Discounting Dog Myths

Billings Dog WalkerTracie Morgan is a Certified Dog Walker, has dog first aid certification, and her B.S. degree in Social Science from Rocky Mountain College in Billings MT. Tracie operates a dog walking service in Billings, Montana called Dogs ‘N Sync, LLC where she takes up to six dogs in a pack on daily 3 mile off-leash dog hikes to local public access area trails and parks.

Many generations of evolution separate dogs and wolves.  It does not make sense for us to learn how to interact with dogs from wolves. It makes about as much sense as learning to parent by watching chimpanzees parent.  But this is what happened when man put unrelated wolves together in captivity and then concluded that domination is normal behavior.  This theory was then superimposed on dogs.

The Natural Wolf Pack

In reality a natural wolf pack is a family unit that consists of an adult alpha male and an adult alpha female and their juvenile offspring and pups.  There are usually about six or seven blood related members in a pack.  The mated alpha male and female are the parents and leaders of their offspring pack just like humans lead and teach their offspring.

David L. Mech, one of the worlds leading wolf experts asserts, “In the natural wolf pack dominance contests with other wolves are rare if they exist at all”.  Dr. Mech also writes in the Canadian Journal of Zoology in 1999, “The typical wolf pack is a family, with the adults guiding the activities of a group in a division-of-labor system”.

Researchers have learned that dominance is rare behavior for wolves and may be a by product of captivity where man put unrelated wolves together.  Dominate behavior in wolves is based on environmental circumstances and is not an instinctual directive.

Cesar Milan

Currently there is controversy and debate going on in dog training circles.  One side represented by Cesar Milan promotes the theory of dogs as wolves and promotes dominance training by pet owners and states there are only leaders and followers in a relationship.  There is dominance or submission, no partnering.  Cesar’s way is a one size fits all approach to dog training.  On his TV program on the National Geographic channel Cesar uses techniques difficult for owners to replicate and uses techniques that could result in injury to the owner or their dog.  That is why National Geographic has a disclaimer that runs at the bottom of the screen warning, “Don’t try this at home”.

Writer Mark Derr whose articles have appeared in Audubon, Natural History, Atlantic Monthly, and other publications and who is the author of critically acclaimed books like Frontiersman and Dog’s Best Friend writes that Cesar’s ethology is outdated.  He further states, “he is a charming one man wrecking ball directed at 40 years of progress in the understanding and shaping dog behavior and in developing non-punitive, reward based training programs, which have led to seeing the dog as an individual, to understand what motivates it, what frightens it, and what its talents and limitations are”.

Many dog training experts are alarmed that Cesar Milan has become the face of dog training and are shaken by the fact that he has taken the world of dog behavior by storm.  More and more concerned dog professionals are becoming increasingly vocal in expressing their disagreement with Cesar’s methods.

Ian Dunbar

The other side of the debate is represented by the renowned and popular Ian Dunbar author of six books on pet training, developer of one of the earliest puppy training courses in the United States (Sirius Puppy Training), holder of a veterinary degree, and a Special Honors in Physiology and Biochemistry from the Royal Veterinary College of London University, a doctorate in animal behavior from the psychology department of UC Berkley, a decade of research, and decades of dog-training experience.

The only things Ian and Cesar both agree on is that all dogs can and should be trained and that dogs need regular and adequate amounts of exercise.  Ian Dunbar believes all training is negotiation and compliance can best be achieved through positive training methods.  His emphasis on positive approaches like lure reward methods using treats and praise has revolutionized the dog training field.  He once ran a behavior clinic for fighting and biting dogs and he is the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), an organization with thousands of members.   He was also the star of the British television show “Dogs with Dunbar” and he has hosted a dozen popular videos about dog training.

Ian is not a supporter of using pain and fear in dog training. He does not support using force or intimidation.  He stands solidly in the dog friendly reward based training camp.  Ian Dunbar is being joined by an ever growing number of dog trainers that follow his positive training methods and train force free.  This positive reinforcement method is also the method that is coming out on top of the debate.  Positive training methods are gaining more momentum every year, and positive reinforcement it is where dog training stands today.