Pack leader or companion

Pack leader or companion? Discover the scientific view on dog training methods

This blog handles a controversial subject. I am presenting what science has found over the years and what science supports, comparing the pack leader mentality against being your dog’s companion.

Please read the FULL blog before you start commenting.

The dog world is split into two. Those who believe that the dog should be a companion who is treated as a family member against those who believe that you should be the pack leader and use dominance against your dog.

But let us rewind for a second and look at how this historical split happened.

https://youtu.be/-UbmERCphD8

The Norwegian chickens

In the beginning of the 1900 a Norwegian psychologist was studying a group of chickens (I know, why am I talking about chickens when this is a dog blog, but hear me out). This Psychologist was no ordinary psychologist as his dissertation ended up changing the way we view our relation to animals.

After studying his chickens, he found that within the group there was a specific pecking order – a rank if you will. One hen was in the top of the order and another was at the bottom. Each hen had her place in the pecking order, and should someone try to move up in rank it would result in a fight.

This notion quickly spread among other animal scientists and science started using rank to explain the animal to animal relation and group dynamics.

Of course, this was soon also applied to the wolf. Scientists who studied the wolf observed that there was a specific rank among its members in a pack. The alpha being the top wolf and the omega being the wolf lowest in the hierarchy. As many believe that the dog is a descendant of the wolf this believe quickly spread to the dog world and many behaviors was described as dominant or submissive when studied by scientists.

Pack leader and the dominance theory

This Dominance theory as it was named also moved to clarify the relation between dogs and humans. Many dog owners and trainers started to believe that in order to have a functioning relation with their dog they needed to become the pack leader and make sure that their dog didn’t take over the home (sadly, many still believe this to be true!!!). They believe(d) that a dog’s sole purpose is to establish themselves as the leader of the family, and that if you do not keep them in check (yes, with force) they will start to take over.

Have you heard of the alpha-roll? It was believed (again, some still do this!) that when you got your little puppy home, you should grab it by the neck and press it firmly to the ground. That way the puppy would immediately know who the pack leader of the home was, and you would never have to train your dog, they would simply do as you said…Always!

Questioning the pack leader

Now, if you are a smart cookie, and I am sure you are. You will already have questioned how you can move a term used to explain the relation between animals of the same species, to the relation between two different species. Already there we should back up and question this Dominance theory – Can you really apply this theory to the relation between two different species? Does the dog really want to become the pack leader?

I mean a lot of problem dog behaviors can be explained by this theory right? Does your dog pull on the leash or growl at you when you get too close to where he/she eats then it is probably because you haven’t established a proper rank and the dog is trying to become your leader…..OR…

Debunking the Dominance theory and pack leader mentality

Here is where the Dominance theory falls apart (YEAH, finally!). The newest science is consistent in today believing that the Dominance theory is not only wrong it is also highly dangerous to use. The Dominance theory can directly harm your relation to your dog and cause more behavioral problems in your dog then if you use positive rewarding training (Read more about the dog-human bond here). AND science has also found that the whole idea about ranks among animals of the same species is soooo much more complicated than what our friend the Norwegian psychologist found (I mean, he is more than a 100 years now😉).

Let us also remember that although dogs and wolves share a common ancestor, they have gone two different ways during their evolution. Dogs have gone through a domestication process where their brains have actually altered in order for them to adapt to their life with humans. I mean just look at their amazing way of communicating with us – they literally know how to ask for our help not to mention how remarkable they are at reading us and our body language (Read more about dog domestication here).

Furthermore, the whole dominance theory has been debunked on wolves as well, even by the scientist who first claimed it (I know right…read more about that here).

AND look at street dogs (I know it is a sad sight). They do not form hierarchies where one is the pack leader and leads the hunt. They form small groups with no leader or apparent rank. They use their smarts to find food in the trash or use puppy eyes to get humans to feed them. If that is not debunking this dominance theory, I don’t know what is!

Now whether dogs who live in groups, like in a shelter, form a hierarchy is still debated among scientists. Some say that there are hints of a rank system while others say that the relation between individuals change depending on the situation.

Us that has a multiple dog household also see that our dogs have established some kind of…let us call it agreement. An example from our home is that Belga knows to keep her distance when Chester is eating, but at the same time she will gladly jump into a crazy tug-a-war game with him. This is not a rank, it is just co-existing – Chester is saying I like to eat alone and undisturbed but he does not think he is the pack leader and will gladly let Belga “take the lead” in other situations.

The human pack leader

What science can agree on is that to move this whole hierarchy Dominance theory idea on to the relation between humans and dogs is totally bunkers (my words not theirs 😉). Instead we should focus on what is really important, and that is how to create the best relation and collaboration with our dogs (Read more about creating happy associations here).

Using dominant training with force and physical gestures (to put it nicely) and thinking of yourself as a pack leader will only destroy your relation with your dog – Do an alpha roll, as we talked about in the beginning, and that is a sure way to lose your dog’s trust.

Physical punishment will not help either you or your dog, if anything it will only create a bad relation between the two of you and a more dangerous dog.

Remember, your dog chooses not to bite you, but that does not mean that they can’t!

Here is what a study from the university of Bristol found.

Dogs that were physically punished showed an increase in behaviors such as increased barking in general, higher aggression levels when meeting other dogs and strangers. Furthermore, they had a higher tendency to display fear and separation anxiety. All in all, they had all the problems you don’t want your dog to have.

Now, this is not to say that you are treating your dog in a wrong way if they have one of these problems. Problem behaviors can yes stem from the use of wrong training, but it can also be due to that dogs’ personality. Some dogs are more nervous than others and some dogs simply don’t like other dogs.

Just like us humans, dogs have different personalities and it is up to us as their humans to give them support, love and care and try our very best to learn to understand them and teach them gently what we want them to do (also read the blog about the relation between dogs and humans) just as you would with a child.

Conclusion

I know, this was a long one right!

Your dog is not trying to take over your home or rule over you as a mighty king. They are NOT trying to dominate you or be the pack leader. In your dog’s mind there is no such thing as rank between you!

It is simple – treat your dog well, reward them when they do something you like and they will do their very best to follow and please you.

If you need help getting on the right training track with your dog, then contact me today and book a consultation.

understand

Do dogs truly understand what we are saying?

Does your dog understand what you are saying?

Do you talk to your dog? Tell them about your day and how you are, ask them questions? I certainly do, but how much does our dogs really understand and does it matter how we speak to them?

In a study from 2016 it was found that dogs can process both what we say and how we say it. Through fMRI scans the study found that different parts of a dog’s brain were activated depending on what was said but also how the words were said – the intonation of the word. The dogs were presented with familiar praises and neutral words all said in either a neutral tone or a praising tone. When the dogs heard a familiar praise, the left hemisphere was activated whereas intonations where processed in auditory sections of the right hemisphere. This means that dogs can distinguish what we say from how we say it.

Watch video here about the study:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9QQxa6eLPc&feature=youtu.be

Does your dog understand or have they just learned?

But does your dog understand what you are saying or have they simply learned to understand words used often and that provides a positive feedback?

That proves to be a little bit more tricky. We all know Chaser the border collie who learned over a 1000 words for different items. She definitely understood the difference between the words for each toy, she even understood what she had to do with the toy.

Does your dog understand you

But does that mean that our dogs understand everything we say? Maybe, maybe not. What we need to keep in mind is that dogs like Chaser has had extensive training over a profound period of time.

I think what we can say is that our dogs have learned to understand the everyday words that we say often and that brings them something good, like a treat or a pet. They know the phrase “Let’s go for a walk” or “Do you want food?”, because they have learned the meaning behind those words.

Whether or not they understand everything you say to them or whether they have the same understanding of a concept as us, are more difficult questions.

As we have also learned, the beginning of a word is the most significant to a dog and the one they respond to. This is why it is important to keep your cues for your dog short and precise. You might say the phrase “let us go for a walk” but all your dog picks up is the word ‘walk’ cause that is what they have learned to associate with going outside for a walk (more about that here).

The intonation of words matters

What is also interesting in the study above is that they found that dogs can differentiate between the intonation of our words. This means that they can differentiate between what is being said and which tone it is said in. This knowledge should make us even more aware on which tone we use with our dogs. Yelling or scolding our dogs will have a negative effect on our relation. We want our dogs to link our voice as something positive so they will always come to us.

Should I keep speaking to my dog?

YES! Of course we should keep speaking to our dogs!

The more we speak the more words our dogs will learn to associate with different things and the better they will understand us. Speaking to our dogs also helps us humans feel less lonely and it increases our bond in general with our dogs (Read more about the human-dog bond here)

So keep speaking to your dog and think about your intonation when you speak to your dog, it is no secret that they love that high pitched baby voice so if you want to really praise them remember to use a light happy voice.

Finally, as written above, our dogs puts the most significance on the first part of the word so try this little exercise at home:

Instead of saying “sit“, try to say “si” and see if your dog responds.

Try not to use any body language but just see how your dog reacts and if they sit or not.

Let me know in the comments how it goes.

Covid-19 and dogs

Can my dog suffer from Covid-19?

Covid-19 has since early March been classified as a worldwide pandemic. Different countries have taken different restrictive measures and no matter where you are in the world your life have been affected in one way or the other. Many people are isolated in their homes, either by choice or through governmental restrictions.

However, it is not only themselves they are worried about, it is also their pets. Through news and social media channels pets have been seen wearing protective masks and people have started pouring sanitizer on their dogs’ paws before letting them back into their house.

But can dogs really get Covid-19?

https://youtu.be/WTNV9W0ymBE

Dogs can be infected with certain types of corona viruses, such as the canine respiratory corona virus. However, despite having found some (weakly) positive cases of dogs with Covid-19 in China, it seems that dogs do not get any symptoms from this specific branch, and the dogs that has been found infected has been infected through humans.  

Furthermore, the cases of dogs being infected with Covid-19 has been found to be very rare, 17 dogs where tested in Hong Kong and only 2 tested positive. This also indicates that dogs most likely are not able to spread Covid-19. This is further supported by WHO stating: “There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.”  

It is believed that the strand Covid-19 first came from an animal source but that the spread goes from human to human. However, the advice is that if you have tested positive for Covid-19 it is best to leave the care of your pet to someone else but that humans in your household are in much greater risk to contract the virus then your pets are.

Is it OK to pet my dog?

You should not be afraid to pet your dog.

Science have found that the virus survives best on smooth surfaces whereas fur being a more porous surface tends to trap and absorb pathogens making the contamination risk very small through touch.

Common practice are however always to be advised. Just like you always should, it is advised to wash your hands after petting a dog and before eating.

Petting your dog during these lock down days can have a tremendous impact on your psychological well being as pets have been shown over and over to be a great source of comfort during crisis, and that they will keep you calm. If you feel anxious or stressed you should definitely go pet your dog and let them calm you down.

Is it OK to walk my dog?

YES! It is OK to walk your dog if you feel healthy. In fact, getting some exercise and fresh air is strongly advisable in order to keep both you and your dog sane and healthy. Follow your local restrictions and of course respect social distancing and you should be fine. Social distancing also goes for your dog, so they will have to wait with seeing their friends, both fur and human, for a little while but they don’t need to wear a mask when you are out.

When you get back home it is advised to wash your hands thoroughly, but bathing your dogs’ paws in sanitizer can severely damage them and is highly unadvisable. What you can do, and what you always should do, is wipe your dog’s paws off with a towel before they enter, here is how you can teach your dog to have their paws cleaned:

https://lifewithadog.org/5-steps-to-clean-dog-paws/

Should your local restrictions keep you from keeping up with your dog’s daily walking routine, it is important to keep your dog engaged and entertained otherwise to tire them out and give them that daily mental stimuli that they need. If you want inspiration on how to do that go here:

In summary:

  • Yes you can walk and pet your dog if you are healthy. If you are sick refrain from petting and walking your dog.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after every outing and before you eat.
  • You do not need to put a mask on your dog or wash their paws with sanitizer but clean their paws with a towel before entering.

Stay safe and healthy <3

SOURCES:

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/20/health/pets-dogs-cats-coronavirus-wellness/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fanimals.html

Lifestyle disease in dogs

Can my dog suffer from a lifestyle disease?

Lifestyle diseases are getting more and more common in dogs. In this blog we go through why there is such a rise in lifestyle diseases in dogs and what you can do to keep your dog healthy throughout his/her entire life.

The dog was domesticated 15.000-32.000 years ago. With domestication we have seen many behavioral changes as our dogs adapt to our way of living. It started with us humans going from migrants to settlers, then we started farming the lands and then cities began to rise all over the world.

Our dogs have followed us faithfully from the very beginning of their domestication, where a wolf had her pups in a settlement and the pups where taken in by a human.

In previous blog posts I have talked about how the domestication have affected our dogs’ emotional development (Emotions in dogs) and how the relation between humans and dogs have evolved (The relation between human and dog – how strong is it really?), but how has the domestication affected their physical needs? And how do their physical needs today affect their behavior?

Lifestyle disease in dogs
A lifestyle disease can be due to your dog not getting the right nutrition.

Life in the fast lane increase the risk of lifestyle disease

Lifestyle diseases in humans has been a problem ever since we started to urbanize our lives. Humans exercise less and the range of fast food that is continuously popping up for our convenience, leads to less and less home cooked wholesome meals. Our lives are stressed, and grabbing something to go on the way to and from work or our many activities, is often the easiest fix to silent our hunger.

This stressful lifestyle we are carrying are not only affecting us negatively in the range of different lifestyle diseases, it is also affecting our dogs.

Dogs used to roam around on the farm, following the farmer as he went about his business. Sometimes, getting lucky and snatching a bone from the recent slaughter of a cow. Nowadays, our dogs are left at home for several hours each day. We pour their kibble in a bowl for them once or twice a day and take them on the mandatory walk around the blog. The rest of the time is spent inside four walls, probably snoozing on the couch. It is not surprising that next time you take your dog to his/her annual vet check he/she has gained 5 kilos and your vet gives you disapproving looks.

It is estimated that one in three dogs suffers from obesity, and with obesity, just like in us humans, we can say hello to diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, breathing problems, skin problems and heart disease, just to mention some.

While humans often develop type 2 diabetes due to their unhealthy diet, dogs often develop type 1 diabetes, which demands that they get insulin. The arthritis aches in their bones due to carrying around so much weight for an extensive amount of time, while the extra weight has also caused pressure on their lungs making it hard to breathe properly, also affecting the heart as it struggles with the extra kilos surrounding it. Not to mention the itchy scaly skin that just makes life very uncomfortable. It is a grim picture for sure, but sadly the news that our dogs are overweight are surprising to many.

With love comes food, right?

We feel bad for leaving our dogs for so long so we give them that little extra to nipple on, so they will know that we love them. We want to walk them more, but we just haven’t gotten around to it and taking the normal route around the blog keeps us from spending too much energy.

The diseases will automatically affect our dog’s behavior. Pain can alter a dog’s behavior to the unrecognizable and your once so sweet pooch can turn into an aggressive, angry terror. Obesity can limit your dog’s mobility to a point where he/she won’t even bother fetching the ball you just threw as the effort is simply too much. You might think they are just lazy or don’t like the ball, but maybe it is because they simply don’t have the energy to play as their heart is already working overtime to keep the regular body functions going.

How to minimize the risk of a lifestyle disease

Here is the silver lining.

By exercising your dog more you not only help your dog, you also help yourself. Studies have shown that dog owners who walk their dogs daily for at least 30 minutes are less likely to develop heart diseases and diabetes. By walking your dog, you lower your blood pressure and are less likely to develop depression and then it of course keeps those extra kilos around your tummy at bay.

Dogs need a healthy balanced diet, lots of exercise and enrichment to keep both their body and mind healthy. If your dog is suffering from overweight have a chat with your vet to learn about the best kibble to feed and how much exercise they estimate your dog needs on a daily basis. Then make a schedule for your dog to make sure you comply with the recommendations both in regard to their food and their daily exercise. Remember no feeding them table scraps. Instead use the many enrichment ideas here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k6j-eStlk0&list=PLKSDzqanrS38ahzYGg79Hyz5VeTCTmFRU)

to come up with new ways to enrich your dog’s mind while giving them that little extra exercise they get from working for their food.

Have fun and keep up the exercise!

Myth

10 Dog myths – true or false?

The dog world is filled with myths. From everything about a dog’s intelligence to their tail wags.

In this blog we will go through 10 myths in the dog world with the help of the brilliant book ‘Den missförstådda hunden’ by Per Jensen (professor in Ethology at Linköping University). The book is sadly only found in Swedish, but if you are Swedish I would strongly recommend you to get this book (https://www.bokus.com/bok/9789127151871/den-missforstadda-hunden/). The book is based on scientific research in dogs and brings up the many myths found in the dog world.

Furthermore, we did a survey on our Instagram story to see how many of these myths are still believed and got some very interesting results.

Let’s dive into it!

NB! If you want a deeper explanation to why some of these myths are true or false, simply click the link and you will be taken to a new blog where I dive deeper into the reasons behind.  

10 Dog myths - true or false? 1

https://youtu.be/D9EBvHxyUlc

The Myths

  • Some breeds are more intelligent than othersFALSE

(Instagram voted YES 85% vs NO 15%)

I’m sorry to say that that myth is FALSE. We know from humans that intelligence is not only one thing. In fact there seems to be many different types of intelligence in humans so how can we be the judge of whether a dog is intelligent or not?

The lists we find on the internet is based on statements from different dog trainers but has no scientific basis and mainly says something about how obedient a dog is, not how intelligent it is.

We have yet to map and study the different types of intelligence in humans, and science are still pondering how to study intelligence in dogs and if it is even possible!

Breeds are bred for different things. A border collie might show more obedience then a mastiff but that does not make it more intelligent, cause the mastiff might follow a trail better then a border collie. Dogs are smart in different things but to say that a certain breed is more intelligent then another is wrong.

  • Fur color affect a dogs behaviorTRUE

(Instagram voted YES 29% vs NO 71%)

The myth is TRUE, the fur color can say something about a dogs’ behavior. Science has found that behavior and temper in an animal is connected to the pigment in a dog’s fur.

Read how exactly fur color can affect a dog’s behavior here.

  • A dog prefer the person who feeds themFALSE

(Instagram voted YES 63% vs NO 37%)

No, they do not!

Many believe that a dog is an opportunist who is out to manipulate its owner into always getting food, but science has shown that the relation is so much more than that. Dogs attach themselves to their humans as a child would to their parents. The relation is about trust and love, not who they can manipulate into getting them food.

Read more about the relation between human and dog here

  • You should comfort your scared dogTRUE

(Instagram voted YES 88% vs NO 12%)

Don’t pity the dog when it is in pain or scared, that will only make it worse.

We have all heard it at one point or another. Luckily science has proven that you should do the complete opposite – comfort your dog!

Dogs are masters at picking up emotions, and it has been shown that if the owner feels stressed, the dog will feel the exact same way. So if you stay calm and comforting when your dog is scared the likelihood of your dog feeling those emotions as well is very strong so go ahead and comfort your dog when they are upset – it will only make your bond stronger.

Read more about emotions in dogs here.

  • A dog needs a dominant leader – FALSE

(Instagram voted YES 56% vs NO 44%)

I personally believe that this is one of the hardest myths to kill!

Alas, NO a dog does not need a dominant leader. Your dog has no evil plans of taking over and becoming the leader. All they want is to be your friend and make you happy. Science have shown that by using positive reward based methods when being with your dog makes the dog learn faster and prevents many MANY problem behaviors.

Read more here about why you should use positive reinforcement training.

  • Dogs are colorblind – FALSE

(Instagram voted YES 57% vs NO 43%)

No dogs are not colorblind. They do not see as many colors as us because they are missing a cone making them dichromatic instead of trichromatic as us humans. Humans see colors in the range of green, blue and red, whereas dogs only see colors in the green and blue spectrum. So they don’t see red or orange, as that is more of a grey nuance but green and blue they sure do see.

Read more her about dog vision

  • Should you look your dog in the eyes – TRUE

(Instagram voted YES 83% vs NO 17%)

The myth goes: Avoid eye contact with your dog as it can make them insecure and aggressive.

Luckily, as we can see from the Instagram vote many people do believe that you should look your dog in the eyes. And YES you should! Science have shown that by looking into your dog’s eyes you both get an Oxytocin boost which makes you happier and strengthens the bond between you, so go stare into those puppy eyes.

Read more about the effect of Oxytocin here.

  • A dog can plan ahead – TRUE

(Instagram voted YES 43% vs NO 57%)

Yes they can! Science has yet to figure out for how long a dog can plan ahead but different experiments have shown that a dog can plan ahead at least for a couple of hours.

  • A tail wag always mean a dog is happy – FALSE

(Instagram voted YES 38% vs NO 62%)

No, a tail wag does not always mean a dog is happy! The myth is false. Tail wags can mean so many different things and a tail wag is not always positive.

Read more about the many meanings of tailwags here

  • It was humans who domesticated the wolf – BONUS FACT!

Or was it? According to science wolves had lived side by side to humans for thousands of years before the domestication started. Both wolves and humans benefited from this arrangement and slowly evolved to become more and more compatible, a so-called mutualistic symbiosis. As humans evolved so did the wolf and it slowly became the dog we know today.

Read more about the dogs domestication here.

10 Dog myths - true or false? 2