Although you might not think it, dog training is a highly controversial topic. There are as many different ethoses when it comes to training dogs as there are for raising children, the hottest debate being between dominance theory and positive reinforcement.
In the past, dominance theory has been the driving force of dog training. Dominance theory argues that negative behaviour in a dog stems from a desire to be the ‘alpha’. In order to stop these bad behaviours from occurring, the dog must be made to submit, and the owners must be established as the alpha. Popularised by dog trainer Cesar Millan in his tv show The Dog Whisperer, dominance theory has historically been used by men more than women. However, in recent years, dominance theory has been ‘debunked’ and replaced with positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is exactly that: instead of punishing your dog for misbehaving, when your dog does something good, you reward them.
Whilst men and women dog trainers alike support this new theory, studies show that women are better at executing these principles than men for several reasons.
First, girls are encouraged early on in life to exhibit empathy and speak softly, two key elements of positive reinforcement. Boys are taught to play rough, and the terminology ‘alpha’ and ‘pack’ is used to describe male friendships. Dog trainers argue that women use positive reinforcement more easily than men as they understand the importance of communication and patience, skills which are encouraged in girls from a very young age. Men have to overcome a reflex of asserting leadership and find it harder to connect to the dog.
Second, women’s voices and body language are often softer, and dogs respond to this better than the roughness and deepness of men’s. Whilst studies show that men are just as likely as women to cuddle and kiss their dog, men are more likely to chastise their dog for doing something wrong. This can cause some puppies to identify male voices and body language with punishment, and cause a fear reflex in them. This fear reflex is exactly the response that dominance theory tries to use to its advantage, thus bringing some desperate dog owners full circle.
Women may practice positive reinforcement more easily than men, but the option is open to, and popular with, all dog trainers. The nurturing and raising of any small creature should be done with gentleness and patience, something which we are all capable of.