It seems like every discussion of dog obedience and dog behavioural problems eventually turns to the issue of dominance. Dog owners are told that they must be "the leader of the pack" and the "alpha dog in your own home." One reason why this issue has become so salient again has to do with the current popularity of Cesar Millan, who calls himself "The Dog Whisperer," and has popularized the use of forceful methods to exert dominance over unruly dogs.
Millan's methods are controversial among most trained dog behaviourists and researchers. To begin with, his use of the title "dog whisperer" seems odd, since it is an adaptation from the term "horse whisperer" that was first used to describe people like Willis J. Powell and Monty Roberts. They were called whisperers because they abandoned the use of force which was the common way of dealing with difficult and aggressive horses and substituted much gentler and supportive methods.
Millan's techniques have caused professionals, such as Jean Donaldson, director of the SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers in San Francisco, to comment that: "A profession that has been making steady gains in its professionalism, technical sophistication and humane standards has been greatly set back. ... To co-opt a word like ‘whispering' for arcane, violent and technically unsound practice is unconscionable." She was sufficiently upset so that, with the collaboration of Ian Dunbar, who is a well respected dog behaviourist and has a degree in veterinary medicine as well as a PhD in psychology, they produced a DVD titled Fighting Dominance in a Dog Whispering World, which specifically attacks the methods used by Millan in his popular TV show.
We just wanted to share an interesting article from Psychology Today. Even though Cesar Milan has some great messages (exercise is key! pits are great dogs!), his training techniques are outdated and have been scientifically proven to be wrong and actually harmful. He is a charismatic man who actually has no formal animal behavior training. If you'd like to watch a great trainer on tv, check out Victoria Stillwell's "It's Me or the Dog". Positive Reinforcement techniques are much more effective and have been used successfully by animal behaviorists for over 50 years! As for "alpha dog" training - it's absurd because you're dog knows you're not a dog. Also, in dog packs, the leader never "alpha rolls" other dogs. The other dog may roll on his back in a submissive position, but it is never done by another dog. If you'd like to read the Psychology Today article, I've included a link. It just goes along with what we know you all already know - that your dog will love and respect you if you treat him/her with love and respect! If you'd like to learn more, feel free to contact us and we can recommend some great books and articles. We suggest anything by Tamar Geller ("the loved dog method") she's awesome!