Unsurprisingly, my post on dominance this week received some backlash. “Are you saying dominance doesn’t exist?” some asked. “We just need to teach people how to use the word properly,” others suggested.
Let me set the record straight: I am not saying dominance does not exist. If world-class ethologists such as Marc Bekoff and Alexandra Horowitz describe situations where dogs display dominant behaviors, how can I say they are wrong? I can’t.
But here’s what I can say: I, personally, do not believe that an understanding of dominant behaviors is required in order to live peacefully, happily, and harmoniously with our dogs. In fact, because the D Word has been misused in the pet-dog world for so many decades and because of that it commonly leads to dogs being punished, harmed, hurt, and scared, I believe that the word is nothing short of dangerous to dogs.
So I say let’s change the conversation. I would bet my Mini Cooper that I can help you understand your dog and communicate better with your dog without ever mentioning words like dominance and submission. When it comes to understanding why dogs do things like dig, chew, bark, pull, growl, and jump, we simply need to discuss a different D Word: Dog.
The word “dominance” (as it is traditionally and improperly used in the pet-dog word) has an almost hypnotic quality: as soon as it is stated, all further inquiry into what is really going on with the dog stops.
- Dog mounts and humps another dog. Why? “Dominance.”
- Dog chews up the doorframe after you leave for work. Why? “Dominance.”
- Dog is enjoying a bully stick and growls at you when you reach in to take it away. Why? “Dominance.”
- Dog jumps up on guests when they walk in the door. Why? “Dominance.”
- Dog pulls on leash when he gets close to the dog park. Why? “Dominance.”
With this one word, we get a descriptor for pretty much every behavior dogs do that we would rather they didn’t, and because of it, people stop investigating and ultimately have no clue why their dog does any of that stuff. What’s worse is that because people use this word — which means to them that the dog is trying to show them up or is in some kind of power struggle with them — they punish the dog. What’s even worse than that? Dog training is an unregulated industry, so people who don’t actually know why dogs behave the way they do, because they live under the black shroud of the improperly used D Word, are teaching the lie to their clients.
Every dog parent I meet loves their dogs. And like me, they all want to have the strongest bond possible with their dogs. But that wasn’t possible for me until I learned the truth. I had to push my ego aside, accept Emma as the Dog she is, learn all about why she does things like pull and chew and dig and pee on my couch, so that I could help her live with Hubz and me harmoniously. When I took words and phrases like “dominant,” “stubborn,” and “refusing to listen,” out of my vocabulary and instead learned that dogs dig because they love it, not because they are being jerks, and that Emma pulls because she wants to sniff her environment, not because she is stubborn, Ems and I fell madly in love with each other.
Knowledge is the key, and that is why I am working so hard with The Academy for Dog Trainers to build the iSpeakDog website. We want to share the real story with you so that you can feel the same joy we feel with our dogs. Isn’t that why we got our dogs in the first place?
Now, can we please stop talking about dominance? I’m going to have to enter a body building competition after this week. How many push-ups do I have to do from writing this post? Oy.