Well Groomed: Amy Terceira with her dog, Stanley.
Well Groomed: Amy Terceira with her dog, Stanley.

Traditional dog training relies largely on force, intimidation, and pain.

While positive reinforcement training relies on the science of animal learning and reinforces the animal for the desired behaviour.

“Traditional training methods still exist today and these trainers justify their practices with pseudoscientific explanations about pack leadership and the importance of dominance and of being the alpha dog; but the basic method, in spite of the overlay, is punishment,” explains Karen Pryor, behavioural biologist and founder of clicker training.

Force and intimidation can work however a newer more progressive way of dealing with animals exists, that removes the cruelty element.

With positive reinforcement you can still be in control, just without all the yucky stuff.

“Out of real science we’ve developed a training technology. Like any good technology it is a system that anyone can use. It works with all animals and is fast. What used to take months, the traditional way, can now happen in minutes. It’s completely benign, punishment and force are never part of the learning system. And it produces real communication between two species,” states Ms Pryor.

Clicker training is a scientific method that marks for the dog with a consistent sound (the click) that it has done the right behaviour and will now be paid for it (receive a reward).

This method builds behaviours quickly because it is clear for the animal and with payment they become motivated to learn. There is no use of force or intimidation, and the animal gets paid to do behaviours that humans want. We wouldn’t work for free, so why should a dog?

What I love about positive reinforcement training is that it builds a wonderful relationship between my dog and I.

The dog learns to trust you and that good things happen when with you.

Dogs quickly realise they get nothing for unwanted behaviours so will choose to repeat the behaviours they get paid for and the unwanted ones fade away.

I believe savvy dog owners have become worn down with the use of force approach and are looking for an alternative.


Traditional trainers use words like “energy”, “dominance” and “whispering” to try to mask what they are really doing which is intimidating or causing pain to the animal.

Using positive reinforcement, you are more likely to get and keep the behaviours you want and at a faster rate because the dog likes the training and feels safe. Using force with an aggressive or fearful dog is dangerous because aggression begets aggression and dogs often bite out of fear.

Dogs don’t think right versus wrong, they think safe versus dangerous and they are self-interested, no desire to please.

We must learn how to modify behaviour using non-confrontational methods. The dominance theory perhaps stems from inaccurate ideas of wolf  behaviour which we have placed on the domestic dog.

Dog trainer and behaviourist Barry Eaton asked: “Does a dog understand what we are trying to do when we apply pack rules? Does a dog really think he is part of our ‘pack’, as many dog training books tell us, or simply part of our ‘social unit’?

Dogs prefer to be near their owners than away from them. But does this mean they are ‘packing’ with us or that they enjoy our company?

If animals pack for the purpose of hunting to provide food for their young, dogs would not need to pack with their human family because all their needs are provided for.

Dogs are not hunters like the wolf, they seem to scavenge instead, acting as vacuums and hanging around trash bins.

Dog behaviourist Jean Donaldson, who studied feral dogs in many different countries, states: “There are cases of dogs buddying up with one or more dogs for days at a time, and dogs being drawn into proximity to each other by food sources, however none of the above populations form packs the way wolves do. Males, in fact, do not participate in the rearing of puppies, which is the foundation of the wolf pack. And, scavenging far outpaces hunting as primary food-acquisition activity, another difference from wolves, who hunt.”

Research shows a contrast in the age old belief that dogs, having descended from wolves, are pack animals too and in packs there must be one dominate leader. However, with Cesar Millan’s heavy visibility in the media selling this theory, what chance do many dog owners wanting to do the right thing have?

In contrast to Cesar Millan’s mantra, David Mech, an expert on wolves, states: “in a natural wolf pack, dominance is not manifested as a pecking order and seems to have less significance than the results of studies of captive packs had implied. Dominance contests between wolves are rare, if they exist at all.” Mech continues: “The typical wolf pack should be viewed as a family with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group and sharing group leadership in a division of labour.”

If the common belief that wolves show dominant behaviour for the rank of alpha wolf has been proved incorrect, then our idea that dogs must do the same with their owners because they are related to wolves, is off base and training methods based on dominance need to be reviewed and questioned.

According to ethnologist Roger Abrantes: “Dominance in wolves is a drive directed towards the elimination of competition for a mate.”

If this is the case, then it seems unlikely that dogs would look at their human owners as competition for finding a mate, especially if the dog is neutered and doubtful that they would feel a desire to dominate.

Their owners are providers of the essentials for living, and hopefully friends, dogs need them.

It does not seem rational that dogs would put up a fight, what for?

The better we understand dog behaviour, the better owners and trainers we will become and the better chance we have of living in harmony with our beloved dogs.

Amy Terceira is the owner of Dog Gone Good. She is a City & Guild qualified dog groomer and a student of Jean Donaldson’s Academy For Dog Trainers. Visit www.facebook.com/DogGoneGoodBda for more information.