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Controlling Resources

A lot of still-common, but old-fashioned training advice these days comes from some studies that were done on captive wolves back in the 1980's. Videos of these groups of unrelated wolves placed artificially in "packs" showed the wolves frequently fighting and struggling for physical control and social dominance. A pack-based theory of dog training emerged from this, promoting the idea that the basic relationship dogs have with others is an often physical fight for dominance. 

We know now that the study was mostly wrong. Wolves in true packs are family, and the wolves are much more on getting along and cooperating in order to get their needs met. It's very rare for a wolf to actually alpha-roll another wolf; if it does it's usually in a fighting context that may involve in one of the wolves actually being killed -- not just a routine thing that's done to remind everybody who the boss is. Leader wolves did not spend their time and risk their health fighting for rank or alpha rolling others. Instead, leader wolves controlled resources.They controlled the best spots for sleeping and the best parts of the food. Other wolves would demonstrate appeasement behaviors (rolling over, face-licking) and then would be allowed to participate.

Controlling resources is something that humans are very, very good at. In fact, you control just about every resource that could possibly be important to your dog. You control the door out to the backyard, the can opener, whether or not food is in the bowl; you control car rides, the length and distance of dog walks, and if your dog gets to meet other people or not. You can control not only which toys you buy for your dog, but when and if he plays with them. 

Because you control these resources, you can use them to maintain a strong leadership and sharp sense of discipline in your dog. You control whether or not the door opens, so the dog learns to sit and stay to get the door open (because that's the only behavior you'll accept; otherwise that door is staying closed! All the jumping and barking in the world isn't going to work.) Your dog is highly motivated to get at these resources, so he'll quickly learn that the best way to get at them is to listen to you and be obedient.

If you're just getting started, a good practice to get into is to withhold things of value from your dog until it performs an obedience request of your choice. It could be something as big as some heeling followed by sits and downs before his food bowl is placed onto the ground, or as small as a polite pause and checkin before you invite him onto the sofa. To make things very clear for your dog, you'll want some kind of cue that means he's been successful and can now access the resource: "Okay!" or "Get it!" is fine.

Doling out treats during structured training sessions is also, when you think about it, doling out resources. You give a cue, your dog responds, you reward by giving a reward/resource. Over time, with continued training and practice, your dog will learn that it's in his best interest to listen to your obedience requests and please you. And this will be in effect all the time, not just if you have rewards available.

Outside of regular training sessions, you can also experiment with making resources magically "happen." This is especially good for things like weaning off treats and making sure the dog will listen to you whether or not there's anything in it for him. Prep for this by planting food or toys somewhere they wouldn't normally be (don't let your dog see you doing this!) Then, completely out of context of normal training, randomly ask for some obedience (make it an easy request, if you're not sure if the dog will respond without seeing the food up front), and when the dog does it, praise like normal but also run to your secret stash of rewards and play/feed away! This will create a dog who will respond immediately whatever/wherever you are.

When you think about it, you've got control of almost every resource your dog could ever want or need. Start using that to your advantage, and your dogs behavior and obedience will immediately improve!

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