If you walk into a pet store, a vet office, or a dog park, you will get a barrage of conflicting information from dog owners, vets, and even trainers, about how to raise your dog. Luckily for us, dogs have been our friends for centuries, and thanks to modern science, we have figured out a thing or two about our canine friends and how they learn.
If you’ve ever torn your hair out in despair or felt confused over how to train your dog, never fear! Our list of the 10 dog training myths will transform you into an owner that knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
11 Dogs Want To Lead The Pack
Although some trainers like to repeat Cesar Millan’s mantra about being "alpha over your dogs," this idea has been debunked by science. Wolves don't fight to be the leader because a pack is comprised of two parents and their pups.
In short, dogs are not just wolves in disguise and you don't have to bully them in order to teach them good manners. Dogs are social animals, but they’re certainly not plotting to overthrow you in order to become “leader of the pack.”
10 Dominance Is A Personality Trait
Many dominance theory trainers also like to talk about how a dog has a “dominant” personality. According to them, dogs possessing this personality-type are constantly striving to become top dog, even over their human owners. To keep these dogs in line, dominance-theory trainers suggest that you must do everything in your power to make a dog understand their place on the totem pole.
Real dominance is simply a term for the fluid relationship between two dogs who want to be the first to claim an available resource, such as a comfortable bed. It does not exist between humans and dogs. Even if it did exist, humans control most major resources – we dictate when our dogs go out, when our dogs eat, and when our dogs get to play or get pets. Furthermore, dogs aren’t going to battle it out Fight Club style in order to see who is the boss. Instead, one dog will peacefully defer to the other dog.
9 Shock Collars And Prong Collars Will Not Hurt Your Dog
Another common dog training myth is that prong collars and shock collars are tools that “don’t hurt.” This is completely false. In order for any punishment-based tool to work, it must cause a certain level of discomfort/pain. As such, they do, in fact, hurt the dog.
The University of London performed a study that proved shock collars make dogs very stressed out and scared. These training tools also don't address why a dog is misbehaving and often lead to even more behavioral issues. For any punishment-based tool, make sure to consult a qualified trainer who will not use them as the first resort. Explore all other possibilities, especially ones that use reward-based techniques, before even considering these tools.
8 Training Can Be Guaranteed For Life
There is absolutely no way that you can guarantee that a dog will be "fully trained" for life because dogs aren’t robots, they are living animals. Dogs can learn or forget good or bad habits depending on how often they get to practice the behavior.
Basic doggy manners are highly influenced by how humans interact with the dog. If the dog, who has previously never begged, is repeatedly given table scraps during human dinner time, then it is very likely that they may develop begging behaviors. Likewise, if a dog who previously used to beg are not given any scraps straight from the table for the rest of its life, it is very likely that the dog will no longer continue to display that unwanted behavior. In short, even if you "train" a dog to not do something, human habits can easily make them revert back to their original behavior.
7 Positive Trainers Let Dogs Get Away With Bad Behavior
There’s a common misconception that trainers who mostly use reward-based techniques (often derogatorily called "cookie pushers") let their dogs get away with bad behavior. This in turn creates a spoiled pooch who demands treats every five minutes and is a complete bully at the dog park.
Reward-based training doesn’t equal permissive (lack of) training. Positive reinforcement trainers don’t let their dogs run amuck or allow their pets to become spoiled brats. Just like other trainers, they consistently enforce specific rules, and reward the dog when they choose to follow the rules. Bad behavior is not ignored by positive trainers – they just choose not to use punishment that will physically or mentally harm the dog.
6 Every Dog Learns Differently
While it may be true that dogs are all individuals with differing personalities, it isn't true that they all learn differently. All animals, including humans, dogs and even orcas, learn using the same four quadrants of operant conditioning (positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment). While what motivates them might differ (some dogs prefer treats, some dogs prefer praise or a toy), all animals follow this basic principle of learning.
5 Dogs Can’t Start Training Until They Are Six Months Old
There’s a misconception about dog training that suggests we can’t begin teaching our new pup basic commands such as “sit,” “stay” or “come” until they are six months old. This idea is false. While a puppy needs to have all of their shots before they can go to a group class, you can easily work on basic commands in the privacy of your own home from the day you get your new pal.
4 Some Dogs Are “Too Stubborn” To Be Trained
Some owners claim that their dogs are “too stubborn” to be trained, but that is not true. Much like little children, dogs learn at their own pace and we need to be patient with them. We also have to step back and figure out if we didn’t communicate the wanted behavior to our pet. Sometimes, it's easier to break down a complex command into simpler steps in order for a light bulb to go off in your dog's head.
Remember, our dogs do not speak English and we need to be patient when training our furry friends. As Dr. Ian Dunbar says, teaching your dog new behaviors and cues is like learning English as a second language!
3 Using Food Isn’t Real Training, It’s Bribery
Many dominance trainers like to claim that positive reinforcement trainers are only bribing a dog and our furry pals should be content to work for praise alone. This is absolutely false because using food to show our dogs that they got something right is no different from an employer giving a good employee a bonus. You wouldn't expect to work for free, would you? It should also be noted that rewards are only used consistently at the beginning of the learning process. Just like a gambler who continues to gamble once they hit the jackpot once, your dog will want to keep working with you if they believe that there is an opportunity to gain something in return!
Food is also not the only motivator or reward for a dog. Most dogs are food motivated, but there will always be some who prefer to be rewarded with a good game of fetch or a thrilling tug-of-war session.
2 Tug-Of-War Creates Aggression
There’s this idea that playing tug-of-war with our dogs will make them more aggressive, but this is simply not true. Tug-of-war does not turn your dog into a blood-thirsty monster, but we do need to set rules. You can start off by making the toy irresistible and then urge Fido to grab the other end of the tug by saying something like “go get it.” The game should always end when we say “drop it” or something similar, but a good tug-of-war session is a great way to bond with our pooches and is an excellent way to burn off energy.
1 You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Some people say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but this this idea is false. We can absolutely teach dogs of any age new behaviors, but it just might take a bit longer with older dogs because they’ve had more time to practice bad manners. With a little time and effort, we can turn our older pets into well-mannered members of canine society.