor with modern-day wolves; they did not “come from” modern-day wolves – they are at best, cousins.
    Humans did not “come from” chimps – all primates share a mutual ancestor, some further back, some more recent.

    Mitochondrial-DNA gives a marker of approx 100k-years of dogs breeding as a separate species from wolves, barring the odd now & then intercross. That dogs & wolves are interfertile & produce fertile progeny does not make them identical.
    Lions & tigers interbreed in captivity, & produce fertile offspring – but nobody claims lions & tigers are identical.

    The primary differences between wolves & dogs are not in DNA – they are behavioral. Dogs look to humans for help with insoluble problems; wolves, even highly-socialized wolves reared by dedicated carers, do not. The wolves, when faced with an insoluble problem, did not seek or wait for human-help; they struggled on independently, but ultimately they failed. The dogs waited for human-help, or actively solicited help & succeeded.
    Dogs do not pair-bond; each bitch is of interest only so long as she allows mounting, then the dogs disperse. The bitch rears, feeds, minds, defends, & oversees her litter on her own – sink or swim. Dog-sires do not feed their mate while she is heavy in pup, digging her den, help with the den, feed her while she nurses neonates, feed his pups when they begin eating solid food, or mind the pups & the den while his mate goes to water, to eat, or to hunt.
    In strong contrast, wolf-sires do all of the above. Wolf-teens, male or female, will urp-up their last meal to a pup who begs – dog-teens don’t regurgitate for puppies. And wolves will eagerly adopt any pup – even in the wild; there are well documented instances of orphaned litters being taken from the den by neighboring packs, & reared as their own.
    Dog-bitches will adopt pups who are added to their own litters, & some bitches will adopt a needy pup who attempts to nurse – but they don’t adopt every crying pup that they see, nor does every dog-bitch adopt when they have the opportunity; some do, some don’t. Wolves, male or female, cheerfully would adopt every puppy they could; it is a very, very rare wolf who does not dote on a puppy, anybody’s puppy.

    Wolves are monogamous, often for years; dogs are polygamous and polyandrous, & often a mating pair are only around one another as long as the bitch is in heat. As soon as the female refuses to be mounted, the male moves on.

    Dogs primarily allocate resources according to who wants it the most: DIFFERENTIAL ALLOCATION is a common dog-tactic, where the dog who wants every tennis-ball generally gets the tennis ball, & the dog who is crazy about squeaky-toys generally gets any squeaky-toy.
    This allows several dogs to avoid a lot of needless conflict – there will only be an argument if the item is valuable to *both* dogs, or *all* dogs – like the aforementioned bitch in heat, or a nice meaty bone, or a pig’s-ear. Even then, since possession is 99.99% of dog-law, a 6-WO pup with a bone can defend it from an adult dog; until the puppy leaves it behind, it’s ‘their’ bone. Signals & ritualized displays also avoid needless conflict; the puppy can freeze, hunker & growl, & the dog pauses, head-turns, averts their gaze, & moves off; the puppy relaxes & returns to gnawing. Nobody was hurt, aggression was minimal.

    Dogs & wolves have very different social behavior; a pair-bond is the foundation of any pack. There is no pair-bond between dogs. The typical wolf-pack is a breeding pair, their subadult offspring from last year [if any] & often the year before [if any], & any pups from this past spring. There may be an aunt or uncle, occasionally an unrelated subadult who dispersed from their natal pack & joined a family – but often it’s mom & dad, & their kids.
    The wolf subspecies that’s believed to be the closest relative to domestic dogs is the Arabian wolf – which does not hunt large game & divvy a carcass, they disperse, hunt solo, & rendezvous to feed the pups as a joint enterprise.
    Modeling dog-behavior on the northern wolves, who hunt bison, elk, moose, caribou & deer, as a group-activity, ignores this discrepancy.
    all my best,
    – Terry

    Terry Pride, APDT-Aus, apdt#1827, Certified Vet’s Assistant; member Truly Dog-Friendly
    “Change is good… You first!” —— tmp, Sept. 2004

    1. Hi Terry,
      Thanks for your feedback. With all due respect, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you read my website and/or buy the book “The Domestic Dog” edited by James Serpell.
      This book is comprehensive, state-of–the-art account of the domestic dog’s natural history and behavior based on scientific and scholarly evidence rather than hearsay or dog politics.
      Here is a video that I have done that was largely inspired by some of the information in the book:
      First, comparing dogs and wolves to lions and tigers (which DO NOT produce fertile offspring – can’t have a liger bred to a liger) or humans and chimps (the silly whopper APDT likes to do) is worse than comparing apples and oranges. Do I really need to explain why?
      If you really do want to compare these things please keep in mind that a 100,000 year split of dogs breeding separately from the wolf is just a blip of time in terms of evolution. This is about the amount of time that other human races have bred separately from the African population (http://www.world-science.net/othernews/110127_africa.htm). Different races (some scientists consider races subspecies) of people in different regions may have VASTLY different cultures depending on many environmental factors but they certainly haven’t comparatively transformed from chimps to people or from lions to tigers! There is overwhelming evidence and it is generally considered evolutionary fact that dogs DID actually COME from wolves (yes, even the Arabian variety) from separate isolated incidences of domestication (much ONLY 15,000 years ago and still to this day), the same way different races of people originated from the oldest subspecies (race) of humans. Of course the process of domestication makes further changes to the dog, but this still has nothing to do with the origin of their behaviors that are either manipulated or intact.
      In very simple terms: Dogs are domesticated wolves. Period. If you want to compare, compare to domesticated ponies and wild horses or other scientifically accurate comparisons. Like the dog, they are domesticated subspecies which evolved from the older wild subspecies of the same species.
      It is blatantly WRONG that followers of the APDTs statement spit out imaginary and warped information that goes completely against what is fact. This is why the APDT has been steadily losing a lot of credibility in many professional dog training circles.
      Most SUCCESSFUL trainers that are in the trenches, act professionally to their peers, and not busy bashing other trainers on bulletin boards have realized the APDT’s failed jibberish about this subject just as they have failed to maintain a set of reinforce-able professional conduct standards to their members. It is a waste of time to deny dogs of their natural history and how it relates to their behavior. This does the industry no good.
      I can make a blog post about hundreds of differences between dogs and wolves or basenji and poodles, but that has nothing to do with the significance of wolves when explaining the origin of most of dogs’ behavior.
      Also, I certainly don’t anticipate a change in the dog’s or wolf’s biological classification of being sub-species of the same species anytime soon just to accommodate the APDT’s hissy fit about the popularity of Cesar Milan, his inaccurate dominance based theories, and all the politics behind commercialized dog training. The days of Canis familiaris are way gone.
      Lastly, I see you have been busy bashing me and other hard working professional trainers on other forums before you decided to troll here. Terry, its hard work to actually open your mind and learn something, and rather easy to make assumptions and open your mouth or type without thinking first. But, understand you MUST get up to date and not spread propaganda if you want to be anything other than a bitter internet troll that reinforces the very reason why I wrote this post in the first place.

  28. Helpful hint: if you want anyone to take you seriously, use spelling/grammar check. After several grammar errors (spelling errors might be typos, so I am more tolerant of that) I decide the writer is illiterate. I didn’t get very far here, but that’s ok because by the time I reached my limit of bad grammar, it was obvious you did not comprehend any of those classes you claim to have taken.

  29. Mike:

    I think I found your blog while searching for information about dominance being debunked by such as Dr Karen Overall, who actually recognises its existence. I agree with your statements almost 100%, although not so much about Cesar Millan. I think his many successes with very difficult cases speak for his abilities, and he also admits that, even after seven years or more, he is still learning. I don’t want to make my reply about CM, though. It’s just that I’ve been trying to pursue a rational discussion with some of the fanatics on the “CM Kicking Dogs” youtube video, and they are really much more extreme and deluded than the worst of your antagonists here. Charly W is an example, and he, like many others, finds it necessary to dispute EVERY statement, which only further polarizes the two camps.

    I especially enjoyed the video of the wolf engaging in play and learning basic obedience commands. My friend had a wolf hybrid years ago and I found him to be a majestic and impressive animal, well-behaved but very aloof, and a bit of a cold, faraway expression in his eyes that commanded respect. He was not a playful animal, and in that respect he was similar to my dog Muttley, who was a young adult rescued from a Baltimore ghetto. I saved him from euthanasia (three times, actually), and I had a difficult time with him at first because of my inexperience and because I think he is not an easy dog to train.

    Why is it that so many people seem to be so horrified at physical aversives and corrections? I agree that some people hit or kick their dogs out of anger and in such a way that it is purely abuse, since the dog does not understand the connection to the unwanted behavior because of poor timing, and also because of the lack of calm assertiveness on the part of the human. Most dogs, IMHO, are naturally submissive and cooperative and will quickly learn the rules of the household in return for just its basic needs and some affection. But some dogs are more stubborn or “dominant”, and need to be forced into adopting a calm, submissive, and respectful attitude. In such cases, I think it is ineffective, and even perhaps cruel, to disallow P+ to inform the dog of unwanted behavior, and instead keep the dog “under threshold” and always “setting up for success”. This sounds like allowing students to take “open book” exams and coaching them so they will get passing grades even when they don’t understand the subject matter.

    As an electronics engineer, I think of Operant Conditioning as being analogous to a PID control loop, where a system is stabilized by means of feedback. And the key to stability is the right sort of negative feedback. Positive reinforcement may be thought of as the stimulus to the system to cause a response, which we want, but then corrective feedback is needed to prevent the response from happening too quickly or too powerfully, which causes erratic and dangerous behavior.

    I’m glad I found your blog, videos, and website. And I like the fact that you are using some of the proceeds from your web training lessons to provide help for homeless pets so as to make them more adoptable. Thanks for providing a voice of reason in the often confusing and contentious world of dog behavior and training. We need more collaboration and cooperation to deal with the immense dog problem we have, rather than quibble about minute and inconsequential differences in opinion. I believe in my gut feelings, and I respect results.

  30. I wanted to comment on this article. First of all, I should give a bit of background on my experiences with both wolves and various breeds of dogs. The wolves were captive, hand raised animals but kept in large, natural enclosures so we could study their social behavior – at a USDA licensed and world renowned behavior and research facility. At the same time, I had sled dogs which I kept my dogs in a pack setting. By that I mean I usually had 6-8 dogs who lived together full time. At first they were spayed/neutered sled dog breeds, and later intact dogs (herding breeds.) I got to observe both wolf and dog packs and make many comparisons of their interactions. My sled dogs also regularly interacted with other dogs, both new ones and ones they knew well, and I could study those behaviors and interactions as well.
    My passion of many decades has been understanding canine behavior, both their social behavior with their own kind as well as with humans, and how various training and management methods affect the results. I will say I strongly believe dog behavior is VERY similar to that of wolves, but by domestication and selective breeding we have altered some, watered down some, accepted some and modified some behaviors. We have also juvenilized dogs in some ways (neoteny). But at the base core of behavior in wolves and dogs, there are more similarities than differences. Dogs DO dominate each other, and DO have a rank order which is important, and understanding that gives owners and trainers far more insight into dog behavior. What really varies between wolf and dog behavior is the intensities, frequencies and in many cases the amount of stimulus needed to trigger behaviors, not the behaviors themselves. The motor patterns, motivations and so forth are very similar between wolves and dogs. For example herding behavior is simply modified hunting behavior. A dog giving paw (“shaking hands”) is simply using an appeasement gesture they use with each other. I have seen dogs of many breeds regurgitate food for their puppies, dogs will scent roll, howl, court each other, cache/bury food and so forth, just like wolves do. By understanding true wolf behavior we will have far more insight into our dogs’ innate behavior. Both dogs and wolves are masters at using calming signals.
    Something else I should say here is that dominance does not have to mean strong force. It can be all eye contact or facial expressions, vocalizations and such. Wolves have a strong rank order but it doesn’t mean they run around beating the snot out of each other at the slightest provocation. They tend to use the least amount of force possible to get the point across, in most cases. I remember once seeing a pair of male wolves pass each other going in different directions. The alpha gave a slight look at the lower ranking male and he flicked an ear back in acknowledgement as he passed. That was a dominance interaction. However, just like in humans, some wolves are just born or learn to be bullies or tyrants. Those kinds of wolves may not hold a position of power as long as the more “fair” leaders though, as sooner rather than later they may pick a fight they can’t win. That is why I don’t recommend using a lot of force in training dogs, but we can still be, and should be, dominant over them. There are no equals in canines – dog or wolf.
    As far as using positive only training methods, I disagree. If you truly understand how wolves raise their young and interact with each other, they DO use corrections. Again, it is seldom seriously forceful and they use the least force necessary. But I strongly believe the canine mind is set up to receive both reward and correction (and correction does not have to be painful, scary or forceful). They have to know what they are doing is not allowed, so even a verbal correction can teach a dog to try something else that could be rewarded. I am not a fan of force or fear based training by any means, but feel a happy medium of mostly reward, and some correction is great. I do most of my training off leash in a fenced area, just like I did when I worked with the wolves. I find I get great results and haven’t owned or used a choke chain in 20+ years. I haven’t alpha rolled a dog since I saw that wolves don’t do it (going on 20 years or so.) I am dominant over all my dogs simply because I control the good stuff and am the leader, and they WANT to follow since I can do more good things than they can do for themselves. So I am dominant without using force, and that is something way too many people can’t get their brain around.
    Anyway, I think so many of these so called experts that say dogs are not wolves and don’t need a rank order or that dominance doesn’t make sense have little or no first hand experience with real wolves, and many don’t have an accurate sense of rank order, dominance and true wolf behavior. So when you are buying into advice from any trainer or behaviorist, make sure they have the background to really be able to give you good advice.

  31. I, for one, loved the balance your commentary has bought to this highly emotive subject! I have just been watching some of your YouTube videos, and I am quite sickened by some of the comments made by those who profess to love their dogs, but obviously have nothing but hatred for their fellow humans!

    It seems that dog training brings out huge egos! There is little humility out there when it comes to being open minded enough to simply give a commentary some thought before commenting.

    I am neither for nor against Cesar Millan (it depends on what he is doing in the moment). But nobody can argue that he doesn’t love dogs and have a deep desire to see them set free from negative issues they are dealing with.

    I really like what you have to write about dog training. There seems to be a wonderful balance in your commentary! Sometimes I am so against the ‘clicker brigade’ (even though I use it myself…lol) just because of their arrogant and hateful attitudes. Even though I believe in +R, I also don’t have a problem with fair and properly administered corrections, whether it be a strong tone of voice, or a flick of the leash as a reminder to do something they know very well how to do (a completely learned and known behaviour).

    Anyway, I have been browsing the net and have built up a lot of emotions in response to what I have read, so I’m afraid you got the brunt of it!…lol. Keep up the great work!

    God bless,


  32. Enjoyed your article a lot. When I came across your page, It was like reading my own beliefs and words I teach with all the time. Always nice to find a kindred spirit. I no longer am a member of any for profit dog certification group, since the required acceptance of their established dogma as fact all is all too often the case. A lot of these supposedly well informed, highly schooled trainers are guilty of the basic mistake of anthropomorphizing. Seems common sense and spending time “listening” to dogs is out of favor and lab findings and all to often, blind acceptance of what are sometimes silly assumptions are what replace critical thinking. Ergo you get the comments by people who project their lack of understanding and accuse you of things you didn’t say.

    I am always interested in learning more about modifying aggressive behavior since I work a lot with shelter animals. Can you recommend someone near Atlanta? Thanks

  33. Anyone interested in this might like – Canine Origins The Wolf In Your Dog. It’s a DVD in which Roger Tabor CBiol, MIBiol, MPhil, FCFBa, HonFBNA, FLS speaks to Colin Tennant about the origins of the domestic dog. The DVD description – Roger examines the origin of our pet dogs. He delivers compelling biological reasoning for the his conclusions. If you want to know more about what makes dog’s minds work, why they do the things they do, then watch, learn and listen to roger impart his knowledge of the canine world. Whatever the dog breed the Wolf is forever present. Roger tabor is not a dog trainer or dog behaviourist, but a naturalist, biologist.

  34. Mike- 3 words. I love you ! Haha. You know how much I appreciate and respect you. Perfectly written, and articulated.

    Samantha- You say you have saved a few dogs? You also said, you don’t speak wolf to your dogs, but you speak dog to your dog? Then you stated yes dogs are from wolf! I think you need to go back and reread . Also, why is Dominance always associated with a punishment?

    We have gotten so far off track as dog teachers. How did the word Correction come to equal Abuse or Punishment?

    Correction—to make right (Webster’s Dictionary)

    Punishment—retribution through pain, suffering or loss (Webster’s Dictionary)

    I’d say this word has some pretty extremist leanings when we are talking about trying to teach a dog.

    How about controlled. I’m not sure the breeds of dogs you work with, nor sure of your methods. However, I would love to take those positive only methods into nyacc and take a stroll down the kennels and see you gain control or trust with those PO methods. I’ll bring the Bite suit incase you change your mind.
    Every positive teacher I have spoken with or watched , will not train or work with most of the dogs that I work with. They say the dog is “off” or is wired wrong. No, the dog needs to be taught some rules and boundaries . As far as your statement that dogs that are trained anyway other than positive , work out of fear – I disagree. My dogs respect the hell out of me. I can also tell you, all 3 of my dogs are strong breeds, and rescues- if I were to use the cookie lure and clickty clicker with them , when I first brought them into my home: the clicker would of been eaten and I would probably be dead or seriously disfigured as well as my kids. If you want to click your border collie into herding the sheep, go for it , but your clicker and treats are not going to gain control of a dominate aggressive dog. It will get you killed!! Science is our God.. Every word in the article above is Science..
    If a correction has to go beyond regaining a dog’s attention, the dog’s teacher needs to back up and seek out why. Why is the dog not responding?

    There are three situations that commonly get a dog and owner into this situation.

    The dog is put into a situation beyond his skill set. Say the dog can do a sit in a quiet room. His owner takes him to the vet’s office and tries to get him to sit in the waiting room with all the other pets. He can’t do it and gets flustered and overwhelmed…because working (doing a sit) in a new location is a separate skill. Working with multiple distractions is a separate skill that he’s not been taught.

    The dog’s sense of trust in the protection and leadership of the person is in question. The dog enters a situation that triggers a defensive response. The dog feels that he is on his own to deal with the “threat” and tunes out the owner. Adrenaline is triggered and the dog can’t respond and can’t feel any corrections.

    The dog has been desensitized to a collar correction by constant, chronic pressure on the collar. Collar pressure no longer means correction.

    In each of these situations, a “harder” correction is not the right answer. A hard correction is just a physical way of yelling. Yelling doesn’t transmit information effectively…other than telling everybody that you are out of control. The answer to each of these situations is to back up and fix the problem.

    Teach the dog the skill sets he is lacking—distractions skills such as: the ability to focus, concentrate and multi-task when things are going on around him. And the skill of self-control…knowing what the right thing is and that he has to do it.

    Go back and fix the foundation partnership skills of attention, respect and trust. Step up and be the leader your dog needs in scary situations. Let him see that you WILL take care of him.

    Learn how to use a collar correctly so that you are giving correctyour dog.

    Is there ever a time when a hard correction is necessary? Yes, when safety is an issue. When I am responsible for a dog I need to keep everyone safe. Ideally I give my dog the skills needed for a situation, but if something happens I need to put however much pressure on the collar as needed to keep everyone safe.

    If I have a dog that has been given plenty of opportunity to learn what the right answer is, and he deliberately, intentionally chooses the wrong answer, I’m going to up the pressure. Obedience is comfortable, disobedience is uncomfortable. The key is plenty of time and opportunities to learn a better choice, and a timely, to the point correction for a wrong choice. Action A gets consequence B.

    Correction is about the dog, punishment is about you. Punishment is because YOU are pissed. YOU are frustrated.

    Being your dog’s best friend and teacher means finding and presenting all the information that you can to help your dog make smart choices…the choice between responding promptly to a Come command…and running off and being killed by a car. The stakes are pretty high.

    Its really simple. If there is no such thing as dominance and structure in a pack then I am the luckiest dog trainer ever to walk this earth and I have been succeeding despite implementing an incorrect thoery. Lol

    To moderators: for some reason my response posted in a few places. I’m not that tech savy. So I am sorry.

  35. Brilliant article, and clearly written by somebody, Mike, who has researched and fully understands the subject. Unlike so many other dog trainers/behaviourists who know nothing of the domestic dog the animal.

  36. I think I have found where I need to be, Of note on the dogs I work with specifically CZ dogs,
    Pohrancini Straze ,they did in fact bred the Cz wolfdog in the same Kennel, Cz master breeder left info on which dogs and bloodlines, you need to learn Cz, and this i learned after having
    To tell everyone I can find that I have a dog that does this but not this ….And whatching the um ah game, and cleaning my blood up, and having to put down one of the most powerful animals I have ever been around and the heartbreak with that. Pack drive is and can be a major training aid, but depending on the dog (naturally) …..volitility and maturity are items that must be held in check…. or in my world …..Czech…Cz=constant zip.

  37. I’ve had this conversation with so many people and APDT trainers it’s draining.

    Don’t take issue with the organisation as such but by its very definition the association is for trainers of pet dogs. Not all breeds fall into that category despite the trend for people to bring all sorts of dogs into their homes. APDT needs to be clear in its definition of a pet dog and include conditions of what trainers can do, which people or pets they can safely work with and know their limits / hand someone over to a more qualified, experienced trainer.

    Have met some that almost bust a gut to tell me they were professional qualified trainers with one woman literally clambering over a field gate and walking into my horse’s field to tell me she was accredited and I shouldn’t let do this or that and why that was and how she could help if I needed any…

    Stopped her mid-flow to say she shouldn’t dish out advice to owners of BC’s. Ever.

    Aside from the breed being unlike any other, she hadn’t a clue and if people believed otherwise she’d fu@k up more dogs in less time than it took to get her sorry arse across my field.

    Really bothered me that by taking a course with generic content covering the absolute basics, they’re free to advertise their services and work entirely at leisure. Later sent APDT a long email almost as a “heads up”saying they needed to make sure trainers are working within their limitations and experience and should refer certain breeds or particular issues to other trainers with more experience and specialist knowledge.

    They should not be anywhere near predominantly herding / working breeds or dogs with a very troubled history or an aggressive mastiff that weighs more than its owner and has torn apart three cats. May well be really helpful to first time or novice dog owners that need some pointers on basic training (as was its original purpose) but should not be anywhere near dogs with complex issues that require a specialist trainer to deal with.

    Half ashamed to admit I tend to lean more towards positive training more than anything and it’s because of the idiots I keep meeting that are only just fit to own goldfish never mind train someone else’s dog.