Establishing Dominance

I received a call from a lady with a dog training problem a few weeks ago. Her voice was cracking and I detected a sense of urgency. She started her story by telling me her dogs were dominant over her, and if she didn’t get them under control, they would soon take over her house. She knew they were dominant, because the two trainers that had previously assisted her told her so.
As the story continued, she told me that both trainers abandoned her when she failed to comply with their prescribed treatment plan.

The first trainer, which came highly recommended, told her that she was to; NEVER let her dog walk in front of her; NEVER let the dog go through a door before her; and ALWAYS eat before your dog eats, and make sure the dog sees you eating before they eat; and under no cirumstance, EVER let your dogs sleep in the bed with you. After the second class, the trainer told her she was a “non-compliant” client and that when she decided to address the REAL problem, to call her back and she would then reconsider taking her on as a client.

As she started to address the second trainer part of the story, I politely interrupted her. I asked if she would like to discuss the problem. She immediately started telling me her shortcomings as has been explained to her by the two previous trainers. Again I interrupted. “Tell me about your dogs,” I said.

She began to tell me about her dogs. Her disposition immediately brightened. She loved talking about her little babies. They are truly the light of her life. I let her tell me about all the cute things they do, and how she has changed her life to center around them. Finally, I asked the question, “What is the problem with the little guys?” “Well,” she said, “they both pee on the floor.” I said, “Did you tell the other trainers about this problem?” She assured me that that was the first thing out of her mouth. Another critical piece of information; when she contacted the first trainer, her pups were only 10-weeks old.

Both trainers told her that peeing in the house was a sign of marking territory, which was a “textbook sign” of their attempt to establish dominance over her. Two trainers, two identical plans, and neither plan addressed the actual problem. Three weeks of training to correct something that did not exist.

I started her on a basic housetraining protocol and sent her on her way, confident that the "dominance" would miraculously disappear once the dogs were trained where-and-when to eliminate.

I heard from this lady again yesterday; both pups are going to the door when they need to potty. Neither one has had an accident in almost two weeks. And, as predicted, her dominant Yorkies haven’t taken over her home; her heart, well, that’s another matter.


I agree--finally somebody helped with the actual problem, instead of putting a label such as "dominance" on it as a means of justification. I am continually amazed by the way the word "dominance" (and alpha) are thrown around. I had a similar situation recently--I was contacted by someone saying that their dog wasn't housetrained because the owner had not proven their "alpha" status yet.

It's very disheartening to have people calling themselves "dog trainers", then putting this poor woman (and so many like her) into such a bad position. I'm glad she was persistent enough to find competent help at last!

Amy Samida
Naughty Dog Cafe

Those of us who frequent this site probably can tell similar horror stories. This sort of thing, people insisting on all kinds of silly dominance rules, was all the rage when I started working with my own dogs back in the 70s and 80s. I'd say we've come a long way, but there is always so much more to do.

I recently did a blog post celebrating how far trainers like you, Jerry, have moved things along... even called this a Golden Age of dog training. Which I really believe it is to a significant degree, and will be even more. That post is at:

Rosana Hart

Thank you Amy. One of the trainers mentioned is new to me. The other, has a long history of doing similar things.
You can lead them to water....

Best wishes,

Jerry Hope, CDBC
Author of "The Breeder's Guide to Raising Superstar Dogs"

Thank you Rosana. The Golden Ages was very appropriate considering my age! Thank you for the link I will certainly take a look.


Jerry Hope, CDBC
Author of "The Breeder's Guide to Raising Superstar Dogs"

Great article! It is sad that it will take so long for this type of mentality to be phased out of the vernacular. It is frustrating when so many clients turn up for obedience classes with the preconception that they are at a pet dog training class to learn how to become the “Alpha” in the house. All the time the young kids spend more time just playing with the dog as a member of the family, developing a better understanding than the adults. Furthermore, this is such a great article, as one of the hardest things a trainer must learn to do is listen.

Bonding is the foundation of all interaction, including training. Even more important with large, powerful very high drive animals. When my beloved Hammy died rather suddenly, I needed a companion for Isis that she couldn't break. Czech GSDs were the choice. Even though I had a lot of experience training & learned tons from Dr. Ian Dunbar & hung around the Harissons of Out Of Africa Park and had the honor to go in with Dean & play with a young hyena (Ian's Thesis), I did research on the Czech GSDs & read great amounts of Internet Sites. To my shock, the big methods espoused were Choke Collars & Shock Collars & how to "Man Handle" the animals into what you wanted them to do. Worse yet was advice to never even let the animals see the children in the family.

I have lived with & trained much more formidable animals than Czech GSDs, which are only medium sized animals to me. Bonding is the key with any mammal. The closer the bond, the better the relationship & training results. Bullying only goes so far. The problem I have with artificial devices, other than I don't like them for many reasons, is what is going to happen the second the device is off the animal.

There is no substitute for an animal who does things because he wants to from his strong bond to his human. I raised all of my animals from tiny pups with their place on the bed with me/us. When they outgrow that phase, they choose different arrangements. Bonding goes in very deep.