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The Dominance Approach to Training Horses Part 4 of 4

August 1, 2018

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The Dominance Approach to Training Horses Part 1 of 4

July 31, 2018


“Contrary to what traditional training ideologies and much modern media would have you believe, most canine behavior problems stem from insecurity and/or a desire to seek and maintain safety and comfort – not from a desire to establish higher rank and be the ‘alpha’ over you.” [1] -- Victoria Stillwell


The terms dominance, alpha, leadership, submission and respect have long been used in the animal training world and continue to be a predominant inspiration in training techniques for horses.   Though training styles might differ, the goal for most of them is still the same: the horse must obey immediately or face consequences.  Consequences can vary from trainer to trainer, including being obligated to exercise harder to corporeal punishment, such as hitting.  The reasoning has usually been stated as, “This is what they do to each other and therefore it’s easy for them to understand.”   They might also point to observations of behavior in wild animals to further endorse training techniques and consequences.


Unbeknownst to most people, scientific research in ethology has been refuting these long-held beliefs around hierarchy and dominance for a few years now.  This is not to say that training techniques based on dominance don’t work, rather it is the rationale for using them which is incorrect.  The main issue is that training decisions based on mistaken belief will not lead to the best possible outcome, even if the end results look the same. There are also ethical considerations; science is