Authorities have confirmed the existence of yet another Werewolf in Tasmania, Australia, this weekend. This creature was found 'alpha-rolling' a very confused looking domestic dog. When asked why, the well-meaning Lycanthrope proclaimed that his pet needed to know who was boss.
True story? You'd better believe it! Many dog owners are told that they need to 'act like a wolf' in order to train their dog. But is this the whole story, or have we taken things a bit far?
Scientists have studied wolves for many years. Dog trainers and animal behaviorists have taken their data and interpreted it in the hope of discovering new ways to end behavior problems such as digging, chewing, excessive barking and aggression. Even very unwolf-like problems like pulling on the leash have a prescription from well meaning dog trainers convinced that the way to solve pet dog problems is by behaving like the alpha-wolf in a pack of wolves.
So what is wrong with that? After all, dogs are descended directly from wolves. Dogs will form packs, just like wolves. Dogs display many of the same behaviors as wolves. My German Shepherd looks like a wolf, acts like a wolf and even howls like a wolf!
But she is not a wolf.
And, more importantly, I am definitely not a wolf - and she knows it.
Dogs just don't buy it. I would guess that if I were to act like a wolf, my dogs would find it confusing and unpredictable to say the least.
So what can we take and what can we leave from the 'alpha-wolf' prescription?
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what is working for you or not. Use some common-sense. If it endangers you, your family or your dog, it's probably not a good idea. If it has no positive benefit to your relationship - ditch it. Clearly the 'alpha-roll' fails both tests. "Inhibited and submissive" does not mean "happy and obedient".
Dogs do have a requirement for stable, competent leadership. Leadership is earned through your competent actions. How you act will affect how your dog behaves. Setting a good example is one of the most basic principles of leadership.
A good leader will provide for his or her pack. Food, shelter, social contact, security. Those are responsibilities we need to take for our pets, not the other way around. Whilst our pets may serve some role in hunting for food or providing security, it should never ultimately be their responsibility.
Threatening or hurting a dog will not elevate you to a position of leadership, not willingly in any case. If your dog doesn't feel safe around you, you are not an effective leader.
Restore cloudy, yellow headlight lenses to new and save big money over replacements!
As leader you will also be responsible for meeting your dog's needs for physical and mental activity. This means exercise, play and training. Preferably in some sort of combination. Of course, all these can be used to reinforce the behavior you wish your pets to display.
Leaders set boundaries. Decide for yourself what those boundaries are, set them, and stick to them. If you don't want your dog rushing through doors ahead of you, then teach them to wait until invited through any doorway you wish this rule to apply to. Inconsistency at this point will only confuse your dog. If you really don't care who goes through doors first, don't make a half-hearted and inconsistent attempt at enforcing any sort of rule about it.
Does it matter who eats first? You decide. It's never made any difference to me. Does it matter where your dog sleeps? I like my dogs to sleep on their own beds. It gives me a more comfortable nights sleep, and 'bed-time' is part of our daily routine which never really changes, thus providing stability and security.
When it comes down to it, there is a difference between pretending to be a wolf and being a leader. Your dog won't mind if you get down on all fours and eat raw meat, he might even find it entertaining. But your dog knows that werewolves come from the land of myth and fantasy, and myth and fantasy is escapism - in this case from the very real responsibilities of being an effective leader.
Aidan Bindoff is Editor of Positive Petzine, a free resource for people training their own dogs.