The dangerous myth of the alpha dog – Marin Independent Journal

There are a lot of things I love about animal welfare work. One is the fact that this is an evolving field. The more we learn about animals (and the humans connected to them), the more our strategies and methods to help both change.

This is illustrated on a large scale, as the increase in demand for farm animals to be treated with more humanity, at a community level, as the now common practice of sterilization to reduce the number of domestic animals. unwanted and on a more personal level, like a family taking the time to humanely train their new pet to prepare them for success.

The field of dog training has definitely evolved over the years. For a long time, the science behind dog behavior was not given much thought, and dogs were trained with severe discipline and without much thought. However, a study of wolves – which later turned out to be fundamentally flawed – has convinced generations to believe in the “alpha myth”. This myth convinced people that they should “teach their dog who was in charge” by doing things like never let their dog go through a door first, never leave him on the bed, or worse, physically restrain him. “Just to show who’s boss. The popular but not very respected trainer Cesar Millan based his philosophy on now debunked animal studies and some of his techniques – the most famous is the alpha roll, in which he pins a dog on the back and holds it by the throat. – is not only ineffective in the long term, but inhuman.

Fortunately, most trainers around the world are now adopting positive reinforcement training only, with great results. Positive reinforcement training identifies the things a dog enjoys and distributes them as rewards for positive behavior. This training method turns dogs into enthusiastic participants, ready to experiment with different behaviors because they are not afraid of being punished. Training becomes an interactive partnership, rather than something done to one individual by another.

So it was with great disappointment that we learned of the existence of a new Netflix show called “Canine Intervention,” which highlights and encourages the use of dominance-based training. In fact, we signed an open letter to Netflix written by several major animal welfare organizations stressing that “these flawed methods have been refuted by the scientific community… and the idea that dominance-based training techniques are acceptable has caused, and will continue to cause significant damage to our canine companions and the human-animal bond.

Of particular concern is the trainer’s use of electric shock collars and claw collars. Punishment-based training, including the use of shock or claw collars, not only causes pain and discomfort for your dog, but can make behavior problems worse. If your dog experiences pain every time he tries to greet another dog, person, or move towards something on a walk, over time he may begin to associate the pain with objects around him. environment like other dogs or people passing by. These associations can lead to fear, anxiety, and aggression. Additionally, punishing animals for unwanted behavior can make them more aggressive towards their keeper.

We hope dog lovers don’t connect to this new show with outdated methods or at least with a critical eye. We share our lives with animals to experience a bond that transcends species, so it’s time to stop relying on training methods that damage that very bond.

For more information on dog training at Marin Humane, visit

Lisa Bloch is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Marin Humane, who contributes articles to Tails of Marin and welcomes animal related questions to people and animals in our community. Go to,, or send an email to [email protected]

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