by: Rodrigo Trigosso
Ethology is the science that studies behaviors of a species under natural situations. Therefore, it studies instinctive and non-instinctive behaviors that are typical of a species.
Dog whispering is a training technique based on canine ethology. So, it takes into account those behaviors that are natural in dogs, but usually ignore the principles of learning theories.
The fundamental premise of dog whispering is that the owner should become the leader of the pack. This is also known as the theory or paradigm of the alpha dog.
According to the alpha dog paradigm, dogs establish dominance hierarchies in the pack. Thus, you should achieve the higher hierarchy, the alpha dog status, in order to maintain a good relationship with your dog.
Though it is not clear when the paradigm of the alpha dog appeared, it is well known that it gained popularity in the eighties.
Jan Fennell and Cesar Millan are two of the most famous practitioners of dog whispering. The latter is perhaps the most famed trainer at these days, because of his show "The Dog Whisperer" broadcasted by National Geographic.
Some authors say that dog whispering is based on scientific studies of wolf packs. Others say the technique was developed after studying the social behavior of dogs for several years.
Unfortunately, there are several non-standardized variants of this technique. Besides, some of the technique variants seem to be based only on popular beliefs and not on real studies about dog behavior.
Dog whispering by itself is useless to teach obedience commands. For that reason, many trainers don't accept it as real training technique. Moreover, it is also frequent that practitioners of this technique don't consider themselves as dog trainers. Instead, they claim they are people who can communicate with dogs by a deep understanding of dog behavior and proper body language.
Dog whispering advocates claim that the technique provides a natural way to communicate with dogs. Some of these people also tend to use non-violent procedures. However, the degree of violence is highly variable and depends on the method used by the trainer.
Detractors claim that there is a lack of solid arguments in this technique. They also claim that dog whispering is based on popular beliefs, which could be true for several of its variants.
Same detractors usually question the alpha dog paradigm and argue that there's no need for a model based on dominance hierarchies.
Biologists Raymond and Lorna Coppinger are among the few people who carried out extensive scientific studies on social behavior and evolution of dogs. Their studies reject the paradigm of the alpha dog, and these scientists say that wolves and dogs have very different behavior repertoires. Therefore, studies on the behavior of wolves shouldn't be useful for a better understanding of dog's behavior.
Perhaps further studies on canine ethology could lead to a better understanding of dog behavior. Meanwhile, most dog whispering variants can't provide clear and precise guidelines for dog training; even when there are some really successful "dog whisperers" like Cesar Millan and Jan Fennell.