A Fond Farewell to the Wolf
In a previous post I argued that the wolf pack model of a dog’s social sense is a bit dated. I also suggested that strict notions of dominance and submission miss lots of nuance in our dog’s social interactions.
And they too easily lend themselves to wanting to “show ‘em who’s boss” through a lot of macho posturing.
So what’s the alternative? And when it comes to dog training approaches, what’s best?
The Family Model of Social Interaction
My work with thousands of families over the years suggests that the “family model” of social interaction gives us a better way of understanding a dog’s social place in its human pack. But that certainly doesn’t eliminate hierarchy from the conversation.
After all, even in the context of families hierarchical power structures apply. Hopefully! Without them the result tends to be chaos. That’s doubly true if you’re trying to introduce a new baby into a family with a dog.
The truth is that dogs, like children, crave structure, guidance and authority.
Unlike children (or Charlie Sheen) however, dogs never really grow up. They exist forever in a developmental zone somewhere around that of a two year old child. In academic lingo dogs are “neotanized” or permanently juvenilized.
This is true both from a wolf and a human standpoint. In other words, no dog will ever mature to the level of a full-grown wolf nor would they ever mature to the level of a full grown human.
That means that in the complexities of the human world they’re never going to be full-fledged centers of autonomous, responsible action.
They remain forever like young children, needing consistent structure, guidance and authority – in short, leadership – to help them navigate a world otherwise incomprehensible to them. And without it they are lost.
The Dangers of Avoiding Top-Down Leadership: A Cautionary Tale
Of course without leadership – which consists of conditioning your dog to exercise impulse control and look to you for direction in all things – dogs will have no choice but to fall back on their own desires, impulses and instinctual responses when it comes to making decisions.
The same is true for children. And that’s generally bad news.
To see just how bad we can learn a few things from the contemporary parenting world. As most of us know, following the social revolutions of the ‘60s the world of parenting went through a major and much needed upheaval.
The consequences are all around us today and offer a cautionary tale when it comes to abandoning strong leadership.
Like a pendulum that’s swung too far, in the last thirty years structurally loose, “purely positive” parenting approaches – an antidote to earlier top heavy parenting styles –became all the rage. Displays of top down authority were strongly discouraged.
Children were never supposed to hear “no,” and every kid was entitled to a trophy. Punishment became a dirty word.
This approach had unfortunate and very instructive consequences. In the last several years a spate of studies have hit the market outlining the devastating damage done by the excessive application of such notions (Nurture Shock, The Narcissism Epidemic, etc.).
The Road to … is Paved with Good Intentions
In the world of dog training things have run on a parallel track. Notions of top-down authority have been harshly criticized and the use of any form of aversion (including sprays with a water bottle) equated with raw animal abuse.
The result has been enormous confusion.
And that confusion has consequences. Over the last few years I’ve had many conversations with animal shelter directors who have told me that since this training philosophy has become all the rage they have witnessed an upsurge in the surrender of adolescent dogs.
That’s no joke!
In my own business I see the resulting confusion daily. Bewildered dog owners are tossed like Ping-Pong balls between the old “dominance” model of dog behavior and trendy “purely positive” approaches.
And when those fail to produce reliable results hapless owners are forced to cobble it together as best as they can.
The Integrated Approach to Dog Training
In terms of dog training approaches, I’ve developed “Integrated Dog Training.” With this model, I’ve worked hard to transcend the errors of the past while also retaining the valuable insights of those who have come before.
I’m also on a constant lookout to incorporate new knowledge as it becomes available.
This has become a very powerful combination, reaping the benefits of benevolent authority with insights from behavioral psychology as well as a wide variety of training approaches.
In my work these strands have been integrated with the sole aim of their common sense application to the everyday problems involved in preparing your dog for the arrival of your child.
Want to learn more about preparing your dog for the arrival of your baby? Check out my book: Good Dog, Happy Baby