I know I am not the only person to see and hear a dog trainer telling a client to do X, Y, and Z to their dog claiming "it's what the mother dog would do" or because you need to "act like an alpha dog". Everyone from a random person at the pet store to TV dog trainers will make this claim in confidence (with absolutely no data to support that it works).
Here are the common ones we hear pretty often:
- Forcefully pin your dog on their back if they are acting undesirable, because this is what the "pack leader would do". This is the infamous "alpha roll" still used today.
- Forcing two dogs who have fought each other to sit across from one another with nothing positive going on until they both "submit". I've seen this on TV (from everyone's favorite TV dog trainer).
- Make sure to eat before your dog eats. This shows your dominance over the household because alphas always eat first. (This simple act will apparently now make your dog the most perfect well-trained pet.)
- Walk out of doorways first because again, the alpha dog always leads the pack - this also makes your dog listen to everything you say now. It's magic!
- Jab them in the neck and/or grab them by the scruff of their neck because that's "what the mother dog would do".
Why are so many people wrongfully focusing on teaching their dogs by pretending to be the "alpha" or mother dog? If anyone does even a little scientifically-backed research on this issue, you would know that dogs do not think in terms of hierarchy and they are not some form of modern day wolf. Treating your dog like he's a wolf is like treating your cat like a tiger or treating a human like a chimpanzee. I'll let you think about that for a moment.
Training your dog in this manner is faulty and inaccurate, but to help you understand further why this is the case - let's look at some other things that dogs do.
- So many people are quick to call a dog dominant when they hump or mount another dog, so why don't we start humping our dog's rear-end to display our king, alpha, awesome, leader of the pack status? No one ever mentions that, do they? Eh - it's probably too much work.
- Everyone blames their dog for trying to "lead the pack" when they pull on leash or bolt out the front door first, so why haven't we started racing them outside? Why don't you get to the door with your dog on leash and out-smart him by rushing out the door first and then say "AH-HA! You lost!" He'd finally understand that you always win and bow down to your greatness, no?
- When greeting a dog, almost everyone awkwardly extends their hand out for the dog to sniff them (which is not the way we'd recommend greeting them because this can be seen as rude by the dog). Why are we doing that instead of sniffing their butt? That's what dogs do, isn't it?
- We constantly accuse dogs of marking their territory by peeing on things. So why not load up on some water tomorrow morning and force your dog to watch you pee in every corner of your living room or backyard so they know who's boss?
As you can see, making training decisions based on what dogs would do to other dogs seems quite ridiculous. Avoid training advice based on what dogs would do to each other, and even more-so if it involves any force, fear, or intimidation. Instead of focusing so much on what dogs would do to each other, let's focus on reinforcing behaviors we like, doing our part to manage and prevent unwanted behaviors, and look to the animal behavioral sciences for techniques on how to effectively (and humanely) communicate with our dogs! Our dogs are part of the family, so let's treat them like the loyal, loving beings that they are.
Lastly, dogs are fully aware that we are not dogs. You know, the whole standing up-right on two legs, opposable thumbs, driving cars, going to the bathroom behind closed doors, no wagging tail stuff? If you take a moment to really thinking about it, you'd realize that we aren't fooling anyone - especially our dogs.