How to Deal with Dominance Issues in Dog Training

a white and black dog sitting on a rock facing a man from a distance wearing brown pants and a blue and brown plaid shirt next to a lake with green trees surrounding

A person with dominance issues in dog training is easily identified. It’s the type of person that believes that a dog needs to learn how to submit to the “pack leader.” They might refer to themselves as being “alpha,” or ask you obnoxious questions like, “who’s alpha in your house?”

Here are some tips for how to make it through these conversations without losing your cool, and simultaneously generating a healthy, open dialogue.

“You can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”

Step 1: Listen to them

This sounds unreasonable, but our initial impulse is to attempt to correct what we perceive to be a dangerous mindset. Instead, take the time to better understand where they’re coming from by generating some easy conversation about your mutual love of dogs.

If a dog exhibits behavioral issues, a person with dominance issues will likely advise that you:

  1. Roll the dog on his side
  2. Stare hard into his eyes
  3. Grab him by the scruff
  4. Poke him with your hand or heel
  5. Use a swift correction on a slip collar, prong collar or remote electronic training collar. 

Step 2: Look for common ground or close approximations

Once you’ve listened to them you might find that there are some areas that you can agree on. Maybe the person enjoys hiking or camping with their dog, is impressed by working dogs that have been trained to a high level in scent detection or agility training or they owned a cattle dog once that loved to play fetch for hours on end. If you can relate to any of these things, chime in and start the conversation on common ground.

Step 3: Find their motivation

Learn more about what makes them so passionate about dogs. Be genuine and ask questions. What motivated them to get a dog? Why did they choose that specific breed? What activities do they enjoy most in living with a dog? These activities are usually reinforcing to both the dog and to the person, so it can become a good talking point and will facilitate step four.

Step 4: Model exemplary training

People need to see it work, to believe it.

If you are a dog trainer:

Direct them to videos that you’ve created that demonstrates the power of positive reinforcement, or call in the artillery. Direct the person to a trainer that might “speak” to their specific training motivators.

If they like working dogs:

Direct them to top notch positive reinforcement (R+) trainers that have reached high levels of training with their Malinois, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Kelpie or sight hound.

If they are invested in helping and supporting the rescue community:

Connect them to a skilled Positive Reinforcement (R+) trainer that focuses on behavior modification. If its sport work they like, know the trainers that excel in their respective arenas. 

Step 5: It’s a process

You won’t change anyone’s mindset in a single conversation, it could take years before a person is fully able to comprehend the limitless power of engaging a dog’s mind and how it compares to the pitfalls of suppressing unwanted behavior. Don’t dole out unwanted advice, or take a superior tone. We’re all living and learning and there was probably a time that you shared a similar mindset on the importance of being “pack leader.” Be respectful.

Pro Tip

If the conversation goes south and you begin to feel frustrated – bow out of the conversation gracefully. There’s no such thing as “winning an argument.”

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph.” – Dale Carnegie

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