BDBN 11 | How Dogs Help Civilization

“Dogs Created Human Civilization!” “What Did You Just Say?”


This idea of dominating your dog to show that you are the alpha dog is wrong. Did you know that dogs helped create human civilization? Dogs helped humans survive back in the time of the Neanderthals. So this whole thing about dominance is just wrong. Dogs and humans are meant to be cooperators.

Join Doug Poynter as he shares a magazine article he read about how dogs helped civilize humans. Learn how these dogs of the past did it and why this “fight” mentality needs to go.

Listen to the podcast here

“Dogs Created Human Civilization!” “What Did You Just Say?”

Welcome to another episode. My website is, cleverly enough. My business is called Better Dog Behavior Now. I’m located in Richmond, Virginia. I’ve been doing this for about 25 years. I say that I help people help dogs and train people train dogs. I specialize in canine behavior problems. People hire me when they can’t get the problem solved.

I say this every time. I have yet to see a canine behavior problem that doesn’t have a huge human component in it. Unless there’s something genetically or chemically going on with the dog, it’s almost always completely a human problem. Once we get human behavior straight, it’s pretty easy to work with the dog. Every now and again, you have a chemical scenario with the dog where the dog’s chemicals are off. That’s a dog problem.

For the most part, even in those circumstances, human behavior greatly impacts canine behavior. I always say the dog is a whole lot easier to work with than the human is. I’ve got a lot of experience working with humans. I spent 7 or 8 years teaching people how to play tennis when I was younger, then a sales trainer and sales coach in Corporate America.

I do some other work with people as well as a career coach. That’s part of what I do so I’m used to communicating with people. It seems to be a little bit easier for me to communicate what’s going on to people in terms of the dog and how the person and his or her behavior relate to the dog. It’s a holistic approach that I take. I’m not just working with the dog. I’m working with people and dogs.

Almost invariably in my session, the client will say, “You are training us, not really the dog.” I go, “Exactly.” I do dog obedience training simply because many times one of the helpful solutions to behavior problems, but if all you want is obedience training and you want to have an obedience-trained dog that you can take to obedience trials and things like that, I’m probably not your guy.

I can help folks with that stuff and I can teach people that, but there are people who do that type of training and that’s the extent of what they do or the basis of what they do. They may be better choices, but I’m the guy that you come to when you’ve got a behavior problem. I do marker and clicker training. I find that works best for solving behavior problems. It’s the best for obedience training as well.

Clicker training works best for solving behavior problems with your dog. Share on X

Click Training Story

I can do obedience work with a dog so much faster using a clicker than you can use with any other method. You can pick whatever you want. I can get a result a whole lot faster with a clicker than anything that you can do. I will give you an example before we get into the subject of this episode. I had a client who has two dogs. The little dog likes to beat up the bigger dog. The little dog is a little pushy with the older and bigger dog, and that’s the behavior problem that I was called to solve.

When I went to the house, I said to my client the same thing that I say to all my clients, “When I get to your house, I’m going to give you a call to let you know I’m there,” because I work on site. I do not do board and train.” I always say, “I will call when I get there and I’m going to ask you to come outside and meet me outside for a couple of minutes without your dog.” It gives me a chance to eyeball the situation and then helps set the plan for the session. I’ve got some things that I ask my client to do before we ever meet.

What I typically want them to do is go in back into their house after we talk. I bring a clicker for my clients and I hand them some high-value food treats, probably 7 or 8. I go in and I ask them to charge the mark or load the clicker. The clicker is a mark. That’s why it’s called marker training. The sound is a mark. If you are not familiar with that, go to my earlier episode that’s called The Magic Of Markers. It will explain to you what marker and clicker training is about.

There’s a great book that you can get. Karen Pryor brought this clicker training to the dog world after using marker training with dolphins at SeaWorld. She didn’t invent it but she’s the person who has popularized it here in the United States and around the world. A great book that Karen Pryor wrote is called Don’t Shoot the Dog. It can explain that a little more thoroughly to you. As I said, you can check the episode The Magic Of Markers. That’ll give you a good basis for it as well.

BDBN 11 | How Dogs Help Civilization

Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training

I hand a clicker to my client. I go, “Go back in the house and stand in front of your dog. Food treats in your pocket. Click, pause, and give your dog a food treat.” There’s a great trainer that you may want to check out on YouTube. Her name is Emily Larlham. Her YouTube channel is called Kikopup. I want to get her as a guest on my show. I hope one day that I will be able to do that. She’s a great trainer. She’s got a great way to describe the clicking process. Click, pause, and give the dog a food treat.

The timing of the clicker is important. When you are teaching a skill or you are shaping a behavior, the click has to happen in the instant that you want the behavior to occur. When you are setting up the clicker at the beginning, before you’ve done anything, that’s called charging the mark or loading the clicker. That’s creating an association with your dog that the sound of the click means something good is going to happen. There’s going to be a food treat. The order is click, then pause, then go in and get the food treat.

What’s cool about what Emily came up with in terms of saying that process, click, pause, and food treat, is that everybody used to get all bent out of shape about getting the food treat as quickly as I can get, and they would keep their hands in the food while they were clicking, and so the dog was focused on the food hand. Emily has put it well. Click, pause, and food treat. The timing of this process is the click. The click needs to happen when the behavior that we want is occurring, and then you can go get the food treat.

None of this is an issue with the charging of the mark like I have my clients do. I want them to walk in and click, pause, hand the food treat to the dog, and do that seven times. What they are doing is building the association, “When I hear that noise, something good is going to happen. I’m going to get a food treat that I like.”

That changes the speed with which I can do the work that I do because then even if it’s a behavior problem, they bring the dog out to me. If the dog wants to get me, it doesn’t take me long to have the dog be relatively happy with me or at least calm with me with my clicker training. We’ll go over that in more detail in further episodes.

What makes it happen more quickly is when the client has done that work in the house, creating that association before they ever bring the dog out to see me. This client that I went to that I’m getting ready to tell you about, I had already told her, “When I get there, I’m going to call you. I want you to come outside without your dog and we’ll discuss the plan for the session.”

During that time I had planned on giving her a clicker, giving her 7 or 8 food treats, and then having her go back in the house, charge the mark, and load the clicker after we decided how we were going to run the session. It’s always helpful not to have the dog out there when you do that. When I got to the house, I was getting ready to call her. I saw her come out of the house on the front stoop. They were out in the country. When I drove up, she was waiting for me. She came out. I put the phone away because I didn’t need to call her. I stepped out of the car and I was getting ready to say, “Let’s talk about how we might run this session.”

The door came flying open and her big dog came running out of the house. She’s screaming at the dog to come back and the dog’s paying no attention to her. The dog is running up to me barking. Now, the dog wasn’t trying to bite me. It’s a female Labrador, Chocolate Lab. She was barking and making a noise as dogs do when a stranger is on the property. I told my client, “Don’t worry about it. I will go ahead and start training this dog right now.”

While the dog is there in front of me, as soon as she stopped barking, I clicked and gave her a food treat. I did that 5 or 6 times, and now she’s pretty happy with me. I took another food treat and held it over her head. She had to look up. When she looked up, she sat and I clicked and treat. I did it again, and when her butt hit the ground, I clicked and treat. It took me about ten seconds to go sit and she sat, click and treat. Now the client is not yelling for her dog to come back. The client is not saying anything. She’s staring at what’s going on and trying to figure out what I’m doing with her dog, and how I’m able to do it that quickly with a dog that I have never seen before.

That is clicker and marker training. It is the most amazing thing that you can do with your dog in terms of training obedience, tricks, solving behavior problems, and all kinds of stuff that you can do with marker and clicker training. As I said, go get that book, Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor or go check the episode called The Magic Of Markers. You’ll learn a whole lot more about clicker and marker training. That’s what I do.

Adversarial Relationships

I wanted to talk with you about some other stuff, doing the work that I do, and solving canine behavior problems. I work with aggressive and fearful dogs. I work with dogs that have separation anxiety. I’m working with a client right now who’s got a dog that’s hyped up, and we are settling him down. I use positive reinforcement for this. As I said, marker and clicker training.

In doing that, I run into a situation a lot, more than I’m happy about. At any rate, this situation is this thought process that the dog is at cross purposes or the dog is opposing what I want. The dog is hardheaded, defying me or trying to dominate me. The dog is trying to take over and doesn’t listen. All of those things are words that describe human behavior. It’s not in a dog’s lexicon of behavior.

This whole adversarial relationship that a lot of people have with their dogs does not help us solve canine behavior problems. It makes it worse. Most of that is in the client’s head because dogs don’t operate that way. I’m going to see if I can integrate all this into one presentation here, but I’ve got a lot of information that I want to share with you. I read an article in an online magazine. Maybe you can buy a print copy of it. It’s called the American Scientist. The author’s last name is Shipman. It’s about how dogs helped civilize humans.

BDBN 11 | How Dogs Help Civilization

How Dogs Help Civilization: This whole adversarial relationship that a lot of people have with their dogs doesn’t help them solve canine behavior problems. In fact, it makes it worse.


When you read this, you start to realize that there is not this adversarial relationship that some people attribute to their dogs. That is an erroneous belief that is based in part on this idea of dominance and alpha like the dog is trying to be alpha in the house and trying to run the household. It’s particularly prevalent when you have dogs that are working dogs like German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Belgian Malinois. They are dominant. If you don’t get on top of them and be alpha, there’s going to be a problem. This comes from an inaccurate belief or information over the years about wolf behavior because our dogs descended from wolves.

The DNA difference between your dog and a wolf is infinitesimally small, 98.8% identical is what the DNA of your dog is next to a wolf. Dogs and wolves can breed. They have done it quite a bit because it’s essentially the same species. This thought process has been there. There’s an alpha male in a wolf pack who’s dominant because he fights better. There are other male wolves in the pack who are trying to take over for him and he has to slap them down physically.

Because our dogs are descended from wolves, that same instinct is running through our dogs, “Look, our dog is trying to defy us.” I had a protection trainer one time many years ago when my dog was looking at me and I was looking at him, and then I looked away to pick up something off the ground. He said, “You let your dog dominate you.” I went, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You looked away before he looked away.”

Dr. David L. Mech’s Research

This was 25 years ago. At that time, I didn’t know any better. I thought, “Maybe he’s right,” but he wasn’t right. That’s not true. Dogs are not trying to dominate. We know this because of the studies of Dr. David Mech who studied wolves on Ellesmere Island. He was able to get close to them and infiltrate the pack and see that an alpha male is not an alpha male. He’s a dad. An alpha female is not an alpha female. She’s a mom. The pack are pups.

You’ve learned this from me before from some of my other episodes. I want you to understand this. A lot of what we do to solve or “correct” behavior problems is based on this idea that we have got to get control and we have got to be dominant or we are going to have a bigger problem, and that’s where this comes from. Dr. Mech proved that it does not exist in a real wolf pack.

This idea that you need to dominate your dog to control its behavior is false. That idea doesn't even exist in a real wolf pack. Share on X

He did this by studying that wolf pack on Ellesmere Island for sixteen summers, from 1984 to 2000. He came out with a video in 2005 on YouTube. You can go find it if you want to. Put in Dr. David Mech, alpha, dominance. In it, he says, “I was wrong.” He was one of those who coined the term alpha for lead male in a wolf pack. He said, “I was wrong. That’s not the way it works.” If it doesn’t work for wolves, it doesn’t work for our dogs because our dogs are descended from wolves. If what we have known about wolves over the years has been inaccurate, then what we have known about our dogs has been inaccurate.

The Fight Mentality

I’m constantly working to show people that that’s not what’s going on with your dog. Your dog is not trying to defy you, take over your house or dominate you. That’s not happening. Therefore, you can back off on all these corrective measures and intensity that you use with your dog. It’s making things worse. I’m a guy. We guys are the worst about this. Men get bitten by dogs nine times more than women. The reason why is because we are so wound up in a fight mentality.

Men get bitten by dogs nine times more than women because they are so wound up in the 'fight' mentality. Share on X

All you have to do is watch TV to see that everything is about a fight. People die and always fight in TV shows. Kevin Costner made the movie that’s my favorite movie of all time, Field Of Dreams. I have probably watched it 30 times. I heard him in an interview say that he was concerned before he decided to make the movie or star in the movie that there were no fight scenes. How are people going to like this movie? He was taking a chance.

I want you to think about that. Think about our society. Think about our world now. Everybody is fighting right up from the lowest level to the highest level. Look at what’s happening over in Ukraine right now. Couldn’t we talk to people before we blow them up and before we blow up millions of dollars of property and kill millions of people? Couldn’t we talk to people and work things out? We don’t do that. We fight. I hate to say it, but it’s us men doing this.

I’m not trying to get up on a soapbox, although this is one of my soapboxes. Here’s the reality. Men and this fighting mentality do not go with dogs. It doesn’t work, but that’s what we bring to the table. That’s what you see with correction-based training. That’s what you see with a lot of protection training. Some of the protection training is good. There are some good people out there, but lots of it is a crow magnet and it comes from a fight mentality.

Back To Shipman’s Article

Let me see if I can tie this in so you can see where I’m going with this. I mentioned that I read an article in the American Scientist. It’s by Shipman and it talks about how dogs have been hypothesized as the key ingredient in helping humans survive and overrun Neanderthals. Neanderthals and humans existed at one time in concert or opposition to each other, most probably. As we know, humans survived the Neanderthals by the wayside.

What the thought process was in this article is that one of the things that allowed us, humans, to overpopulate and overrun Neanderthals was the fact that we began to domesticate dogs and use dogs for hunting purposes. Dogs increase our success in hunting. When you can eat more, you can produce more. When you can produce more and reproduce more, the population grows and you succeed as an entity. Humans populated more than Neanderthals. The thought process, the hypothesis, and a lot of the scientific evidence that was being found was that we were using dogs, and Neanderthals were not.

The crazy thing is that this article talked about the work of several scientists. This is going to sound crazy but it’s going to fit right into my premise here that’s going to wrap this thing up. They hypothesized that the thing that made this work so well, the dog-human relationship, was the whites of the eyes of humans, which there were no whites of the eyes with Neanderthals, and there aren’t with apes. Apes do not have white of the eyes. Every now and then, very rarely you’ll see a chimp that has white eyes.

They hypothesized that apes, great apes, and Neanderthals did not have white of the eyes. Why is that important? Whites of the eyes do not make for disguise. Whites of the eyes can betray someone who’s hunting. Whites of the eyes make it easy for hunting partners to follow what another partner is looking at. If somebody looks to the left to try to signal to me that there’s a game to the left, I can see that because I can follow his eyes.

When I see his eyes move in that direction, I can see that because there are whites of the eyes that allow me to see the eyes move, and then I look in that direction. It’s silent communication. It’s cooperation. Guess what animal in laboratory experiments has maybe the highest level of gaze following of any animal. It’s our domestic dogs. Wolves have a little bit of this skill. They show a tendency for this skill but our domesticated dogs are on the level of infants and little kids in being able to follow the gaze of another being.

You can do this with your dog. I did it with my dog before I started this episode. I stood in front of her and I looked to my right and she was staring at me like, “What are you doing?” I looked to the right again and then she turned her head and looked in the same direction. This article hypothesized through these scientific studies that it was the cooperative nature of humans and dogs that could have been fostered with the ability to see what the other’s eyes were looking at. That is because of the whites in the eyes.

BDBN 11 | How Dogs Help Civilization

How Dogs Help Civilization: The cooperative nature of humans and dogs could’ve been fostered with the ability to see what the other’s eyes were looking at. It is because of the whites in both of their eyes.


Cooperating With Your Dog

What does this have to do with what I want you to take out of this? That is this. If you take Dr. Mech’s studies about wolves where he discovered that wolf packs are families and that they don’t have conflict in wolf packs. Wolves are not trying to take over the pack. They have cooperation. They work together on the hunt. Wolves don’t follow each other’s gaze the way domestic dogs do, but instinctively wolves know what their job is on the hunt and they execute it perfectly.

This trying to take over the authority of a wolf pack and trying to displace the lead male is not there. What is there is cooperation and working on a team, which is what runs in your dog’s genetics. Cooperation and working on a team. That’s how dogs helped us civilize the world. That’s what’s going on with your dog. What is so sad for me is I have a difficult time not getting a little emotional about this when I see somebody who is not cooperating with their dog, who’s at cross purposes with their dog, who’s butting heads with their dog, and who’s thinking the dog is trying to take over.

It bothers me when I see training that’s based on that because there’s plenty of information out there for people like me who do what I do to find out, to study, and to understand that that’s not what’s going on. What needs to go on is we need to understand that cooperating with our dogs and working together as a team, kind and benevolent leadership, and teaching our dogs, that’s what works. That’s why I use this type of training that I use.

As soon as I get the clicker out, my dog starts turning circles, excited to work. I take her out in the backyard, and when I let her out in the backyard to go do her business, she runs all over my backyard. As soon as she’s done, I click and she comes hauling back to me and sits right in front of me. When we go do healing exercises, I can have her walking in the heel looking up at me around my backyard that’s about a third of an acre. She’s in lockstep with me. She’s getting clicked and treated when she performs the behavior that I want her to perform.

The enthusiasm that we see with this marker and clicker training is because it is cooperative in nature. Your dog is working with you and for you, and you are working together. You can’t believe the change that’s made and the way the relationship between you and your dog manifests itself when you start working with positive reinforcement marker training.

That’s my message for this episode. Remember, dogs are a divine gift. Dog spell backwards. I don’t need to tell you what that is. Dogs are a gift from God. This article in the American Scientist magazine by Shipman illustrates how that gift transpired and how that gift manifested itself and the benefit to us in Western civilization and all over the world where dogs helped us civilize the world, and they civilized us. This article says, “We didn’t just domesticate dogs. Dogs domesticated us as well.”

Remember, it’s cooperation. It’s not alpha or dominance. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about clicker and marker training. One of the resources is Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog. The Kikopup YouTube channel is devoted to marker training. You can find it all over. I highly recommend that you go take a look at it and get started with your dog. You won’t regret it. I enjoyed being with you and I will talk to you next time.


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