The widow with four young children and a golden retriever stepped forward, tentatively.
She had a question for Jennifer Arnold, whose new best seller, "Through a Dog's Eyes," debunks widely held dog-training methods based on alpha dominance.
The woman said the family dog couldn't stop baying at the window in the three months since her husband died.
Various professionals suggested a spray bottle with vinegar, a shock collar and putting the dog in a crate in the basement. One said the dog was trying to replace the alpha, and told the mother to "re-home the dog if she wasn't emotionally strong enough to be the dog's alpha."
After 20 years training dogs as canine assistants for the disabled, Arnold had learned that dogs are emotional creatures who have a natural compulsion to please, not irritate or one-up, their owners.
"Your dog is grieving," she said she told the woman, who took Arnold's advice and now makes time to cuddle with the dog and cry. The baying is subsiding.
"She was grateful she didn't lose her husband and her dog," Arnold said in a telephone interview.
Arnold's book is a manifesto of sorts, calling for an end to the traditional dog-training strategies that use choke collars, flip dogs on their backs to dominate them, and yell to get them to submit.
"The dog already knows who is boss -- you have the opposable thumbs, you control the food and the shelter," Arnold said.
At Canine Assistants, her nonprofit in Georgia, Arnold uses positive reinforcements such as peanut butter on a spoon to heel. Her dogs can open drawers and refrigerators to fetch food and medicine for their owners, open doors, retrieve cell phones, go for help -- even help do the laundry.
Using positive reinforcement and giving the dog choices for rewards results in a happy dog that isn't fearful and neurotic because of their owner's harsh temper, she said.
Discipline-based approaches like those followed by "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan are popular but misguided, Arnold said, because they are based on faulty assumptions of wolf pack behavior.
"A lot of what we believe about aggressive alpha dominance comes from old studies of wolves in captivity," Arnold said.
In the wild, wolves are known to lead benevolently, and researchers have noted male wolf leaders sharing chicken with children and mates before eating.
"The wolf researchers now studying in the wild say the alphas are simply the ones who can do whatever they want, but they don't drag others down to maintain dominance," she said.
(E-mail Meredith May at mmay(at)sfchronicle.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)
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