Dogs don’t operate through “Pack Theory” .. and the earth isn’t flat either

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There are plenty of people about who perpetuate the myths that

  • dogs are stubborn, 
  • dogs are obstinate, 
  • dogs are trying to rule you/your family/the world, 
  • let them eat before you and they'll turn into a ravening monster,
  • if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile, 
  • and so on and on …

If you’re repeating it because you were told by someone you thought knew what they were talking about, you’ll need to think again (and stop repeating it!)

You may have heard this from a tv personality who sets himself up as a dog trainer; you may have heard it from someone who calls themselves a dog trainer - albeit without any respectable qualifications. You may have heard it from your vet or groomer whom you trust, but who is not qualified in dog behaviour.

The fact is, that whoever you heard it from is talking through their hat.

There was a stage, many, many years ago, when people formulated the Pack Theory model. It was based on erroneous data and has since been completely discredited - even by those who promoted it in the first place! There is no basis in fact for “pack theory”, “dominance”, “rank reduction”, or anything else you may have heard of which works through punishment, pain, or distress.

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You wouldn’t put your child into the hands of an unqualified, self-proclaimed, teacher who came out with all this nonsense. Why do you listen to a so-called dog trainer who says the same stuff?

I get that the internet is a confusing place! There are so many opinions declared to be gospel truth. You have to have your b******t glasses on when you read much of it!

What else is outdated claptrap?

I have actually heard people say “Yes, this new approach must be right, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater …” hoping against hope that the things they have been inflicting on their dog will still magically work, despite being disproven and discredited.

Your ancestors could be forgiven for thinking the earth is flat. They didn’t know. They made best guesses based on religious beliefs and the total absence of factual knowledge. But we know now. So anyone who says “I get that the earth is spherical, but maybe some bits of it are still flat,” would be dismissed as deluded.

We know now that our weather happens because of all the events and influences around the globe that affect it. We no longer think that a drought was caused by some sin we had committed. You would laugh at someone who said “Yes, I know about El Nino, but I still think that if we didn’t allow same-sex marriage we wouldn’t be suffering this adverse weather.”

The enormous developments in scientific data-collection have proven what to accept as truth. The science behind the modern view of dog training is just as valid.

If you say, “Yes, I can see the dog’s brain is wired this way, but I still think that if he goes through a doorway before me he is going to take over the house,” you are putting yourself alongside the flat-earth proponent and the mediaeval weather analyst above who we have just dismissed as WRONG.

Dogs do what works

It’s fortunate for us that dogs haven’t read all these crazy theories. Dogs do what works. Dogs have always done what works and they will continue to do so. Their brains are the same as they ever were. 

And like all beings, their life is focussed on gaining pleasure and avoiding pain. If you think any of the weird practices promulgated by those flat-earthers and tv personalities who think they are dog trainers work - then maybe your dog is cleverer than you and has worked out how to please you by complying with your demands, however barmy they may seem to him.

Chickens were used in the last war to spot downed airmen in tiny orange life-rafts - possibly miles below the spotter plane. The chickens were very effective, with their amazing eyesight, at picking a dot of orange out of the churning waves.

Did they do this because they wanted to help the war effort? Did they do it because they disliked Hitler and all he stood for? Did they do it because they didn’t like the colour orange? Of course not! They did it because they had learned that if they pecked at a tiny orange dot they would be given some grain. The chickens were working on the simple system of

Reward what you like and that action is more likely to be repeated

They didn’t need to be threatened, prodded with metal spikes, or given electric shocks if they made a mistake. They just got rewarded when they did the required action. Simple!

So if someone tells you that your dog lying on the sofa is trying to take over your home - rather than that it is just a comfortable place with a good vantage point; or that your dog preceding you down the stairs is going to lead to mayhem and bloodshed - rather than that it’s just safer to let the dog whizz downstairs without tripping you up; or even that feeding your dog before you eat will lead to him exceeding his rank - rather than you simply getting the chores done before you settle down for the evening; then treat these statements with the contempt they deserve.

NOTE: if your dog is guarding the sofa from you, pushing past you on the stairs without consideration, or begging while you eat, these are training issues and can be resolved by simple training. 

Note that the same people who come out with this outdated stuff will often want you to use vicious devices of torture on your dog. Have nothing to do with anyone who suggests a spike/prong collar, or any electronic gadgets which will "instantly change your dog". 

Dogs are not people

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It can be beguiling to ascribe complex motives to your dog when he does something. Because we tend to ascribe human responses to dogs. But dogs are not humans! They are a different species and they don’t have all the hang-ups that we have when it comes to responding to situations.

“Why did she look at me like that? What is she trying to gain? What does she expect me to do? Does she not like me? Is she jealous of me? ….” we may say in our convoluted thought processes of whywhywhy. Your dog is so much simpler: “She looked at me. I looked back. End of story.”


“My mind is made up: don’t confuse me with the facts”

We all know intransigent people who will swear that black is white rather than accept they may be mistaken and should have a re-think. They may be repeating the old wives’ tales that have been fed to them all their lives.

But we don’t need to do that! We have plenty of access to well-researched material that shows us how to treat our dogs - with kindness, understanding (understanding of canine thoughts and fears, that is, not thinking that they are small people in fur coats), and effectiveness.

Apart from all the scientifically-proven reasons why this approach works, it makes us feel good too! No-one likes to be a martinet or a sergeant-major when dealing with their family (and if they do, then they have some serious problems) and it’s so much easier to deal with your dog in the same courteous and straightforward way. 

Ensure that you look at what you’ve been doing with your dog, and excise anything that comes under the heading of “rank reduction”, “pack leadership”, “dominance”. Enjoy the new way of getting what you want from your companion. Ask him to do things, don't tell him.

And don’t worry about “the baby being thrown out with the bathwater” - there never was a baby in that particular tub in the first place!

For simple steps to change some of your dog’s more challenging behaviour, get our free 8-lesson email course - all using force-free solutions.

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Pack Theory, Dominance, Rank Reduction - outdated nonsense

Less control but more understanding saved this rescue dog

  • You couldn’t find a nicer pair of people. A smashing young couple whose lives were dedicated to helping others. So wouldn’t you think they’d be able to manage a new dog in their household?

Sadly, no! Well-intentioned as they were, they had a fear of the dog doing something bad, and this gave them the wrong approach. 

Jimbob was a rescue dog. He’d had a bad start in life, lived with someone who was harsh with him, and he’d developed lots of strategies for survival. When he arrived with his new owners, he simply carried on doing the things he’d learned. And they had no idea how to deal with this.

His repertoire included:

  • Chewing everything

  • Escapology

  • Inability to relax

  • Destruction (his crate, his bed, furniture …)

  • Refusing to relinquish prize articles he’d found

  • Growling, teeth-baring, snapping

Defiant and Stubborn?

Jimbob’s owners had unwittingly managed to escalate the situation by challenging him over all of this. They misread his survival strategies as defiance, his refusal to comply as stubbornness. Fortunately when they realised they needed help they scrapped the coercive trainer they’d been going to and chose a force-free trainer, viz me.

So we started to work with Jimbob instead of against him.

His owners worked hard and made speedy progress. They were surprised not only at how willing Jimbob was to learn, but how easy it became to divert him from one of his annoying habits into one of the new games which they were teaching him. 

After only a few sessions (and much dedicated homework from his family) Jimbob was happy to go into his crate and find the things given to him to chew there. He was free to rip up his own blankets if he wished and not a word would be said.

He no longer growled or bared his teeth, because his owners now knew how to get what they wanted without threatening him. 

  • They started playing new games with him that engaged his breed-specific instinctive drives (hunting and sniffing, mainly)

  • They taught him tricks

  • They interacted with him in a relaxed way

  • They stopped trying to control this wayward creature and instead rejoiced in giving him more freedom

  • And they ended the day with a happy, sleepy dog!

By the time their course was over, Jimbob could sleep in his crate while they worked at their desks, and was happy to rest there quietly when they were out.


Before: “He steals food all the time. Destroys cushions, blankets, curtains, parquet flooring - happens daily. Growling, snarling.”


After: “Thank you so much for all your help with Jimbob; he is certainly much less boisterous and we feel a lot happier and more confident in relating to him and encouraging him in his positive behaviours. It is actually easier than I thought to ask Jimbob to do something, rather than just telling him (or telling him off) all the time.”


While I was able to give this couple lots of techniques to change Jimbob’s ways, it was the change in their attitude to their new pet that formed the basis of their success. 


Find some of the strategies we used in the detailed lessons in this free e-course:


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