Dog training myths can be confusing and may actually harm your dog.
In today’s dog training world there is a lot of information available. So much in fact that it’s easy to get confused making it challenging to determine between what is fact and what is a myth.
In this blog post I will go over a few dog training myths that I think you should know about and let you know the truth about them.
You need to use a stern voice in order for your dog to listen to you.
This dog training myth is absolutely not true, in fact it makes me laugh a little bit but only because I believed it early on in my training before I was a professional dog trainer and knew better. This myth won’t harm your dog if you apply it but the truth is you can say a training command, ie. down or sit, in any tone of voice you would like.
I choose to use a calm voice that is very similar to my normal talking voice. I also don’t name a behavior, like sit, until I know my dog understands the behavior first. Once they know the behavior then I add the verbal (word) command to it. At this point I don’t feel like I have to yell to get them to understand what I want.
Have you ever noticed that we tend to yell at people who are having a difficult time understanding us because they speak a different language? Has yelling ever made them understand what you were saying? Yeah, me either.
You have to be forceful in order to get your dog to do what you want.
This is one of the myth’s that can actually harm your dog if you choose to use it. Forcing anyone or anything to bend to your will will most likely cause some type of damage. It will definitely damage your relationship with your dog and their ability to trust you.
Your dog may do what you ask but they will be doing it because they are afraid of you. Fear does not equal respect. You can get results using force but you need to ask yourself if scaring your dog and having them not trust you is worth the end result.
I use Force-Free Training Methods and have seen amazing results with all of the dogs I have worked with. Force-Free Training helps to build confidence in your dog and makes it easy for them to trust you. I prefer a confident dog who trusts me AND does what I ask of them.
Your dog should do what you want every time you ask or 100% of the time.
This myth is not true and it is actually a very scary thought. I don’t know about you but I don’t do everything I am told 100% of the time and I am sure you don’t either. In fact most living beings don’t.
Your dog is a living being with a mind of their own and they will not do everything you want them to do 100% of the time. You can get a behavior pretty accurate and get it pretty close, but you can expect your pup to be off some times. We all have off days, your dog will too.
One method will work for every dog.
Since each dog is different there is no one method that will work for every dog. In my professional career I use shaping as my main method of teaching. I like to get the dog to think about what behavior pays off since I find that they retain what they learn better.
Even though this method is effective and most dogs respond well to it, some dogs need something a little different or maybe more help. When this happens, I change the method I use to fit whatever I need to do to get the dog to learn in that moment. Once I have them working with me and excited, I may go back to shaping. But then again I may not. Getting the dog excited about learning and working with me is my goal. I can build on the rest.
A good trainer will use whatever method gets the dog excited about learning.
Using physical punishment will make a dog behave more effectively for you.
There is a need for punishment in training, but I do not believe that it needs to be physical. Physical punishment will make your dog afraid of you. A fearful dog is not in any state to actually learn a behavior. They may do the behavior for you, but it does not mean that they are actually learning what it is you want. What may be happening is that they are just trying to find a way to stop what is scaring them.
I do use punishment in my training in the form of consequences. My dog gets to make choices. If they make the right choice; ie. Sit, they get a reward. If they make the wrong choice; ie. don’t Sit, they don’t get the reward. Withholding the reward is punishment but it’s punishment that doesn’t make my dog scared of me.
It allows my dog to figure out what will get them what they want, but in a state that allows them to learn. This is very important. When we are afraid we can’t focus on anything other then getting away from what is scaring us. The same is true for our pup.
You should train your dog for an hour at a time.
Most group training classes that will you take will be an hour long. This doesn’t mean that training your dog for an hour every day is effective, in fact it the opposite is true. All of my private training sessions and group classes are actually an hour long, but only because it’s time effective and cost effective for both myself and my clients.
When I train my dogs, I only train for a few minutes at a time, usually 15 maximum. The reason is because keeping training sessions short and sweet helps my pups to be excited about the training we are doing. I also don’t have the time, nor the desire honestly, to work a full hour on training everyday. Keeping sessions short is also more realistic and much more like what real life is like.
In real life, we don’t just stop to train because every interaction we have with our pup is a training opportunity. Training spontaneously is actually much more effective and closer to what real life is like. Short training sessions through out the day will teach your dog that training can happen anytime, anywhere and will make your training more reliable.
Training your dog with treats won’t work.
This myth is definitely not true! Using something your dog likes to train them will always work. It can be a treat, a toy, praise, physical touch. If your dog likes it, it will work. Positive Reinforcement has been scientifically proven to work and work reliably. This doesn’t mean that you should just become a cookie dispenser or use treats as a way to lure instead of as a reward. There is a science to using treats (rewards) properly. And anyone who says that treats don’t work, doesn’t understand the science or how to use rewards effectively.
Praising and petting your dog is rewarding enough.
You would think this one is absolutely true, right? Wrong. A reward has to be something your dog LIKES. If you are depriving your dog of any affection or positive praise except for when you are using it as a reward, it can work. But only because your dog is in a state of deprivation most of the time. Most of us don’t do that. We offer praise and petting frequently and often. Because this is the case, it’s not effective in situations where our pups are over stimulated. In fact I am sure many of you have experienced your dog pulling away from your touch when a new person was around. This is because the new person is more exciting then your petting and because you give it away for free, often.
Some dogs don’t like to be touched, if they don’t like to be touched then you are actually punishing them if you go to pet them as a reward. Bottom line is that your pup needs to ENJOY the reward in order for THEM to consider it rewarding.
I like to have a tool box full of different rewards. I tend to pet, love and praise often when I am home – it feels good and I like it. I use treats when I am teaching new behaviors because it is easy to get my dogs attention and focus with food. I use toys (balls, tug toys, whatever my pup likes) when I want to get my dog excited about a behavior. Just remember if your dog likes it it can be rewarding enough. One way to tell if they like something is if you find them asking for more or get excited when the reward happens. Let them tell you.
There is only “one right way” to train your dog.
Not true. I wish it were true, but it’s not. As with most things there is more then one way to train a dog and they are usually pretty effective. Choosing punishment based training over reward based training will work. I don’t like the emotional toll punishment based training takes on dogs so I choose to use reward based training. But the truth is either will work if used consistently. Is one or the other “the right way” or “the only way”? No.
Your dog is a living creature with feelings. When you train them please remember to think about this. Also think about how you learn. Do you learn better in an encouraging environment or a completely controlled environment where wrong choices are criticized? I choose to teach a dog how to control their impulses without breaking their spirit. In my experience punishment based training is more about breaking the spirit then teaching them to control themselves. This is my choice. I hope that you choose the same.
Dogs who are old can’t learn new tricks.
Ahhh my favorite myth of all. Of course you can teach an old dog new tricks! Training a dog at any age is possible. The challenging part about this is that an older dog has been engaging in bad habits for a long time. It is this that makes maintaining, not teaching, new behaviors more challenging because it’s easy to fall into to old patterns.
This is true for the human who is trying to teach the new behaviors as well. My job is more about teaching the human how to maintain the new behaviors they want their dogs to engage in, rather then training the dog. Training the dog is easy. I teach what I want and then I do what I need to maintain that behavior. Starting with the wanted behavior first rather then changing it later is always easier, but it’s never to learn something new. Have you ever tried to quit smoking? Case made.
I hope debunking these dog training myths has helped you to understand your four legged companion a bit better. But most importantly I hope that you understand the role that you play in these myths. You are the Leader of the Pack, not your dog. This being the case YOU are the one who decides which behaviors are acceptable by ALLOWING them to happen. Your dog is just doing what dogs do. They don’t know how to live in the human world naturally. In fact neither do we when we are born. We are taught how to behave in society, so in reality we are all learning how to behave throughout our lives.
I hope your pups were given the gift of a Benevolent Leader rather than a harsh Dictator.