Huskies are stunning dogs. Their thick coats and distinctive markings help them stand out from the pack. As well as being striking dogs, they are also known to be independent and strong-willed. Unfortunately, these traits can make them a bit tricky to train.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to show dominance over a husky.
- Change your mindset – dominance has been scientifically debunked. Therefore, it is not a natural dog issue.
- Really look into the eyes of your new pet – they don’t need to be dominated. Instead, they need to be trained and guided by you.
- Build a bond with your husky, play with them. You have chosen a very playful breed. Allow them to get to know you and trust you. This will make training easier.
- Find a reputable positive reinforcement/force-free trainer and enroll.
- The whole family should attend the dog training lessons. You all need to learn how to train your husky and be on the same page.
- Realize that you can train your dog without pain and fear. Training can be fun for you all!
- Be willing to put in the time and effort to train your husky to be the companion that you always dreamed of.
- Enjoy your relationship with your playful husky.
- Be aware that when your pup hits puberty, you will probably have to return to the beginning and reinforce all the previous training.
- Reap the rewards of all your hard work and patience by enjoying a well-behaved playful husky.
Dominance debunked in the dog world
The word ‘dominance’ has been thrown around the dog community for years now. It is originally based on a flawed scientific observation study done on wolves in 1947 by Rudolph Schenkel.
Schenkel observed captured wolves in an environment that was alien to them. Both of these factors meant that the study was fundamentally flawed. They were not observing natural wolf behavior in their natural habitat.
The study surmised that wolves used aggressive methods to become the ‘alpha’ of the pack or the pack leader. This position as leader would allow the wolf to get the most food or best food and the best place to rest.
The theory of dominance and the role of alpha was further enhanced by Dr. L David Mech when he wrote his book The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, as he referenced Schenkel’s study in his book.
However, more recent studies of wolves in their natural habitats have shown that they do not fight and show aggression to become the leader. Instead, they live in family groups harmoniously.
Wolves live in families, with a breeding male and female, with the pack being the pups and sometimes a few young adult wolves. When the young wolves mature, they do not challenge the alpha. Instead, they leave to find a mate and have their pups. So the ‘alpha’ male and female are the parents, and the ‘pack’ are the pups, much like our own family dynamics.
The original study and Dr. Mech’s subsequent book are so flawed that Dr. Mech himself has been trying to get his publisher to stop publishing his book unsuccessfully. Dr. Mech is a founder of the International Wolf Center and continues to study and work with wolves to understand them better.
A husky may look like a wolf, but it is still a dog. A dog needs to be trained, and huskies can be trained just like any dog.
Alpha position in the dog world
Dr. Mech has stated on his website ““Alpha” implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today, the “breeding male,” “breeding female,” or “male parent,” “female parent,” or the “adult male” or “adult female.” In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the “dominant breeder” can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a “subordinate breeder.”
In today’s study of wolves they do not use the term ‘alpha’ because it is outdated and invalid. And the term dominant doesn’t refer to aggressive behavior but the more mature breeding female/pair.
Dominant husky behaviour
Not only has the word dominant been misused in describing the relationship between a human and a dog, but it is also being misused concerning a dog’s behavior.
Dominance is when one member of the same species exerts authority over another member of the same species to have the first choice of available resources using aggression.
Rather than your husky trying to dominate you, it is more likely that the dog is displaying an unwanted behavior because it doesn’t know how to express itself or its need appropriately.
If your dog goes onto your sofa or bed to sleep, it isn’t because it’s trying to exert its dominance over you or your home. Instead, it goes onto your sofa or bed because it is comfortable.
If your dog jumps up at you or guests when they come into your home, it isn’t because they are trying to show you who the boss is. Instead, it’s because they are happy to see you, and jumping is fun. Huskies love to jump, run and body slam to show their excitement.
Working with dominant behaviour in dogs
Another way to phrase this is working with unwanted behavior, which I prefer to think of.
Dogs do not instinctively know what we want them to do. Therefore, it is our responsibility to teach them our expectations and acceptable behavior in our environment and lives.
Training your husky using positive reinforcement allows you to teach your dog acceptable behaviors and create a bond of trust and cooperation while doing it.
If you don’t want your husky jumping up at you or guests, reward them when all four paws are on the floor. Studies show that behavior is learned, and dogs repeat behaviors for positive rewards. So if your dog receives a treat for coming to you and not jumping up, it will repeat the behavior. You are teaching your husky the desired behavior without creating a fearful dog.
Dogs are just domesticated wolves
Most scientists generally agree that dogs and wolves have a distant common ancestor. They share some traits, but they also have many differences. For example, physically, physiologically, and socially. One main difference is that wolves tend to avoid humans, and dogs do not. To expect the same behavior from dogs as wolves is similar to expecting the same behavior from chimpanzees as humans. So yes, there may be similarities; however, there will be lots of differences too.
Knowing this, is it beneficial to use dominance theory training methods for your dog? The short answer is no. It is not beneficial at all. Studies in dog behavior and dog training have found that dominance theory methods have a detrimental effect on your dog.
Dominance based training methods for dogs
The science behind dog behavior and dog training methods have come a long way in recent history. However, dominance and alpha roles persist. This seems to be perpetuated by TV dog trainers continuing on outdated dominance theory methods. It probably makes for good TV viewing to the detriment of the poor dog who is supposedly being helped.
Recent studies have shown that dogs do not vie for alpha status left to their own devices. On the contrary, it was observed that while one dog may swoop in to get the first pick of a particular resource, it may then allow another dog to get the first choice of the best resting position. In a group, dogs’ relationships are fluid and based on cooperation.
Dominance theory training is based on the hierarchy model of social interactions between wolves. Unfortunately, this model is based on the flawed, debunked scientific study done in 1947 when they observed the captive wolves.
The theory behind dominance training is that you must show your dog that they are not the alpha, that you are the pack leader. However, recent studies of dog behavior have confirmed that your dog isn’t trying to be the alpha, so the training is pointless. Furthermore, the training methods can cause more problems for you and your dog.
Dominant behavior in dogs
Dog behavior studies have shown that dominant behavior is not the dog trying to be alpha. Instead, displays of aggression towards people or other dogs can be attributed to fear, anxiety, frustration, or pain.
A fearful or anxious dog is more likely to growl or bite to protect itself. Similarly, a frustrated dog who cannot navigate unfamiliar social environments easily may display aggressive behavior. A dog experiencing pain will often try to defend itself by showing displays of aggression.
Dogs jumping up at people is also viewed as dominant behavior. However, dogs are happy excitable creatures. They often jump up as an expression of joy and excitement. They want to lick your face. Face licking in dogs can be used to ask for acceptance. Huskies love to lick you, they are affectionate dogs.
To discourage jumping up, turn your back on the dog and wait for it to calm down. You reward this with affection or treats once the dog is calmer and all four paws are on the floor. Reward your dog every time they approach you calmly. They learn quickly that jumping up is inappropriate, but calm approaches receive good things.
If you don’t want your dog on your sofa or bed, you have to teach it not to go there. It selects these places because they are comfortable, the same reason you choose them. So instead, get them a comfy dog bed and encourage them to use that instead.
My husky has a dog bed in the living room and one in our bedroom. When she was a pup, we taught her ‘on the bed’ by putting a treat on her bed, and when she had four paws on her bed, we said ‘on the bed’ and reinforced this every time with rewards. So she now knows that when we say ‘on the bed,’ she goes and lays in her bed.
To be perfectly honest, though, we only use this phrase if she’s taking up all of our bed and we can’t get in. After that, she sleeps wherever she wants to. Sometimes on the kitchen floor if she’s too hot, the living room floor, her bed in the living room, the sofa, or her bed in our bedroom. Luna is part of our family, and we like to give her some choices in her life.
Alpha training methods with dogs
Since dominance behavior training methods are based on becoming the alpha, most of the training involves aversive or fear-based methods toward the dog. Simply put, you use techniques to make your dog fear you. You punish the dog for doing what you don’t want it to do, not by encouraging it to do what you want it to do. You are not becoming the leader; you are becoming scary, someone to be feared.
It may work initially. After all, your dog will expect pain, for example, if it jumps up. But then, do you think that your dog will be happy to see you if it experiences pain whenever it tries to show you it’s glad to see you? Rather than becoming the alpha, your dog will see you as unpredictable, someone to be feared, someone who will cause pain.
Inflicting fear and pain regularly onto your dog will have counter-intuitive consequences long-term. These techniques could make it freeze, shut down and be too afraid to try to learn anything. Your dog may just run away, quite often, if not permanently. Or it will make your dog so fearful that it does become aggressive, constantly ready to protect itself. These methods cause the fight-flight-freeze reaction.
A better way to train your husky
There have been lots of studies done that show dogs learn faster using reward-based training. Learning is done by repeating the action over and over. Your dog will be more willing to repeat an action if there is a reward at the end of it.
Rewarding appropriate behavior gets quicker responses from your dog than punishment-based training methods. After all, who wants to repeat something if there’s punishment at the end?
Positive reinforcement training also helps create a happy, more confident dog willing to learn and try new things. A happy, confident dog is also less prone to aggression. You will also create a trusting bond with your dog if it doesn’t fear you. If your husky trusts you, it will be easier to train and be more willing to work with you.
Huskies were bred to be playful and cooperative. They can be strong-willed, but they are more than happy to cooperate with you once they trust you. The best way to train your husky is to turn it into a game and reward it often and consistently. You can read more about huskies here.
I’m thankful that we used positive reinforcement training with our husky. Luna trusts us and is happy to work with us. She has good recall and listens to instructions. This has become essential since she was diagnosed with primary glaucoma early in 2019. She had to have her right eye removed in September 2019 and her left eye removed in October 2021. Even though she is completely blind, you would never know it. She moves around with confidence in herself and us.
People are astounded when they come across her running and playing. She is so happy and confident that becoming blind hasn’t phased her. We can still let her off-lead because we know she will follow our instructions, so she is safe.
Know better, do better training your Husky
Don’t beat yourself up if you are using or have used dominance methods. The media have widely pushed them, and many people still believe in it. But there are better ways to train your dog, and now you know about them, you can make the change. Behind every behavior is a need, and since dogs can’t speak, it’s our responsibility to find out what that need is.
Then, we can help our dogs live happily in our modern environment with care and understanding in a cruelty-free way.
Let’s be honest here: you chose the dog, the collar and the lead, the dog bed, the dog food, and even when and where the dog goes out for exercise and to the toilet. So who is the dominant in the relationship, really?
I hope that you found this article helpful.
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