When I became a dog trainer, we used the term Alpha (challenging authority or dominance can replace this word) to describe almost every undesireable trait a dog would exhibit, from who ate first to pulling on the leash, to jumping up on people or refusing to make eye contact. I applied the principle like a good apprentice should.
Then I met Susan. Susan is a wealthy Calgary widow with 4 dogs: 2 large male boxers, a chocolate lab and a beagle. She was well respected by her dogs who never jumped on her, yet her style was completely the opposite of anything I had learned. She called me in to work on the dog's household behaviour with the staff: as they were constantly jumping on the housekeeper, gardener, driver and handyman. This case really led me to question my approach.
I began to research what the term "Alpha" really meant, and did dogs actually scheme to be the Pack Leader? Were dogs so keenly 'tapped in' to human and canine social interaction that if they saw a leadership gap, would they attempt to fill it? Did they want to be authority over us? Did they see themselves as equal to human, or greater than? Did they want to rule the world, or just live peacably within it?
While doing my research I came across a lot of useful information, and I continue to find great information which de-bunks the theory time after time.
NOT all behaviour problems are caused by dominance. In a nutshell, it's a lack of boundaries and direction on the owner's part. A dog cannot make sense of our rules and expectations unless we teach them with love and patience.
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