Fighting Dominance in a Dog Whispering World DVD


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What is it about? 

Watch Jean Donaldson and Ian Dunbar take on the controversial and often misunderstood concept of dominance behavior in dogs. Do dogs really try to be “the boss”? Learn what science knows, and doesn’t know, about canine behavior. A timely subject given the popularity of television shows featuring dogs behaving badly and trainers rehabilitating them – all within an hour!

There is an incredible interest in dog behavior and as evidenced by the growing popularity of TV shows that focus on how to solve problem behaviors. Often, viewers are told that the problem is that their dog is trying to be “dominant” and that the owner simply needs to assert him/herself as the “leader of the pack”. While this may make for compelling TV, dominance in dogs has not been subject to much scientific research. Many dog experts, well schooled in canine learning and behavior, dispute the idea that dominance plays a significant role in pet dog behavior.

In this DVD, leading canine authorities Jean Donaldson and Ian Dunbar take on this sometimes-controversial subject. Does dominance really exist and how does it impact the relationships between dogs and dogs and people and dogs? Do you have to be “dominant” over your dog to ensure that she is well trained? What does the modern trainer do or say to a client who does not understand why he or she does not train dogs “the way they do on TV”? All of these issues are dealt with in this fascinating, 4+ hour DVD by experts who place more stock in research and empirical results than in explanations based personal experience.

Winner of the IIACAB Award for 2007 Best Dog Behaviour DVD

More about Jean and Ian- Dr Ian Dunbar PhD, BvetMed, MRCVS, began and led the revolution in puppy classes and the popularization of positive methods, founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for the professionalization of our industry, and has spent many years leading and observing the course of pet dog training.

Jean has over 30 years’ experience in dog behaviour and training and is the Founder and Director of the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers. Jean’s award winning books include, The Culture Clash and Oh Behave!

When was it recorded? 2007

Running time- 4 hours


Well Inform to the NEW trainer

Reviewer: Elaine Chan Whitlow

I often have to explain to my dog training clients what is the ‘true’ dog dominance, or is it really just unruly behaviorsor it is okay to be physical when you ‘correct’ your dog, what about the whole ‘ALPHA’ ‘PACK LEADER’ thing has to do with training dog. the title of the DVD somehow makes people think they are talking about the dog whisperer on TV show, which believes in Human being the ALPHA leader at all time, versus the cooperation, which most positive trainers believe to be a better method, you will have a way better relationship with you dog. Enough Said, this DVD helped me a lot to understand HOW I should inform my every client. It HELPED me to use certain keywords to explain or I can quote. Plus the informations are coming from Donaldson and Dunbar, you know its GOOD information.

I often say: GOOD doesn’t mean its RIGHT
Some trainer out there still trains dominant theory where many have changed. this is a very informative DVD
and it is NOT too much info that will overwhelm a NEW trainer
I will recommended to anybody who works with dogs


~~This DVD provides a wealth of knowledge, essentially looking at how we can respond as dog trainers to those that believe in and practise dominance-based training methods.

In this seminar presentation, highly regarded and hugely influential dog trainers, Jean Donalson and Ian Dunbar, present to us the concept of dominance, examining scientific evidence and research findings to explain the realities and mythologies of dominance theory. They also discuss training methods as well as their own real life experiences in how to deal with clients or individuals who expectations of dog training are set by TV shows that endorse dominance-based training methods.

Donaldson begins by explaining her main objective for all dog trainers is for them to protect themselves better, so that they can remain inspired and find the motivation to keep on with what can be a challenging profession.

She looks at the problems with dog training TV shows, explaining how there is no real concept of time, as is often the case with other TV shows, such as cooking programmes. This makes  it appears as if the dog’s problem has been fixed in a matter of hours which portrays an unrealistic picture to the public. To add to this all TV shows are heavily edited and bad takes do not make it, again adding to this false illusion.

Donaldson moves on to explaining social dominance. She first looks at what it means – priority access over resources, and explores it’s function, which is to improve fitness, ultimately leading to improving reproduction fitness. She continues that dominance is a social construct and one that the majority of people seem to be into. Donaldson looks at the weaknesses of dominance theories, arguing that it is often protected by its supporters by them adding in another clause every time it fails to directly answer something. This is a symptom of a weak theory where the proponents cannot be decided upon.

Donaldson points to the fact that in the past 50 years there have only been a total of two research studies  on dominance in domestic dogs, therefore there is a huge lack of scientific evidence to support any dominance based theory.

We then move on to examining social organisation. Donaldson explains that evidence would suggest that dogs do not form packs. Instead it would seem that they form loose associations. She looks at studies of wolves in captivity and the wild, pointing out there is some disagreement between these two camps but the evidence here also seems to suggest  that wolves do not form packs.

Donaldson looks at where the concept of social dominance originated, from the study of pecking orders in chickens undertaken in Norway in the 1920s. Since then there has been lots of research looking into whether this is down to character traits or individual relationships. There have also been various flaws pointed out, such as the relevance of the number of chickens.

Donaldson continues by exploring the motivation assumption – that is, in social dominance theories we are assuming that everyone is after the same thing. This simply cannot be true, as the idea of identical motivation amongst all individuals is untenable.

She looks at wild wolf literature on packs. This points towards the fact that wolf packs are in fact most similar to a nuclear family. They consist of a breeding pair and their offspring, and it would be foolish to think that the parents caring for their offspring could be identified as domination.  Once these offspring have reached social maturity they disperse to find a mate and breed. Donaldson informs us that all wolves breed, even in captivity, and therefore this would seem to suggest that there is no ‘omega’.

Donaldson continues that despite this obvious lack of evidence to support dominace-based theories, as illustrated in the above, this hasn’t slowed many down in believing that dominance is the root cause of many common problems in dogs such as a bad recall, destructiveness and soiling.

Donaldson next moves onto hierarchy types, discussing both linear dominance (active dominance displays),  and linear subordinance (order maintained by appeasement from inferior to superior.) She examines separate sex hierarchies, explaining why we cannot construct one linear hierarchy, and  also looks at contextual dominance as well as character traits, including alpha and beta personality types.

Donaldson then focuses on role reversal within hierarchies, an observation that contradicts the presumed hierarchy. She also considers dominance in other species, explaining that dominance theories are also present amongst many others, including cockroaches and amoebas. This would seem to suggest that as a human race we clearly like the concept of dominance. Donaldson floats some ideas of why this might be, looking at the social hierarchy that exists in the church, businesses and the army.

She also considers sexual selection and the strategy that has evolved as a result of this.  She explains how humans are so status and dominance orientated we cannot imagine that others, i.e. dogs, are not like that.

Finally, Donaldson gives some advice on what trainers should do to protect themselves when dealing with people who are in favour of dominance based methods and practices. She talks of her own experiences and explains that often we have a lot less influence than we think. There will always be people who prefer aversive methods and there is often very little we can do to convince them otherwise. She argues that these people are not suffering from an information shortage and it is our job to stand back and provide an alternative. This is not possible if we find ourselves fighting.

She talks about Cesar Millan and comments on how she believes that part of his attraction to the public is the fact that people like the idea of him being some sort of wizard without an education, which presents a mystical and romanticised view. Education can often appear unsightly and exclusive.  She talks about his methods and the way in which he treats his clients. Donaldson ends by explaining that she believes that America has a habit of building people up and knocking them down. Perhaps this will be the fate that eventually befalls Cesar Millan.

Ian Dunbar presents part two of the DVD. He begins by looking at the title of the lecture – fighting dominance in a dog whispering world –  analysing and explaining his thoughts on this.

Dunbar continues by introducing us to his analogy that consists of two syringes, one small and one large. He explains that a bad pet owner is like a small syringe, because the damage they do will only affect one dog. A bad dog trainer is like a large syringe; the damage they do will affect many dogs.

He examines the riff that has formed in dog training, which he believes has been the cause of a great deal of harm.

He then moves on to discussing his own theory and research about hierarchy, which involved testing over a span of 10 years. From this research he concluded that there is an absolute hierarchy in regards to access to resources but this does not seem to apply to mating. Instead dogs have social and sexual preferences. He discovered that there would seem to be more of a hierarchy amongst males than females but on the whole males do not want to fall out with one another. On the rare occasions this happens it is most certainly fuelled by testosterone. Hierarchies amongst bitches would appear to be a lot less stable and, when in a mixed group, bitches appear to have very little respect for male hierarchies.

Dunbar then gives us his advice on dealing with clients and individuals who are in favour of dominance-based methods. He explains that you should not make an issue, as this is not an effective way of doing business. Instead you should find a way of complementing the owner in order to build a dialogue.

His three tips are:

  • Make a relationship with the client
  • Tell them you are an expert
  • Show them that you are an expert

He explains how you should let any negative sentiment go over your head and try to convince the client that there is a quicker and easier way to do things. He takes a moment to talk about Cesar Millan, commenting that in some ways he is one of the biggest thing to happen in dog training. His TV shows have attracted millions of  viewers, making tv networks realise that dog training is not boring. As a result of the backlash against him, we have seen the creation of six new TV shows, all focusing on reward-based trainers, which can only be seen as a good thing. Ultimately TV networks have learnt that dog training sells and Millan is the man responsible for that. He talks more on Millan’s methods and explains how they lack scientific evidence, as well as discussing some of the flaws of filming dog training for a television show.

Dunbar then introduces us to what he considers one of most important exercises for all dog trainers, something he calls the bozo game. He explains this is when another person takes on the role of a difficult client and you as a trainer have to come up with answers and solutions on the spot. He says that this should be a weekly exercise for all dog trainers. He also gives some advice on running a business, talking of the importance of joining together with other like-minded trainers to promote businesses together.

Full of useful, interesting and valuable information whether you are a professional dog trainer or pet owner, this DVD will be sure to provide you with ideas or information that you have not heard before.


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