If one were to only glean such information from TV shows that are made to be more marketable than factual, one might believe that a 30-minute trip from a “dog expert” could solve all of their pet-related woes. Indeed, such programming belies the fact that the vast majority of dog owners get along famously with their pets, and have no problem keeping them under control… But that’s not a ratings-grabber, is it?
Many professional trainers have come out against shows like The Dog Whisperer, not out of any particular vendetta, but simply because they believe that much of the “dog psychology” aspects that are depicted are based upon flawed premises: The idea that dogs are inherently pack-animals that respond best to the presence of an Alpha male, who sets the pecking order, predicated upon long-held myths regarding the social interaction of wolves.
Far from Reality TV
Many of the wolfpack behavior studies (conducted in the 1940s and the 1970s) involved captive wolves, which obviously behave differently in confinement than in their natural environment. Biologists consider that to be no different than studying prison populations and then equating behavior patterns to the public at large. Studies conducted in the last 40 years on wild wolfpacks have revealed that packs function more like families, with the breeding pair sharing the leadership roles. In other words, it’s more Brady Bunch than Gladiator.
All of that eschews the obvious point, though; dogs are not wolves. They don’t think the way wolves think, they don’t live the way wolves live, and they don’t act the way wolves act. Most canine behavioral specialists will tell you that humans don’t need to search for some upper-hand when it comes to our dogs. We already have that, and have had it for centuries (it’s called “food”). It may not be flashy, and it may not attract advertisers, but it’s something any trainer can teach to any owner who wants their dog to better behave itself.