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Thread: Dog Training: Animal Experts Debunk the Alpha-Dog Myth

  1. #1
    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    Default Dog Training: Animal Experts Debunk the Alpha-Dog Myth

    Dog Training: Animal Experts Debunk the Alpha-Dog Myth - Yahoo! News

    Dogs are descended from wolves. Wolves live in hierarchical packs in which the aggressive alpha male rules over everyone else. Therefore, humans need to dominate their pet dogs to get them to behave.

    This logic has dominated the canine-rearing conversation for more than five years, thanks mostly to National Geographic's award-winning show, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. (See photos of a real-life hotel for dogs.)

    But many experts say Millan's philosophy is based on now-debunked animal studies and that some of his techniques - most famously the alpha roll, in which he pins a dog on its back and holds it by the throat - are downright cruel. Rival trainer Victoria Stilwell has launched a competitive assault on Dog Whisperer by starring on Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog and by spreading her system of positive-reinforcement training virtually and with troops on the ground: this June she launched a podcast (available on and iTunes) and franchised her methods to a first batch of 20 dog trainers in the U.S., the U.K., Italy and Greece. She uses positivity as a counterpoint to dominance theory and reserves her aggression for the poorly behaving humans.

    The debate has its roots in 1940s studies of captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring's status is based on birth order. Mech, who used to ascribe to alpha-wolf theory but has reversed course in recent years, says the pack's hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents' lead. (Read "Do We Love Our Dogs More Than People?")

    Says Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): "We are on record as opposing some of the things Cesar Millan does because they're wrong." Likewise, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a position statement last year arguing against the aggressive-submissive dichotomy.

    It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs. The organization's statement, which does not explicitly name Millan but references his terminology and some of his controversial techniques, argues that dominant-submissive relationships that do occur in nature are a means to allocate resources - a problem that rarely exists between dogs and their owners. (Nor even, AVSAB notes, among feral dogs, which live in small, scavenging groups without alphas controlling access to food and mates.) House pets, on the contrary, bark too much, jump up on you, ignore your commands, growl and nip at you because they have been inadvertently rewarded for this behavior or because they have not been trained to act differently. (See the top 10 animal stories of 2009.)

    To be sure, Millan's approach to retraining is sometimes warm and fuzzy, and he has much common ground with positive-reinforcement trainers like Stilwell. Both trainers strive - as much as possible with a nonspeaking animal - to determine the psychological cause of a pup's misbehavior. Both encourage people to ignore dogs' annoying habits so as not to accidentally reward them with attention. Both agree that punishment is only effective during or within half a second after the offending behavior: yell at Butch for peeing in your kitchen after he's already walked away, and Butch will think he's in trouble for walking away. Both trainers obviously love animals. (Comment on this story.)

    But, AVSAB says, calling a dog's behavior aggressive, as Millan often does, should be reserved for the most violent animals, and some critics even dislike the quick smacks on the flank he gives to focus a dog's attention. "Discipline doesn't come in the form of screaming at your dog, hitting your dog or putting it into an alpha roll," says Stilwell. "When you do that, instinct tells the dog to shut down, which is mistaken for calming, but really you're making the dog more insecure."

    Such insecurity can have unintended consequences. For one thing, rather than submit, your pets might lash out at you. "They may react with aggression, not because they are trying to be dominant but because the human threatening them makes them afraid," AVSAB says. For another, even if a dog looks subdued, you don't know what's going on inside. "Fear increases cortisol," says AVMA's Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Long-term fear increases it significantly and can lead to long-term health problems associated with stress" - a point that Stilwell, in her melodious British accent, likes to point out to her clients on TV.

    Take the example of Atlanta couple Louie Newman and Judy Griffin, who already had two Lhasa apsos when they adopted a rescue poodle named Manny. Not only did Manny pick fights with the other dogs, he also would attack Newman whenever he went near his wife or even tried to hand her the remote control. Newman and Griffin thought Manny wanted to control everyone, but Stilwell told them he was just trying to figure out his status in the household. "She said he was always tense. He didn't ever blink. I would've never thought to check if my dog blinked," says Newman, a recording executive in Nashville, who learned to relax when approaching Manny and to court him with treats. "He was really insecure. Who would have thought that? He acted like he owned the house."

    Of course, letting Manny's whims rule the roost was one of the couple's big mistakes. The question is to what extent they, or any dog owner, should put him in his place. With Stilwell gearing up for her third American TV season and Millan in the middle of his sixth, the answer may be a lot simpler and less dramatic than producers would have us think. "All I have to be is one position higher than that dog," says Beaver. "I raise him to see me as a leader. Not an alpha, a leader."

  2. #2
    Elite Member Witchywoman's Avatar
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    Im so glad you posted this celeb. I have 2 dogs and they respond to food and love more than anything else. I never agreed with Cesars dominance theory. I see ppl pinning their dogs down and the dogs look like their going to have a heart attack...hate it. My dogs will do anything for love and food....just like me.

  3. #3
    Elite Member Wiseguy's Avatar
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    I'm glad this was posted too. I've often thought that Millan's approach seemed wrong. He would often say to people/viewers "Don't try this at home". The people who asked him for help sometimes could only stand back and watch Millan but not be able to try those strategies at home. Why not?? Millan is into flooding therapy which is putting a fearful dog in the very situation that it fears in order to show it no harm will come. Is that going to translate well when the dog gets home?? Or will it make it more fearful and anxious because it was forced into a fearful situation?

    I much prefer Stilwell and have watched her for years. She not only re-trains the dog through positive behaviour, but she also shows the families how to do the same. Usually, it's the family with the problem, not the dog. If Victoria is faced with a fear-induced situation, she uses distraction techniques and handles the situation gradually. Eventually the dog learns through more positive ways not to be fearful or aggressive and the family continues the techniques until the problem goes away.

    We have a little dog that we rescued from a kill shelter and it was the most traumatised dog the shelter had seen in a long time. We've had him (Simba) for 6 months now and he was literally too scared to move or make a sound when we got him. We have used lots of love and rewards and he is now a different dog. He is playful, happy and cheeky which is what he should have been from the start. I used lots of the techniques I learned from Victoria Stilwell after years of watching her show and used positive reinforcement rather than forcing Simba to face his worst fears.

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    Elite Member KrisNine's Avatar
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    A little love and encouragement go a long way. I still want Toby to know I'm the boss and what I say goes but I do not want him to fear me. He's a good boy and it's so easy to bring that out of them when they learn to trust

  5. #5
    Hit By Ban Bus!
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    I own both his books and never does he say scream or yell. In fact he never talks at all, he says use the dogs method of sent and calm. I've seen him work with shut down dogs and military dogs and get positive results.

    However I resent his attitude towards Americans. In Mexico dogs roam the streets, there is little structure. Imagine his horror when he went to Australia and found dogs there are treated the same as they are in America..... as pets.

    Dogs 101 gives you a better idea of how to handle each breed, some dogs can not take harsh discipline while some dogs (pits) need you to step up and be in charge. Dogs like people, are different.

    With all my background and all my training and all my reading, my dog bit the crap out of me last week.

    And thanks to Cesar and his show about what to do when a aggressive dog is after you, I didn't get eaten by a pit who was after my dog.

  6. #6
    Elite Member HWBL's Avatar
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    Oct 2005


    This one dog from Victoria's show is hysterical:


    I must say, though, that from what I've seen, Milan often has more
    agressive problem dogs on his show than Victoria, whose problem
    dogs usually seem to have lighter, more correctable, tics.
    Warren Beatty: actor, director, writer, producer.

    ***** celeb

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