Common Myths About Dog Training

MYTH: If a dog can’t learn he is stubborn or stupid.
REALITY: Dogs are just like people. Some will learn quicker than others. Often when trainers see a dog having problems, it’s because the dog is not hearing things in a way that he understands. Reward your dog and use a lot of patience. If your dog still has problems, think from the dog’s point of view. Maybe the behavior needs to be broken up into smaller steps. Or maybe your dog finds part of this uncomfortable, like sitting for dogs with hip problems.

MYTH: My dog looks guilty, so he knows he’s done something wrong.
REALITY:  When a dog looks “guilty” it is because they are reacting to a change in our body language that tells them “something is wrong” and leads to body language on their part that “looks” worried and nervous to the human eye. In reality the dog has learned to exhibit these behaviors in order to appease humans who display angry or upset body language.

MYTH: A puppy has to be at least six months old to be trained.
REALITY: A puppy starts learning the moment they are able to observe and relate to their environment. Unlike an adult dog, puppies have shorter attention spans and this will require more patience when teaching behaviors, but there is no reason your puppy can’t start learning right away, and the sooner you start, the quicker your puppy will learn.  It is important to socialize your puppy as soon as possible as well to expose him to new people and things so he’ll grow up to be a behaviorally healthy and confident dog.

MYTH: Positive reinforcement training only works with small, happy, and regular dogs, not tough, large, obstinate, and stubborn dogs.
REALITY: Positive reinforcement is used to train all sorts of exotic and marine animals. Using adverse training methods on fearful or aggressive dogs most often leads to worse behavior.

American Bulldog

MYTH: My dog pulls, jumps, is a couch potato or won't let me clip his nails because he’s dominant.
REALITY: Dominance is used to explain away just every bad behavior in dogs that owners can possibly complain about. The problem is, dominance is completely incorrect. If a dog jumps, it’s because he has not learned that this is bad behavior. If he pulls on the leash, he hasn’t been taught that he should walk beside you. If he doesn’t like being groomed, he finds the brush and clippers uncomfortable or scary. Don’t worry about “dominance.” Instead, decide what you want your dog to do, and then teach him and reward him for doing it right.

MYTH: Using food is bribery.
REALITY: See this article.

MYTH: Should my dog should work for me only because he wants to please me?
REALITY: Humans can count ourselves incredibly lucky to have such wonderful creatures appear to enjoy our company and share our lives. We need to understand that this is a mutual relationship, dogs benefit from their relationships with us through getting food, shelter, play, and affection. So, when a dog does something that makes us happy, we shouldn’t jump to the assumption that a dog “only wants to please us” – they do it because they will get a treat or are able to live comfortably. If you believe that a dog only should do things to please you, you will most likely find yourself with a dog that is difficult to train because he will have a hard time discerning when he’s done something right without any reward history.

MYTH: If I adopt an older dog, will it bond with me or learn new things? How will it learn to live with my family?
REALITY: You can train a dog at any age. But, keep in mind that the older an animal is and the longer they have done something one way, it may take a little longer to change that behavior. In some ways training a mature dog can be easier than training a puppy, older dogs are calmer than puppies and should have better focus and attention during training.

MYTH: Why is my dog is urinating in the house? Is it because he’s angry that I left him alone?
REALITY: Actually, it is probably because: 1) he has a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection or 2) he is suffering from separation anxiety and is in distress 3) you left him alone too long, he can’t hold it forever or 4) he may not be fully house trained. Dogs are not capable of the type of emotions and thought processes to think that urinating in the house will “get back at you” for something you did to them. If your dog isn’t fully house trained, maybe go back and start at the beginning and make sure you are supervising him in the house and rewarding him for going outside. Moving can cause confusion too. If you keep having these problems, consult a trainer or veterinarian.

Rottweiler With Dogs

MYTH: Will tug-of-war create aggression?
REALITY: Tug of war can be a good game to play with your dog, as long as you do it properly! Dogs should learn to never put their teeth on your skin, and they should learn to “drop” the toy on command. Using the tug game as a reward instead of food is common among many dog sports competitors and working dog trainers because the dogs enjoy it so much!

MYTH: I don’t want to use food to train because I’ll always need it to get my dog to do anything.
REALITY: This is false. You can fade out the food lures quickly. Read Why Do Trainers Use Food?

MYTH: Dogs are related to wolves and their training should be based on how wolves interact with each other.
REALITY: Dogs are actually not wolves and there are differences between dog and wolf behaviors. So, wolf behavior doesn’t impact how we live with and train our dogs. When wolf behavior is mentioned as a model for dog training, the understanding of wolf behavior used is incorrect and based on studies that have been disproven by extensive research.

Posted with permission from the APDT site:

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