View Full Version : Who's the boss?

10th June 2006, 01:22 AM
I just read this aticle from trainer Dee Ganley and I love it. It really captures what she is about as a respected trainer in the US/Canada where she has trained dogs using positive-only methods for customs, rescue, police and wildlife and fisheries organisations, and also works extensively with shelter dogs to improve their chances for rehoming. She is particularly recongised internationally for her approach to rehabilitating seriously aggressive dogs.

I think many of us will welcome this perspective because we already know much of this is true from personal experience -- eg that having dogs up on couches or beds is NOT creating a dog that thinks it runs the house unless you don't give any paramenters for behaviour; that playing tug of war is fine, that all these things do not indicate the dog is 'dominant' and you are 'submissive' nor do they cause problems unless there are other reasons for the problems in the first place. :).

Lots of real food for thought:


By Dee Ganley

Who's the boss? Well, you are, or you should be. But before you start "alpha rolling"
your dog or "showing him whose boss," please read on.
Contrary to what you'll hear from a lot of trainers, not only is it unnecessary to
"dominate" your dog for him to know you're his leader, but it can be downright
dangerous. Dogs perceive scruff shakes, so-called "alpha rolls," and other physical
discipline as attacks, and dogs naturally respond to attacks by defending themselves. A
very submissive dog may cower instead of attacking (but why are you disciplining a
submissive dog in the first place?).

However, a pushier, more confident dog may well ..fight back, which can lead to a
dangerous escalation in punishment: you punish the dog, he growls; you punish harder,
he bites; you punish harder, he really goes for you. The end result may well be a dog that
doesn't trust you or a constant battle of wills. In my experience, most aggression
problems in dogs are owner-caused, usually by inappropriate punishment. And it's simply
not necessary. Dogs don't respect leaders who physically dominate them, but rather those
who provide access to what dogs want. For most dogs, this means food, toys, or the
opportunity to go outside, to play, and to go for car rides or walks. You control the dog's
access to all these things, so you hold the leadership position. How you use that position
is up to you.

When you are taking your dog outside, ask him to sit at the door. With the dog on lead,
open the door slightly. If he gets up, just say, "Excuse me" in a quiet voice as you step in
front of your dog and move him away from it. Pretend the dog is a soccer ball and you
are the goalie, don't let the dog through the door and move him back away from it. Close
the door if you have too. Wait until he looks up at you wondering what's up! Now try
again. When he has backed off from the door open, say, "o.k." and head out the door first
with him following you outside. Most dogs figure out in one session that the door
opening doesn't give them permission to just charge outside. You've not only taught the
dog to wait at the doorway - you've also proven yourself worth listening too and a good
leader! Any time you train your dog using food and other types of positive reinforcement,
you are proving your leadership.

Reduce the dog's meals so he's hungry (not starving) when you train. Use lots of food in
training, and make sure the dog does something for every morsel. No more free food!
The dog will welcome this change. Dogs are hunters, not grazers, and hunters must work
hard for each and every meal; getting free food is simply not natural for them. Doing
something for their food will give your dog an increased interest in food, an increased
desire to perform behaviors for you, and an increased respect for you as the provider of
what it wants and needs. Just asking for a sit before putting down the food bowl at each
meal can prove your leadership.

And what about all those "rules" of training, like "don't let the dog sleep on your bed,
"never let the dog win at tug-of-war," and "never let the dog train you"? Well, like most
"rules" there's a little truth to all of them, but only a little. At our house, all four dogs
sleep on the couch or chair. But not until they are housetrained, are capable of sleeping
through the night, are no longer chewing everything in sight, and have learned, through
short training sessions, to get on and off when asked. Its not there couches its mine. This
usually means that puppies in our house sleep in their crates next to the bed until the age
of 8-month - 1-1/2 yrs of age. Likewise, we play tug-of-war with all of the dogs its one of
their favorite games. But we didn't do it until thye had been trained, with food, to drop
toys on cue. Sometimes we let them win and sometimes we ask them to drop the toy -
either way, they have fun. When we are done the toy gets picked up and put away till the
next time.

Finally, I can't imagine anything better than letting a dog train you! My clicker-trained
dogs have actually learned something about training by being trained, and I'm happy to
let them train me sometimes, too. Turnabout is fair play. Obviously, I pick and choose
which of their "cues" I will respond to. When I don't respond, they stop trying to make
me do that particular behavior and try something else. All of my dogs love to "make"
Kevin (my husband) give them a biscuit first thing in the morning and in the evenings.
And all the dogs can "make" me take them outside for agility practice by leaping around
my feet and running to the door.

In the final analysis, it's much more productive to look at dog training through the
metaphor of dancing rather than that of domination. When two people dance, one must
lead and the other must follow, if both try to lead, they'll fall on their faces! But the best
dancers show complete harmony and teamwork, not dominance and submission. And this
is what I strive to achieve with my dogs - the harmony and joy of teamwork.

Download original piece here -- http://www.deesdogs.com/documents/who.pdf

10th June 2006, 03:00 AM
i agree wit her...the only thing is i let King sleep or lay where ever he wants bed or couch but he knows when to get down when i tell him....so he knows that i'm the alpha and me mom is second in charge....plus the only thing i dont agree wit is the thing she said bout feeding....making King work 4 his food i think is cruel....would any of u make ur own children work 4 their food... i dont think any1 would...my mom agreed wit me....but everything else is pretty much wat goes on here wit my family

10th June 2006, 01:18 PM
Oh making dogs work for food and treats is a basic of most training, and not cruel at all (and yes, parents make kids 'work' for food in all sorts of ways! :)). Nothing better for reinforcing polite behaviour than to use the moment when they are most motivated -- eg waiting for a food dish -- to ask them to sit and wait before the bowl hits the floor. Also they love 'working' for a meal using a treat ball for example (and this is good for reining in how fast a dog eats, or to give the dog something challenging to do -- they LIKE having their brains worked in this way). This is what Dee means by 'working'.

The average dog needs a fair amount of mental and physical stimulation which I think the majority never get. I have seen the great results and improved relationships you get with a dog from challenging it to perform -- and using natural situations, such as feeding or treating, to encourage this. These all build on natural behaviours too -- which is Dee's other point -- you are giving them excellent mental stimulation that they often don't get in a domestic setting (dog brains are considerably smaller than wolf or fox brains BTW -- they need less brainpower as we look after so much for them, so IMHO all the more reason for challenge and stimulation!).

No different from rewarding a child for cleaning her room with a special treat. My dad used to take me for an ice cream after my flute lesson when I was a child and I loved both the knowledge that I'd have this reward at the end of my class, and the special bond I had with my dad from sitting on a stool in Baskin Robbins with him eating an ice cream. I love those memories. For dogs I think the experience is very much the same -- you create a bond.

I have found the MORE I challenge the dogs, through training, obedience, and just fooling around with a clicker or playing fetch, asking them to wait before I go out a door, having to sit for their food -- and I am always adding on new things for them to do -- the better and happier their relationship has grown with me and in general.

What you are teaching them is self control. eg in order to get that food, or this praise, I need to behave in an acceptable way, I need to use my noggin, I need to make the right decisions. If they have self control in such situations (not fear responses where they have to remember they will be punished for making the wrong choice, as opposed to rewarded for making the right choice), they also use their head and gain more self control when they make their own decisions. And that is rewarding for everybody.

10th June 2006, 01:56 PM
I just sent this to Becky, our trainer. She really likes Dee's approaches. For the most part, Becky is in the same situation as Dee, in terms of she's the manager of the training program at the Animal Humane society here. She knows that if what she and her staff are teaching doesn't work, the dog will come right back into the system. I think this environment fosters an even more willing and eager teacher in terms of how she connects with not only the dog, but the owners. She always says she's not teaching the dog, per say, she's teaching owners. I think a lot of people here (Twin Cities) view the courses at this facility as only for shelter dogs, when actually they're for anyone. I told Becky I would be willing to do some marketing work to get word out as I really love her programs. The Wallflower class Abbey was in was the first of it's kind in the nation, since then it has been the model for 3 others across the US. I've told her before that what we've learned from her has really been life-changing for us, and I'm sure it will continue to be.

The bonus to her programs is once you register, you can then also attend the playgroups they offer on the weekends. We're off to Gus' first playgroup at 9am. Becky suggested the small dog playgroup rather than the puppy playgroup. Better chance of him learning manners through adults, we'll see how it goes. :shock:

10th June 2006, 05:01 PM
The playgroup sounds fun!

Yesterday Lisa and I had our own -- we took all our dogs for a walk on the beach in the evening, so we had three cavaliers, three tibetan terriers and a cocker. They had such a good time; they all know each other from classes at Lisa and Tara's facility and they were all so well behaved (though Lily likes to bark at the dogs she doesn't know :roll: ). I love watching groups of dogs socialise.

11th June 2006, 12:26 AM

i didnt mean it that way....i musta misread the passage....now that i kinda read it me carefully, plus wat u wrote...now i c wat u mean. i do that wit King, he waits til i place the dish down...King and I had a puppy play-date 2day, so we had a cavalier, beagle, pompoo, and a cockalier (cavalier/cocker mix) we had so much fun...1st went to the dog park, they romped around 4 a bit...then we all went 4 a hike....nice day

11th June 2006, 10:56 AM
Too right, Karlin :D

Charlie's behaviour is so much better since he's worked out that I am boss and not him and if he wants something then he has to ask for it! he doesn't get his food until he sits nicely now either. It's been a long hard seven months but we're getting there and really starting to enjoy him now :D

11th June 2006, 10:31 PM
karlin, thanks for posting that. it's good common sense. The idea that you have what they want, that is your power, that is how they know you are the leader. Your job is to give them lessons in learning that fact. Opportunities constantly present themselves. the more lessons, the more they know you're the leader and other things follow.

I've read where trainers have said you shouldn't let your dog sleep on your bed. But they didn't say why. Why is that? Is that supposed to be an example of giving up dominance to the dog? If that's the reason, i don't really see what it has to do with dominance, as long as the human is the one deciding whether the dog sleeps up there or not.

One thing i'm confused about--I haven't been using treats to train Zack. I haven't been doing much training at all. I've had him wait until i give permission before he starts eating, on walks i have him sit when i stop at intersections or before crossing streets, i don't try to get him to heel, i have been wanting to teach him to come when i call him, recall? is that the word?, but for the most part, he already is doing it. Like at the dog park, even if he's in the middle of a bunch of dogs, if i call him, if he hears me, he comes running. It often happens when he is going to the gate with a dog who is exiting the part, and i'll call him and he'll come, readily, happily, which has surprised me actually. I've practiced having him come while on walks, with the 26 foot retractable leash extended, and i'll try to do it when he sees a cat or bird. Having been reading some training books, and they all say to use treats, i have just started bringing treats with me on walks and to the dog park. And when i call him and he comes to me, i give him a treat most of the time. But i feel conflicted about doing it because i know he will come without the treat, because he wants to, he chooses to, he doesn't even know i have a treat, he's surprised when i give it to him, and it seems wrong somehow to start rewarding him for what he already wants to do, but, it also seems like a way to make the desirability of coming stronger, which is a good thing. It's just that it's already been working fairly well, just using praise. So i'm confused about whether i should add treats to the reward of praise and affection that's already enough for him. I don't want him to expect a treat for something that he already likes to do, i don't want him to get so he's disappointed if i don't have a treat. i don't want him sniffing my hands looking for a treat. I like how he just wants to run up and get some petting and praise.

i just got a book called Click For Joy by Melissa Alexander and a book called Dog Talk by John Ross. They are from different perspectives, Ross is a somewhat traditional pack leader thinker who says don't let the dog sleep on your bed. Alexander is all positive.

13th June 2006, 02:13 PM
And Dee is coming back to us in October :)