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Ask the experts

Dogs should not be forced into submission


Some people have the notion that all dogs are trying to dominant their owners and most behavior problems are a result of the dog trying to dominate humans.

The notion is that dogs must be forced into submission. This theory of training is based on groups of dogs where there is a clear leader and the subordinate dogs surrender to the "alpha" dog.

This training theory is flawed. In groups of dogs, the lead dog never uses force to assert authority. The other dogs willingly respect the lead dog's power. A dog is never physically forced to the ground or worse yet rolled over onto its back.

While it is true that a submissive dog will easily roll over onto its back when it feels intimidated, it is not a problem if your dog does not roll over onto its back. That is a sign of a confidence.

When a dog is forced into submission, it can become fearful. This is a scary situation, being forced into an uncomfortable position. Imagine if someone twice your size came to you forced you to the ground and held you there until you submitted. Would you begin to have respect for this person or fear?

When a dog growls, it is not trying to be dominant; it is trying to communicate. Most often it is trying to tell you that it is fearful of their current situation. Forcing the dog into an uncomfortable position will only create more fear.

Changing the attitude about the situation will also change their behavior. You can change the dog's attitude by associating the scary thing with something it likes. Food, toys and games work well.

If your dog gets nervous when new people enter the house: Begin tossing your dog bits of chicken to him when people come over. He will begin to associate new people with chicken.

When a dog jumps on people, it is not trying to dominate. It is communicating that it is happy to see someone and would like to play. Pushing them back will only reinforce the jumping because the dog sees it as play. And you do not want to be too harsh when the dog jumps, because then it may become fearful of people. Reward the dog with attention when they have all four feet on the floor.

Dominance training is an outdated and flawed form of training. It also uses painful punishment and intimidation. It is not fun for the owner and it is not fun for the dog. All dogs can be trained through positive reinforcement. It is fun for both owners and dogs. When seeking out a dog trainer, find one who does not talk about dominance and submission. But one that understands the principles of learning theory and understands that punishment can have negative side effects.

Tip of the week: You might think you are punishing your dog when you say "bad dog" but your dog may be thinking, "Yeah, they talked to me!" And your dog considers that rewarding.

Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the lead trainers are graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.