Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs

This was the official website created to promote the 2012 film Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs,  allow visitors to find scheduled screenings and watch the trailer.

“Tough Love” was directed and filmed by Montrie and co-edited with Nathan Hendrie, an independent producer and editor whose credits include Nova, Nova scienceNOW and the National Geographic Channel.

Production assistants were Sandra Garcia Mangado, Allegra Williams and Tyler Deary – all current or former UMass Lowell students. Music undergraduate Matthew Sowersby composed and recorded original music with viola accompaniment by Michael Coelho.

Project funding was provided by the UMass Lowell Council on Research and Scholarship.

Trailer for Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs

Traces the history of the "alpha dog" concept from its origins in 1940s wolf studies to its current popularity among ordinary dog owners, pondering themes of family, hierarchy, and power along the way. It's a commonly accepted idea that dogs are "man's best friend".

We give them a special place in our lives and they are, in turn, loyal companions. At the same time, many modern dog owners also believe that they are supposed to establish themselves as the "alpha dog" in relation to their pets. This is a status supposedly achieved through attitudes and acts of domination, varying by emphasis on physical restraint and disciplinary "correction".

Yet the notion that cherished "best friends" are meant to strictly obey our will is something of a paradox. How can we reconcile feelings of respect and even love with expectations of submission and compliance? Is there a valid and compelling j ustification for establishing dominance over our dogs? Does our claim to that power follow from fixed biological facts? Is it warranted by the nature of dogs and what we are to them through a shared evolutionary history? Is dominance a "tough love," something dogs actually want and need?

Since its advent in the 1940s, wildlife biologists have significantly revised the original"alpha wolf" theory and related ideas about wolf pack structure, including the claim that pack hierarchy rests on frequent aggressive displays. Likewise, they have dismissed the idea that dogs are merely domesticated wolves, so that to understand the one is to understand the other. This scientific shake-up seems to leave us on somewhat tenuous grounds for dealing with our dogs as if we were their alpha, gaining their obedience through domination. Still, millions of people continue using the "alpha dog" concept to order their relationships with their pets.

Tough Love confronts the current disconnect between science and popular practice by putting "alpha dog" in historical perspective. It begins with a look at the early wolf studies and the appropriation of that science by dog trainers and the general public. It ends with an assessment of contemporary dog training and rehabilitation, focusing particularly on disagreement between advocates of physical correction and proponents of exclusive reliance on food rewards and other "positive reinforcement."



Director, Cinematographer, and Assistant Editor

This is Chad Montrie's first feature-length documentary. He has previously worked on short videos for the Concord River Greenway Project in Lowell, Massachusetts, the Peru Village Empowerment Project in the College of Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the More Than a Number Exhibit at the American History Textile Museum, also in Lowell.


Nathan Hendrie is an independent producer and editor based in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His documentary work includes editing programs for NOVA, NOVA scienceNow, National Geographic Channel, ABC News Productions, and A&E. He has co-produced two films for NOVA, and associate produced programs for NOVA, The American Experience and The People's Century.

Production Assistants

Sandra Garcia Mangado and Allegra Williams were critically involved in fleshing out the story and conducting interviews for Tough Love. Tyler Deary contributed to story development as well, besides assisting with camera and lighting.


Matthew Sowersby is an undergraduate in the music program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He composed and recorded three original pieces for Tough Love with viola accompaniment by Michael Coelho.