dogwithcapWhy the pack leader mentality for training and living with your dog is out of date and inappropriate.

dogwithcapWhy the ‘pack leader’ mentality for training and living with your dog is outdated. 

In the dog-training world, there is “Old School” training and there is “New School” training. Both styles are effective because dogs are eager for attention, shelter and food – this is why they are so easy to persuade. However, it’s important to me how a dog feels in its home and when it’s being trained.

Here are some things Old School trainers might do or believe as part of their training style. An Old School trainer will take a more dominant approach, having less patience while expecting more immediate results. Old School trainers want dogs to be submissive to them; they may use praise but use more correction or redirection techniques without reward.

In old school training, the trainer focuses more on what a dog is doing wrong as opposed to what a dog is doing right. Old School trainers believe the reason for many of your dogs behaviours is that they’re trying to be “pack leader” or trying to “dominate you.”

Old School trainers are fond of using the “pack leader” analogy to describe the relationship between owner and dog.  In the wolf society the pack leader is the one sitting alone (most of the time). When he walks around, he’s got to play the part by acting like the tough guy. Other members of the pack will lick his face and keep their tails tucked under, and ears back. This signals to the pack leader that they are not a threat and that they are not going to challenge him for mating rights. Which is what the pack leader’s role is – MATING! This doesn’t sound like the relationship between human and dog.

On the other hand, New School trainers and their techniques focus on what a dog is doing right – rather than wrong. New School trainers use motivation and redirection techniques, incorporating food, toys, clickers, praise and patience. New School trainers don’t relate anything a dog does as an act of dominance or positioning themselves as a pack leader or follower. Instead, they understand that much of a dog’s behavior is a product of their specific breed traits, or how much or how little early socialization and education has occurred. And don’t forget about an owners lack of knowledge, this can play a large part of their dogs behaviour.

New School trainers want a dog’s state of mind to be confident, not submissive. They understand that dogs don’t need to be submissive to listen. They also understand that dogs like to work as a team, to succeed, which is why dogs need a teacher and not a pack leader.

Education and practice helps build good communication skills with your dog. With practice, patience and proper teachings, a dog can learn to behave appropriately for any situation that comes its way.

Preaching the Old School style of training only helps to perpetuate the dumbing down of dogs and dog owners. When we think the old school way we become lazy and our expectations become too high. I say give the dog a break. Educate – be its teacher, not its pack leader.

11 thoughts on “OLD school dog training vs. NEW school dog training

  1. I never really thought of myself as my dog’s teacher before. I thought I had to dominate him in order for him to respect me. I like this new school idea that I can be my dog’s teacher and buddy, not his domineering pack leader. Thanks!

  2. Daringdurk,

    Thats exactly how I wrote it and how I wanted people to understand it. Thanks for the comment and understanding

  3. I think its interesting you equate “leader” with “domination” since I think this is how most people use it. As a positive reinforcement trainer myself I generally use “leader” explain it as you decide what behaivor is appropriate not the dog (ie you want the dog to chew on the bone and not the sofa). I think I’ll be using the term “teacher” better explains the relationship of positive dog training so I think I’ll use it from now on myself.

  4. Hello,

    I’m equating the term “pack leader” to dominance, not so much “leader”. You can be a good leader / teacher (kinda the same) As long as your leading or teaching to educate instead of dominate. A “pack leader” to me has a different meaning- or at least how “Old School” trainers explain it. I also sometimes use the term “leader” just so I don’t sound like a broken record.

    Thanks so much for the comment


  5. Your “new school” ideas make mostly make sense, but I feel like folks against the pack leader train of thought are twisting the meaning of “dominant” and “submissive”. Maybe it’s just the connotation of those words giving it a bad rap, but conceptually they make sense. I see submissive as being relaxed and willing to listen, and dominant (i.e., being pack leader) as guiding (teaching) the dog to what is acceptable behavior and giving it confidence that you are its protector and provider. I’m not into punishment, but what’s wrong with sternly saying “no” vs. redirecting with a treat? For example, if you redirect with a treat when a dog jumps on the couch w/o permission, how do you know they’re not learning they can manipulate the system by breaking the rules a little to get a treat? I think it’s an exaggeration to say “old school” focuses more on wrong vs. right behavior. Relative to “new school” maybe, but in reality I think the idea is to balance the two as appropriate.

    You say new school trainers “…understand that dogs don’t need to be submissive to listen”, which may be true, but what’s wrong with wanting dogs to be relaxed too? When my daughter is throwing a tantrum or running around yelling I settle her down first before asking her to help me pick up toys or before she can have ice cream. I don’t mind treats and toys as reward, but sometimes the ACT has to be the reward. Peeing in the right place, getting to move forward in the walk, etc. Just seems people are pushing treats for everything nowadays. In the dog obedience class I took, I just felt I was bribing my dog the whole time.

    Having said all that, I really like your overarching message of being a teacher (though again that’s inherent in being pack leader to me) and breeding confidence. I think both ways get there and both have drawbacks if not done correctly. I’m not a trainer or behaviorist, just a guy who owns dogs fascinated by this topic and trying to glean knowledge from everyone and everywhere. Look forward to your comments.

  6. Lloyd,

    Thanks for the responce, if your in the dog business there is no mistaking the differences in the words. Lloyd, You said your child needs to settle down and listen before she gets something she wants?. Are you dominating her? is she being Submissive when she listen? To me, those words are a little extreme. It’s the same when we direct those words “Pack Leader” “Dominance” towards our dogs who have the learning intelligence of a 2 yr old child. Dogs dont have any hidin agenda’s or are trying to figure out ways to get one up on you. Rank is not on their mind when they pull you down the street or jump on you or dont listen. They don’t need to be “dominated” and they don’t have to be submissive to listen. You don’t have to show them who’s boss, dogs can actually be themselves and listen.

    With that said, If dogs use aggression with each other as a normal way of communicating, and they can move on with life and continue to have a strong bond with each other We may (with some dogs) have to incorporating a physical correction into the training. I’m not a believer of the “New-new school” training- giving treats to dogs for everything? Is it training? or just conditioning a predatory animal, one who doesn’t know when or where their next meal is coming from, to stare at you because at any moment a treat could come flying out of your pocket.

    More discussion about that later

    Thanks again for the comment, Hopefully I made it clearer for you.

  7. This makes me feel muck better as I feel i have approached training of my dog more like the teacher and buddy and always have people telling me am not a domineering pack leader and should be more like this with her. Thanks for giving me a way to explain what I feel came naturally to me in the first place!

  8. what a wonderful post! i have always felt like the teacher in my little doggy daycare and many of my clients consider it school for their dogs. i tell my clients we can get our dogs to do anything we want as long as we know how to ask for it in a way the dog will understand. there is always learning going on at the lair, by the dogs and by their teacher.
    thank you again for the lovely post.

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