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 The Alpha Fallacy

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Playing with the Big Dogs
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PostSubject: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 3:19 am

I have been reading a lot about this both here.
http://www.dogstardaily.com/training/alpha-fallacy
Here
https://positively.com/dog-training/myths-truths/the-truth-about-dominance/

And in the book I am currently reading called "Decoding your dog"

I was wondering what all you guys thought about it.

The basic idea is this. Dogs are not plotting to be in charge or be the alpha. That those theories are out dated and based on misinformation. I just went to a training class tonight that was all about being the alpha and being the boss and that your dog wants to be the boss and it just didn't sound right to me. Just wanted to discuss it with people see what others thought.
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amymeme
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 3:58 am

I totally dismiss the whole alpha thing - I watch Ami and Archer interact, they really take turns being "boss", its very fluid. As for my place in the structure - I'm the boundary, I think, between "ok" and "not okay". I don't dominate them, I guide them. Like children...provide for their needs and keep them safe.
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capellalayla
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 9:33 am

I'm not on board at all with alpha theory. Dogs are not wolves, first of all, and the way wolves were studied was largely in captivity, where they behave much differently than in the wild. In the wild, wolf packs are families, and while there is a hierarchy, the packs that have been studied do not behave like the alpha theorists surmise at all. The younger pups don't plot takeovers; they know their place, and the adults give them guidance and structure to their lives to teach them how to interact with their world. Plus, dogs aren't stupid; they know humans aren't dogs, so they don't treat us the same way as dogs.

I would seriously question any training that still focuses on alpha theory. I think these days people mistake alpha theory for the theory that dogs need guidance and structure in order to be obedient and well-balanced companions. I'm totally on board with the latter.
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aljones
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 12:52 pm

This has all the earmarks of becoming an "interesting" topic. Suffice it to say that I don't agree with the old "alpha dominance" theory.
@Liz, I agree with your last comment above.
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seattlesibe
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 3:30 pm

Liz, you have pretty much summed up my response that I have been sitting on.  

I've said before and still firmly believe that the only significant difference between "alpha/dominance" theory and other competing theories is describing the reasons why dogs do what they do, not whether or not a dog should dog X, Y, and Z or how to train X, Y, and Z.  

Taking Cesar Milan as the spokesperson for Alpha theory, if you remove the theory behind his system and the subsequent explanations for dog behavior you are still left with very sound, non-controversial stuff for training:

-dogs should not jump on you
-dogs should not charge the door
-dogs should not pull you down the sidewalk
-dogs should not rip food out of your hand
-dogs should not by hyperactive brats
-dogs should not be on the furniture without permission

Just a few examples of agreed upon imperatives that can have very different explanations for WHY they occur, but pretty much every will agree that they should NOT occur.

Alpha/Dominance theory for dog behavior holds very little water, from the wolf analogy to the pack leader metaphor, it's just riddled with problems.  I think it is important to note that it is not possible to PROVE that there is not hierarchy in a dog's world in any sort of scientific way, but it pretty reasonable to suggest that that hierarchy doesn't and shouldn't translate to how humans interact with dogs.

What I find the most interesting aspect of this topic is looking how the stark binary of

Positive Reinforcement (Only)    ::   Dominance / Alpha Theory

is constructed and how that polarizes dog people, ESPECIALLY subscribers to the Positive Reinforcement (Only) camp.  

It is fairly comical how big of a boogeyman Dominance / Alpha Theory is to this camp.  The lashing back has taken many forms, from saying

By proving Positive Reinforcement works this disproves Dominance / Alpha Theory

to

Outright moral outrage over any training tool or technique that in any way can even be remotely associated with Dominance / Alpha training.  

Both are ridiculous.

There is so much more to dog training than this binary.  It is not either / or.

As Liz said, guidance and structure, and I would add corrections and boundaries, can be humanely applied safely and effectively WITHOUT using any reference or subscription to Dominance / Alpha theory........and should be free from moral lashings from subscribers to the Positive Reinforcement (only) camp.  

Dominance / Alpha training is unfortunately construed as abusive, and given the pervasiveness of this unfortunate binary we've constructed, anything outside of the Positive Reinforcement (only) camp gets construed as abusive due to the associated moral panic implied over methods of dog training.  

I find this dynamic very sad and unfortunate.
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Playing with the Big Dogs
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 8:03 pm

Don't you hate when you write a long response and then the computer restarts and deletes everything?

One of the point I am struggleing with is the trainer/ my manager has years more of dog and dog training experance than me. I have only had dogs for a few years really and just read a lot but I just don't think my dogs are plotting to control me or the house.

Now like Jeff said a lot of her training things that she is doing to "be the boss" a actually good habits for your dog to have. Things like learning to settle and to focuse on you around distractions and to not charge out the door infront of you. She also works a lot with body langue and most of that is pretty spot on too.

I just find it hard to have a trainer who is confused on the motivations of pets also I find her a little harsh in her corrections because she thinks the dogs are being alpha.
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seattlesibe
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Mon Mar 02, 2015 9:25 pm

Sounds like she isn't confused, just that you disagree.
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wpskier222
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Tue Mar 03, 2015 1:30 pm

@seattlesibe wrote:
Sounds like she isn't confused,  just that you disagree.

Ha ha. Amen... Elise, check out the book, Your dog is your mirror, by Kevin Behan. He is my training guru. He postulates that the reason the alpha theory doesn't fit is that the number one survival tool of dogs is their extensive social fluidity. Dominance related scrapes do happen (and have their purpose), but in general (I'm paraphrasing here) the best survival tool dogs/wolves have are their abilities to live, and MOST importantly HUNT socially. This is not achievable if they are always worried about who is running ahead of the other. In fact, they naturally shift their 'positions/jobs' in relation to the hunt. They achieve a sort of yin/yang balance that results in a successful hunt, and at that moment, even the prey becomes part of the pack in a way.

Not to mention, humans do not 'fit in' in dominance hierarchy because well, we don't speak dog. Dogs speak human, but we are never going to achieve their subtle communication abilities and trying is just stupid. At best, we are their companion and partners, and we teach them the rules to be peaceful companions, and at worst, we are their unpredictable, volatile food controller's that sometimes explode for reasons they don't understand.
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Tue Mar 03, 2015 2:04 pm

In that book Kevin also notes that so called dominance / submissive polarities alternate constantly in play and while hunting so it's unfair to character them as static qualities of any individual.

Hypothetically, he asks if the group were hunting and the alpha veers left but the prey veers right, where would the group go? Most certainly, right.

Dominance theory is at least perfectly reasonable in that it makes sense and sounds legit. It just doesn't hold at of water under scrutiny. Kevin notes in that book that the greatest utility of the theory is to serve the purpose of validating the increasing need for humans to control everything in their lives, most certainly their problematic dogs.

I strongly recommend that book, as well. In fact, I thought of doing so just before I went to bed last night.
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amymeme
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:24 pm

@seattlesibe wrote:


Kevin notes in that book that the greatest utility of the theory is to serve the purpose of validating the increasing need for humans to control everything in their lives, most certainly their problematic dogs.


Aaahhh... now we get to the heart of the matter!
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seattlesibe
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:29 pm

Haha. One big projection? ?

It would seem , similarly, there is a lot of projection involved with subscribers to any dog training ideology.
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amymeme
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:00 pm

Quite likely lol!

But then again, really - how much are we truly capable of of seeing things without imposing our own greatly?
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seattlesibe
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:51 pm

Especially with things that are unprovable.

If you have to ask "do you believe in / agree with....." it's more likely than not you're talking about something beyond the realm of Truth.

It's not like knowing 2 + 3 = 5 or that bachelors are unmarried.
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LoneWolf
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Sun Mar 15, 2015 1:19 am

I had previously read the first article while preparing myself to train Akira. The second article I couldn't read all of because it said "wolves and dogs are a different species entirely". They are the same species and genus aswell the dog is a branch of canis lupus(look it up). I have had lots of dogs and I whole heartedly believe it is breed and personality specific the training method best suited for each dog. Different dogs require different things from us. I have hsd pitbulls that will follow every command just to please you. Mixed breed dogs that never seem to pick up on anything. A boxer that was smarter and more reasonable thsn most people i know. What I am seeing in the husky, IS a pack mantality obviously. I likd the term respect training better, basically teaching her she is amember of the family, not above anyone else. Dogs do entirely rely on humans for survival, so we do deserve at least a little respect right. Dogs are not (for the most part) out to dominate you, but they will try occasionally if they can get away with it. Really no different than a well adjusted or poorly behaved child.
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Sun Mar 15, 2015 1:28 am

"the way wolves were studied was largely in captivity, where they behave much differently than in the wild. In the wild, wolf packs are families, and while there is a hierarchy, the packs that have been studied do not behave like the alpha theorists surmise at all."

Never watched natl geographic before reality tv. Scientists have spent "pack lifetimes" following ghe same wolves in the wild. They hsve been studied extensively in their natural habitat. Not that it has much to do with the domesticated dog...
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seattlesibe
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Sun Mar 15, 2015 5:01 pm

It's funny, but the same criticism can be made against Positive Only Training derived from Operant Conditioning learning theory, where Skinner starved the animals he studied and isolated them to an environment without any stimulus or distractions whatsoever other than his own testing methods.
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Knichtus
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PostSubject: Re: The Alpha Fallacy    Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:29 pm

I have to say that I disagree with the alpha theory saying dogs are trying constantly be in charge but depending on breed some dogs can be acting out from a lack of control in their environment. For some breeds, if their is not a clear leader they may take that place themselves in order to gain some kind of stability in their environment (think of Akitas, they can be the most dangerous dogs if their isnt a clear leader). Dogs typically try to solve things using the least amount of force possible, lots of growling, showing teeth, tail positions, sometimes shoving.

While in primate nature, in conflict, we tend to yell, throw tantrums and duke it out, unless we were bonobos which are...ahem more 'peace' loving in solving conflicts via sexual outlets at times. While people think us 'exploding' is awful, it is how we are, were very vocal and physical. We hold grudges, dogs usually let bygones be bygones since their are other things to fuss about.

One issue I have with the fact that most positive reinforcement trainers is thinking that you will never need to use force on a dog and they can all be trained via rewarding the good behavior and just ignoring the bad. That is not how it works, you are the dogs leader, you must teach then right and wrong. So you have to have positive marker and a negative marker. It doesn't have to be hitting or yelling, it could be a 'no' or 'wrong' in a stern but fairly loud voice, then direct the dog to the positive, better behavior and reward and say your positive marker. Dogs watch out body language, listen to the tone of our voice, they are capable of knowing what is right and wrong and learning it. But as humans it is our job to learn what kind of dog we have. No dog is the same which is why every training session for each dog is different and should be built on who the dog is, their quirks, their behavior. Some dogs are very happy letting us take charge, some dogs are stubborn and think they know better than we do, some dogs like to challenge us to see what they can get away with, but this is not really being the alpha or dominance in some cases, they are just being dogs. But when some dogs are acting out , again, can be the result of a lack of a leader in the household or you being a bad leader. Alpha wolves in the pack are the leaders, they make decisions, where home is, the hunts, they teach their pups skills and they make sure everyone is getting what they need. That is what we humans are to dogs, we are their teachers, their leader, their 'alpha', we are their parent and they require our guidance in order to function in our society.
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The Alpha Fallacy

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