SCHUTZHUND - Schutzhund Training


Understanding Canine Behavior


With permission from the authors I put these here. Please respect their rights and do not copy without permission. I find this well versed and valuable information.

ATTENTION!! Persons wanting to use these techniques should really attend the seminars where they are being demonstrated. The subtleties and nuances should be seen first hand by those that have perfected their use.

 "The case against the alpha wolf theory".  insert article here.  In my business, The Maryland Center for Canine Behavior, my primary work is rehabilitating dogs with serious behavioral problem. About 70% of these dogs have some type of aggression problem, about evenly split between animal aggression and human oriented aggression. Some, of course, display both. I work with many clients who have multiple dog households and have aggression problems within the dogs in the household also. So where do the Monks of New Skeete figure into this. In their books they advocate a very clear "alpha wolf" approach to dealing with dogs, particularly in raising puppies. The reason I single them out is not that they are the only ones advocating such an approach, on the contrary most books do, whether explicitly or not, but because of the combination of the success of their books (which has generated a large number of people who cite them as their guide or reason for using the alpha methods they employ) and the fact that because they are monks people seem to perceive a gentleness in their advice regardless of how aggressive the act they recommend is. So what's wrong with the "alpha wolf" theory and why do I get work because of it. This will be the short version, although it may not seem like it:  The theory goes that domestic dogs evolved from wolves (largely true, although it is not impossible that dogs such as coyotes and African wild dogs may also be involved) and that wolves maintain order in their pack by the use of aggression and submission and that the use of aggression (often not referred to as such but more often with such terms as dominance, assertiveness or posturing, all of which tend to cloud the underlining threat of violence involved in the alpha behavior) is the primary teaching tool utilized by the mother (and other "leaders" in the pack). Furthermore that this aggression develops a hierarchy within the pack that produces stability and calmness. Therefore, since this (dom/sub posturing) is perceived as the normal and primary learning mode of the dogs and since the pack is the ideal example of coexistence the logical conclusion would be that we should model the behavior of the mother and other dominant members of the pack in raising and training our pups/dogs. The problems with this analysis are several. 1) The pack is not harmonious and stable, certainly not if looked at over the lifetime of a domestic dog (7-15yrs). There is constant aggressive posturing going on within the pack, especially during times of stress such as eating, breeding, adolescents maturing and members returning from a hunt. Most of the time this posturing doesn't result in actual violence but that is only because the submissive member takes the treat of the dominant member seriously due to previous encounters which did become violent and therefore the sub member shows submissive behavior and backs down. 2) The prime evolutionary force on dog's behavior is not the pack, it is predation. The pack is a behavioral adaptation to either being a predator in an environment where the most available prey is very large (as in the case of northern wolves) or being in an environment with other large predators to compete against and against which one must defend oneself (as in the case of African wild dogs). 3) Hierarchies are not linear or absolute. Over the life a dog it typically moves up the ranks of the hierarchy to some degree but also may be suddenly pushed way down the order or even pushed out, as in the case of a very strong young male who is not yet able to take over the pack. Hierarchies within the pack are more web like with some dogs being more dominant in one kind of situation than another. While there may be one dog in a pack which is clearly alpha in all situations (this is rarely true) it is more common that some dogs are more dominant in one situation than another, such as over food or breeding vs. hunting. 4) That somehow one human becoming alpha over a dog places all humans (at least within the pack) as alpha to the dog. 5) That dogs somehow perceive a clear and distinct difference between themselves and the humans they live with which allows humans to use aggression to control or "teach" the dog but which will prevent the dog from responding to the humans with aggression and that the only reason the dog would show aggression toward a human pack member is because we have not made it sufficiently clear that we are dominant. 6) That somehow dominance, and a respect for it, figures into every behavioral path a dog chooses. A clear contraindicating of this would be destructive behavior caused by separation anxiety. This is not a revolt against the hierarchy, it is an anxiety response to being left without a pack, a situation which would be clearly life threatening to a wild dog. So, put all these together and you have people trying to control dogs with dominance and the threat of aggression. For all the above reasons and many more this often leads to a worsening of a situation rather than an improvement. When the owner looks further into the offered solutions to the behavior they often come across what are just more intense uses of the same tools and the problems become worse and more ingrained. The problems can get worse regardless of whether the dog responds with submission or aggression. So, as people follow the advise which is based on the alpha wolf theory and their problems worsen their need for my services and there evaluation of the potential value of them increased. The vast majority of the dogs I work with have been through one or several other programs, often including in home training or boarding programs. It is only because I take a different view of dog behavior and how to modify it that I can help dogs which were not helped by these other programs. It would also be worth mentioning that many of the dogs I work with have a been through what I call "new age" programs which essentially try to distract the dog out of it's negative behaviors and while these programs typically don't make the problems worse they don't solve them either. Anyway, that's why I like (not) the Monks and the many other sources out there advocating the alpha wolf theory. Hope this wasn't too long. Tried to be brief. Mark McCabe permission received 9/18/00

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