The "ALPHA" misconception

Far too many trainers focus on the ALPHA concept, as if they were hoping for you, a human with superior intellect, to assume the lower position of a dog.  Even an alpha dog's intellect and reasoning skill pales in comparison to a human adult's.  In fact, scientists say a dog can count to 5, on average - and has the mental capacity of a 2-year old human.  How does that compare to you?  One of my favorite comparisons to show the difference in the often confused roles in the human/dog relationship is the way I sleep - in an adjustable bed with super cool lights and massage built in, while my dog sleeps on the floor and licks himself.

Humans are 'alpha' naturally, but only recognized as such when they provide proper leadership and meet to their dog's innate needs.  But, rather than act like a dog you should act like a zookeeper, if you will.  You must provide proper husbandry to the animals in your care, from mental stimulus to feeding to teaching boundaries, and meeting expectations.  For multiple dog homes, allowing your dog pack to discover their own hierarchy is very important.  You should then learn to address their leader properly to maintain order in their pack.  It is about respect.  If you only have one dog, the same applies.  Do not attempt to anthropomorphize your dog; dogs cannot handle being treated like furry people.  They simply are not wired for it.

Dogs communicate in simple ways that include body language and a series of noises.  When dogs wish to play, they often make a higher pitched happy bark.  Conversely, when they are warding off danger or even correcting another dog they use a deeper toned bark, growl, or even a snarl with a quick nip.  This begs the question:  Why do we give our dog(s) COMMANDS when harsh tones are reserved for correction in their vernacular?  Your dog deserves the respect of being spoken to properly.  This builds a better relationship; one that is based on respect, not fear.

This doesn't mean that you do not correct the dog, you simply reserve correction for when it is needed.  You teach the dog the difference between right and wrong.  Many trainers abuse their ability to correct a lesser being like a dog.  They use harsh methods which include strong e-collar correction, yelling at dogs, or even improperly using more simple tools like a slip collar or a prong collar.  Sure, you can teach a dog not to do something with strong aversive techniques, but what does that relationship look like between you and your so-called best friend?  I bet the dog has a different idea of what he would call you after being 'shocked' to learn not to do something.  Your dog might have yet another name for you if you are not correcting strong enough, too.  If you haven't figured out what that sweet spot is, our team would be happy to help you.

Keep communication clear between you and your dog.  We would love to share some of our techniques with you and help you have a better relationship built on trust, proper leadership, and clear understanding of what your expectations are for your dog.  Let us help you Unleash Your Inner Dog!

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Communication

I often get the question, "How are you going to communicate with our dog?"  It turns out that people are often afraid of what 'communication' means.  I usually laugh and remind people that it is nothing short of what works.  That gets a puzzled look most times, but also affords a moment of silence.  I am a huge proponent of effective communication.  I don't yell at dogs or hit dogs - many of my clients will admit to having yelled at their dog or even swatted them with a newspaper.  Some have even resorted to spray bottles filled with water and vinegar.  I would be remiss if I left out the occasional client who says they have never even told their dog NO.

On the flip side, there is the client that believes treats are evil and unnecessary, while others lavish treats on their dog in order to get them to perform a simple behavior, even if only for a moment.

So, what does communication look like to me?  Whatever works.  If your dog does not listen to your urging that it should not do something and you have told it several times, I would suggest that you are nagging your dog and it is ignoring you.  Conversely, if you need a high value treat to get your dog to look at you and to sit for a moment, I believe you are not an effective communicator.  Sometimes I will use treats to get a dog to do a behavior - sometimes a toy - always praise.  Rather than repeatedly tell your dog NO as if it inherently understands the word (which it obviously does not), I might increase from verbal to a leash correction.  If a leash correction does not effectively communicate the meaning, I might choose a different tool from the tool box that will help the dog understand what I mean.

I will also adjust the training area - adapting to the dog's natural, primal learning ability.  I might walk stairs and abruptly stop with a dog who pulls or doesn't pay attention.  I have better balance on the stairs than the dog does, which commits the dog to respecting me and trusting me with its welfare.  When a dog trusts me, it will seek affirmation for its behavior.  Being a good communicator means you must figure out what method works best; dogs, like people are not all the same.