Dogs Aren't Competing With Us

Dogs Aren't Competing With Us

When it comes to our relationships with our dogs, the big mistake is assuming that for dogs everything is about competition. In the "dominance model", who is ahead on walks is somehow related to social status.

Stop and think for a moment. Being in front of you on a walk has nothing to do with competition. Why does your dog get ahead of you on a walk?

First, he can likely move faster than you. Second, he is motivated to get to the next bush to sniff and pee on, while you may just have a leisurely stroll in mind. Third, if your dog was trying to "be dominant" by being ahead, what would he do if you caught up and tried to pass him? The "dominance model" would predict he'd growl at you and warn you to stay back behind him. Have you EVER seen a dog do that? Can you even imagine a dog that would? Coral would be ecstatic if I would catch up with her, so we could move faster! I'm betting your dog feels the same way.

The same sort of logic and alternative explanations exist for every situation in the "rules" list above.

  • Your dog should never go through doors before you - It's not a competition, your dog is just more motivated and capable of moving faster.
  • Never feed your dog before the family eats - This stems from the mistaken idea that the "alpha'' eats first. Not only is that incorrect, but it's also incorrectly assuming a direct competition exists between you and your dog for food. When your dog eats at 5pm and your family eats at 7pm, there is no direct competition.
  • Do not allow your dog on the bed or the furniture - Social animals like dogs and wolves often sleep curled up together. This actually contributes to group cohesiveness and has nothing to do with social status.
  • Don't play "tug of war" with your dog - Rather than a competition or a war, tug is a game in which both participants must cooperate in order for the game to continue. Watch the dog that yanks the toy out of another's mouth. Instead of trying to possess it, he'll offer it back to his play partner so the game can continue.
  • Never respond to your dog's attempts to initiate play, to ask for attention or to be petted – there is just simply no basis for this rule. Dogs and wolves have complex social behaviors designed for communication. The real task is to teach your dog how to ask for what he wants. Barking in your face may not be the answer, but sitting quietly in front of you may be just the ticket, and is something you can easily teach. Lack of control over the environment, and not having a way to get needs met is a huge source of stress and anxiety for any animal. If you were to follow this "rule" with your dog, you'd be creating a cruel environment that strips away the very affectionate and playful behaviors we love the most about our dogs.