Dog training: no such thing as ‘pack leader’

For years, dog behaviour and dog training specialists have insisted that to train your dog properly you need to be seen as the pack leader and so asset dominance over your dog.

Yet in an interesting study released earlier this week from the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences, there are reports that this theory is incorrect and there is no such thing as the ‘leader of the pack’ and dogs should be trained using reward rather than punishment.  The old thought process stated that the ‘top dog’ dominates the pack all the time and as such, dog owners were encouraged to be seen as the dominant leader to ensure they were in charge of their ‘pack’.

The study says that this ‘top dog’ notion varies in different situations and throughout the day.  As such, attempts to be top dog through domination can cause fear and anxiety or even aggression in dogs.

Theories in dog training have varied through the years and it may be that we will never really know what they’re thinking.  Theories will no doubt continue to change as we discover more.  Perhaps the answer is that different training concepts work in different situations.  Training through reward is not an entirely new concept and some dog trainers have been using these methods for years already.

Personally, I think as long as dog owners avoid spoiling their dogs or being overly dominant in ways that are cruel to their dogs, then the old theories work fine.  As with children, we should give our dogs boundaries and sticking with them, so if you don’t want your dog on the sofa, then don’t let him.  Dogs don’t understand why it’s ok in some situations and not in others because to them, the situation may appear similar.  So set boundaries and be confident with your dog so he understands what you need from him.