Skip to content

The Evolution of Dog Training

  • Heidi

Our Favorite Books on Canine Behavior

It’s hard to miss how much things have changed in recent decades. Do you remember a time without streaming? Smartphones? The internet? But technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed – so have concepts and attitudes around dog training.

In the past, dog training revolved around classic dominance, or being the “pack leader.” You may have even heard of the importance of stern corrections, like putting your dog’s nose in their accidents to “teach them a lesson” when house training.

If those are your strategies, you could be sabotaging your training – and your relationship with your dog.

Instead of these classic dominance-based approaches, science and research have brought us far more positive techniques for working with dogs. Part of these changes have come because of new insights into dog behavior itself. Because, as it turns out, dogs are far more complex creatures than we’d originally thought.

The idea around being a dog’s “alpha” originated in 1947 when a scientist studied a pack of wolves. When the animals fought, the scientist assumed it was a battle over dominance. However, the scientist later admitted the flaws in their study. In reality, the animals were from different wolf packs and forced into a small enclosure without prior interaction. The result? Behavior that stemmed from stressed animals, not wolves fighting to gain alpha status.

Plus, while dogs evolved from wolves, they behave very differently from them today. This is especially evident in how stray and feral dogs socialize with each other when compared to wolves.

Other studies have also evaluated dogs undergoing training with two different approaches: aversives (like shock collars and leash corrections) and positive reinforcement. In these studies, dogs universally perform better with positive reinforcement. In fact, dogs undergoing aversive training styles displayed more stress, both through physical methods (licking, pacing, and yawning) and through saliva swabs measuring cortisol levels.

This newfound awareness has also shown that handling dogs with positive methods yields better results. Why? Traditional techniques can damage a dog’s confidence and their relationship with their handler, which slows down progress in training situations.

Each day, scientists and researchers have more breakthroughs about our canine companions. The more we learn, the more strategies we can develop to encourage the behaviors we desire and help them live their best lives.

Want to learn more about dog behavior and new approaches to training? Here are a few of our favorite books:

Back To Top