D is for Dominance

I’m so encouraged that Bark and Lunge has received the following endorsement:

Bark and Lunge is worth reading slowly for the details and for the joy of it. The book recognizes the inappropriate use of simple dominance theory, which is so common and so wrong for dogs. Many dog owners will recognize some of the questions they have, and now, will have some answers.
— Professor Alan M. Beck, Director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

Oh no! Mia's on my pillow! She's trying to dominate me!

Oh no! Mia’s on my pillow! She’s trying to dominate me!

It’s almost absurd that I had to learn about Dominance Theory the hard way.

At least as far back as 2001, Dr. Ian Dunbar wrote in Before and After Getting Your Puppy:

If you physically force and dominate your puppy, he won’t respect you. He may heed your commands — grudgingly and fearfully — but he certainly won’t respect you. More likely, your dog will grow to resent you. …

Push-pull, leash-jerk, grab-and-shake, alpha rollover, and domination techniques are now considered ineffective, besides being adversarial and unpleasant. These out-of-date methods are now, thank goodness, by and large a thing of the past.

Dunbar, by the way, is a veterinarian and has a PhD in animal behavior. Cesar Millan, despite being the founder of something he called the Dog Psychology Center, does not have a degree in psychology. So forgive me if I refuse to accept this diagnosis on his website:

Dog aggression stems from the dog’s frustration and dominance. The dog’s frustration comes from a lack of dog exercise, and the dog’s dominance comes from a lack of calm-assertive leadership.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. (The aggression/dominance connection, anyway. I do agree that frustration often can be alleviated by increased exercise.)

Victoria Stilwell, another dog walker turned trainer turned television personality, advocates for science-based dog training. In her book Train Your Dog Positively, she writes:

Unfortunately for dogs, a dominance-related misdiagnosis of their behavior problems usually leads to the worst-case scenario: traditionally prescribed behavior-modification techniques usually include punishment, intimidation, fear — precisely the opposite of what dogs really need to overcome most behavioral issues.

This is why so many trainers and behaviorists take issue with the Dominance Theory. It prescribes owner dominance as the treatment for dog aggression because it misdiagnoses the cause as the dog’s desire to dominate the human. In truth, most dog aggression is caused by fear. When you treat a dog’s fear by trying to dominate the dog, the prognosis is more fear. More aggression.

D is for Dominance. Don’t Do it.


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The Next Big Thing

Well, this is interesting timing. My friend Cami Ostman tagged me in the following author meme. I just created a page for my memoir, Bark and Lunge, and wondered if anyone would notice the new link over there to the left. Is it premature to publicize a not-yet-published work? Too late now.

What is the working title and genre of your book?

Bark and Lunge: The Isis Story

Where did the idea for the book come from?

My dog Isis died suddenly at only four years old. I was taking a fiction class at the time, and I don’t think she knows this, but Cami had guest taught the night before Isis died. At the time, the thought of writing a memoir hadn’t crossed my mind. The next day, I realized I was meant to write the story of Isis’s life.

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie version of the book?

Claire Danes as me. Matt Damon as Rob. Casting Isis will be the challenge.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Bark and Lunge is a love story between a woman and a beautiful, brilliant, and aggressive German shepherd.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency or publisher?

We’ll see.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

One year.

What other works compare to your book?

I call it Marley and Me meets Merle’s Door for the generation who raised their dogs under the influence of the Dog Whisperer. It also compares to Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou by Steve DunoA Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz, and Part Wild: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs by Ceiridwen Terrill.

What or who inspired you to write this book?

Isis, obviously. Also my teacher Laura Kalpakian and fellow memoirists Tele Aadsen, Pam Helberg, and Jolene Hanson. And my mom.

What else about your book might pique interest?

There are a lot of dog memoirs out there, but I haven’t read any that take as careful a look at the roots of dog behavior. Bark and Lunge explores why a dog might behave aggressively. During this tragic love story between me and my dog, I experiment with an array of dog training methods until I arrive at the one that worked for us: positive reinforcement.

smiley bird

Tagged Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Laurie Frankel

Andi Brown

Katie Woodzick

Kelsye Nelson