There are 8.5 million pet dogs in the UK. We love dogs and it would seem they love us back.* Dogs and humans have a long, complex history together. Recent behavioural analysis showed that dogs like to be in the company of humans, as much, if not more than their fellow dogs. Dogs look after us, as assistance dogs, as mountain rescuers, as guard dogs and therapy dogs. We feed them. We create whole industries around showing them off, make play areas for them, groom and pamper them.
And yet, despite all this love and tangled evolution, hundreds of thousands of dogs live in a state of unnecessary stress and anxiety because well meaning owners misinterpret their dogs behaviour. Unhelpful TV programmes tell people their dogs are trying to ‘dominate’ them and insert themselves into human families as the ‘alpha’ pack leader. A misleading study of captive wolves in the 1960s led to one of the biggest disservices to dog and human relationships imaginable: The dominance theory. A new breed of dog trainers and behaviourists have worked hard to mitigate the damage that this misinterpretation caused, but old habits die hard, and it seems humans don’t learn new tricks easily. We hear the language that this harmful dominance theory has left, everywhere. “Teach your dog who’s in charge.” “You need to be the alpha of the pack.” “Don’t let your dog dominate you,” and so on. Unhelpful training methods that may appear to work in the short term, but can cause long term fear and aggression in the dog are a product of the persistent dominance theory. They include: rolling over, pinning down, ear pinching, shouting, growling and hitting.
There is a better way to train your dog. A fantastic dog behaviourist I know put in very simply: “Your dog is usually just trying to understand what you want from him.” And “If your dog appears to be ‘misbehaving’ it’s probably because she doesn’t understand you.”
We can help dogs by making it easier for them to know what we want from them and to help them understand us. The first stage of this is to do a lot of observation of your dog. Their breed, their personality and their environment will influence their behaviour. The second is to introduce her to basic reward based training techniques. These techniques will bring you and your dog to a closer understanding of each other and help keep your dog safe and as far as possible, stress free. This site will explore these techniques through videos and articles, with the aim of making life rewarding and fun for dogs and humans who co-exist.
It’s truly remarkable how well dogs ‘read’ our behaviour. Amazing advances in canine behaviour studies, show how expert dogs are at reading our expressions, judging our moods and guessing what we need and want. Gentle, reward based training can add to this, in a positive way, building the bond between owners and dogs.
Thank you for visiting Dog Positive. I’m looking forward to meeting you and your dogs!
* In Defence of Dogs, by John Bradshaw is a fantastic exploration of the science behind understanding canine communication. In particular, the chapter: ‘Does your dog love you?’
Images on this page: Baba Langmann (CC BY-SA 3.0)