In the mid-2000s, Cesar Millan was a big deal. Or rather, his dog training methods delivered via our televisions were. Millan advised methods based on the human getting desired training and command results by being the Alpha. Translation: by dominating their dog. The dog was expected to become obedient and submissive to their owner’s needs and lifestyle. This all came from misguided and just plain erroneous reasoning about how dogs learn and what humans should expect from them. Just as spanking used to be par for the course with human children, the thinking crossed to pet-rearing.
Fortunately, for both children and dogs, we have evolved in our understanding of how both respond to different kinds of parenting. Now, “gentle parenting” is finally becoming the norm for both kiddos and dogs.
Researchers Lauren Brubaker and Monique Udell recruited 48 dogs and their owners for a study published in the journal Animal Cognition in 2022. Researchers surveyed the humans about their expectations for their pups and how they typically respond to their needs.
Owners who have high expectations and are highly responsive to their dog’s behaviors and needs are rewarded with dogs that are more social, better problem-solvers, and more secure when away from their owners, the study found.“This is an important finding,” Udell said, “because it suggests that dog owners who take the time to understand and meet their dog’s needs are more likely to end up with secure, resilient dogs.”
“We found that pet parenting style does predict patterns of dog behaviors and cognition,” Udell said. “This is an important finding because it suggests that dog owners who take the time to understand and meet their dog’s needs are more likely to end up with secure, resilient dogs.” Oh sure, authoritarian methods may work in the short term, but they also inhibit a dog’s instincts, coming at the cost of his physical and mental well-being. After all, wouldn’t YOU rather be understood through acts of gentleness, comfort, and understanding rather than discomfort and fear?
What a difference a shift in our thinking can make! Our pets do want to please us. And they depend on us for just about their every need.
We humans can put aside our need for dominance and control and focus on how we can receive happy compliance, coupled with confidence, security, and excellent social skills from our dogs.
So, what can we do? We must educate ourselves on how to listen and learn from them.
For example, if you have a “problem child” or a new puppy, you might want to try something new.
In that case, I suggest reading about gentle pet parenting or finding dog behaviorists and trainers who are all about this approach to dog training.
Author and dog lover Kelly Conaboy expresses it this way in her September 2022 article in The Atlantic: “The project of dog ownership is to help dogs exist happily and safely in a world not made for them. How fortunate, for both sides, that the most effective method is kindness.”
I couldn’t agree more. We all want happy, well-adjusted family members, whether human or canine. So next time you are out on a nice, leisurely walk with Bella, let her stop and smell the roses — and all the other brain-stimulating, endorphin-producing smells along the way. She’ll thank you for it with bright eyes, a wagging tail, and those oh-so-sweet doggie kisses.
Here are a few books to get you started on your gentle pet training journey: