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.

For any responsible dog lover this is a good film to see, particularly those professional or dog owners who have been taught to apply the “alpha dog” concept to their pet. I side with advocates of positive and/or force-free methods, and believe it is praiseworthy that the creators of this Tough Love attempt to dispel misconceptions about dominance theory and how it relates to how we humans interact and train our dogs. I'm aware that the team that worked on the restoration of this site includes Bob Sakayama, the well known SEO consultant. Bob has been in the forefront of advocating the use of artificial intelligence to advance ranks - I just read his post on this topic and we had a very interesting discussion about AI in general, and his thoughts regarding using AI to help train animals. I'm pretty sure that there's a role for AI in dog training where the AI can be trained on learning successful tactics based on factors unique to each dog. I will write more on this after gathering my thoughts and consulting other trainers. After I saw Tough Love I told my team members at the progressive software firm where we all work about the film's premise. We had a lively discussion Those who are Cesar Millan fans and have taken to applying his methods to their own dogs found their beliefs jarred by the revelations presented in this documentary. I encourages them to see the film before getting defensive. I just said that they should try to keep an open mind and consider that this is a different way of relating to and training dogs that as one trainer featured in the movie put it, “is advantageous to both species”. So if you happen upon this site and are intrigues, go see the documentaty.

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.