January is National Train Your Dog Month. While you may be eager to teach your pup a plethora of new tricks, you yourself may require some training (or rather, un-training) before you get started. It may sound silly, but we're not pulling your tail. Surprisingly, most of what is commonly known about training dogs is simply not true.
Many training techniques emphasize the need for you to act as the "Alpha" over your dog. When in reality, there couldn't be a worse way to approach the training process. Here's why!
Did you know that the Alpha Theory was popularized by a biologist who retracted his findings due to poor science? While Rudolph Schenkel originally coined the term, David Mech catapulted the Alpha Theory into popularity in the 1970's due to on an unrealistic experiment conducted with a group of unrelated adult wolves in captivity. The confused animals, who were corralled into an artificial environment, inevitably fought for resources. This resulted in the birth of Mech's theory that the largest and strongest would take role as the "Alpha" of this rogue pack.
Mech quickly retracted his findings after observing real wolf packs in the wild. He even abandoned the use of the term "Alpha" to describe wolves, altogether. Through observing these organic wolf packs, Mech concluded that rather than fighting for resources based on a hierarchy of biggest and strongest or, "Alpha", true wolf packs will interact in a typical family dynamic. Give and take, manners, mutual respect, and gentle correction are the actual ways that wolf packs handle their day-to-day interactions.
While Mech retracted his original findings, the damage had already been done with the release of his book, The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. After many failed attempts, Mech could not persuade the publishing company to stop producing the book that has shaped much of the world's view of wolf, and ultimately, dog behavior.
So, how do we go about undoing much of what we thought to be true about training our dogs? Well, much like wild wolf packs, it's all about the relationship you have with your dog. Begin by fostering a family-like relationship, rather than one that is built on dominance. Strengthening your relationship and building trust is key to motivating your dog to WANT to learn from you. Unlike the wild wolf, dogs have an inherent desire to please their humans. Therefore, the stronger your bond, the easier it will be to inspire your pup to follow commands.
The best way to establish a strong relationship with your dog is through mutual respect. Your dog looks to you for comfort and guidance, so, being respectful of your dog's boundaries is key to establishing trust. If your dog fully trusts you, then it will be far easier to begin the training process.
Some simple ways that you can work to strengthen your relationship and build mutual respect is by handfeeding, walking, playing, cuddling, and remaining calm when things go wrong.
Regularly engaging in these relationship-building exercises will establish respect and trust between you and your dog, resulting in a clean slate that is the perfect canvas to begin your training journey.
When you are ready to get started, refer to our vast catalog of training resources! Teach your dog:
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