Debunking Dog Training Myths

This article was originally featured in The Dog Dish Magazine.

Positive training makes your dog lose respect for you.

Through positive reinforcement training you’re not just teaching your dog how to do cute tricks. You’re actually teaching your dog how to understand you and how to communicate with you. A good trainer will also show you ways to understand your dog’s behavior so the communication goes both ways. When you can effectively communicate with your dog, you can build an unbreakable bond, based on mutual understanding.

Many people believe that positive training is all about spoiling your dog and never showing him the difference between right and wrong. In fact, if you’re using positive reinforcement training properly, you’re also using negative reinforcement training methods. The “positive” in positive reinforcement  refers to adding a reward, while “negative” refers to withholding or removing a reward. When these methods are used correctly and consistently, there’s no need to use dominance or punishment-based training methods.

You may be wondering, “What if my dog is aggressive? Don’t I need to punish her for really bad behavior?” The answer to that question is resoundingly, “No!” When it comes to dogs, most aggression is fear-based. Fear of being hurt, fear of not being able to eat, or fear of being trapped. If you punish your dog for aggressive behavior, you’re adding to the fear problem. If your dog is aggressive in any way, seek help from a positive reinforcement trainer as soon as possible.

 

Dog training changes your dog’s personality.

Are you worried that your sassy pup will no longer have all of that hilarious attitude after training? Or that your confident dog will lose tenacity after training? Positive reinforcement training isn’t about changing your dog’s personality; it’s about harnessing their personality traits so that they will be well-behaved at home and in public. Every dog is a little different and each dog has a unique personality. A good trainer will appreciate that about your dog and help you understand how to work with your dog’s unique traits. That said, if your dog is timid, fearful or anxious, positive reinforcement training can help you to help your dog become more independent and confident.

 

Men make better dog trainers than women.

Did you just laugh when you read that headline? I hope so! But, believe it or not, many people still think this way. They say that men are more dominant, have deeper voices and are physically bigger than women, so dogs respect them more. If you’ve ever wondered how much of that is true, no judgement, but please allow me to enlighten you.

For starters, it’s true that men tend to have deeper voices and larger bodies. But, how many dogs have you met that are afraid of men? How many have you met that are afraid of women? Having trained hundreds of dogs, I can honestly say that I have yet to meet a dog who fears only women and about half of my aggressive dogs fear men. So, while those deep booming voices and muscles may be effective for some dogs, it usually won’t help the fearful dog. Furthermore, strength and dominance have no place in reward-based dog training. A good trainer doesn’t need to be able to deadlift 500 LBS. They need to be able to show your dog that learning new words is fun and worthwhile. Both men and women can do that.

Secondly, though I don’t prescribe to dominance theory in my practice, it is important to understand its heritage. Dominance theory in dog training is derived from the idea that all dogs were ultimately bred from wolves and that in a wolf pack, there are alphas who are protectors of the pack. It says that when you take in a dog, you should become alpha. The term “alpha male” comes from dominance theory and is commonly misdirected toward humans. Ironically, more modern research has shown that the true alphas of many wolf packs are females. Female wolves choose their mate, and the mated pair become alpha when they have puppies to protect. Females are often in charge of protecting the pack, the puppies (their lifeline for survival), and leading the hunt. Because dogs don’t mate with people, there is no scientific reason to believe that they think of us as alphas or as “dominant” in a wolfish way. Dogs already rely on us for everything they need, so there is really no purpose in displaying dominance toward a dog. If anything, that type of behavior can hinder the positive relationship and bond you have with your dog.

 

My dog is potty-trained and knows “sit,” so we don’t need training.

If your dog is potty-trained and knows sit, that’s a great start! But, from the perspective of a dog trainer, that’s like saying, “My child knows the alphabet, so he doesn’t need to go to school.” Dog training is so much more than learning a few words. It does often include commands that could save her life, such as responding to her name, coming when called, staying in place, laying down, not jumping on people, disengaging from overstimulating objects, and dropping unwanted items. But, it’s also a chance for your dog to bond with you, to get out of the house, to build confidence, and to to socialize with other people and dogs in a safe environment.

 

My dog is too old for training.

Codswallop! Even old dogs can learn new tricks. Granted, it is easier for young dogs to learn good behaviors than it is for older dogs to unlearn bad behaviors. But, even though your older dog may need some more time and patience, that doesn’t mean he can’t learn new things.

The most effective time to start positive reinforcement training with a certified trainer is before your dog reaches six months old. A dog’s brain develops fully at the age of six months. After that, they can still learn new things, but if they’ve learned to fear certain things, or if they haven’t yet been exposed to some items, they may have to do more work to learn not to be fearful. For example, I once met a dog who was born in the winter and reached six months old before ever seeing a watermelon. This dog was petrified of watermelons for no other reason than lack of exposure before the age of six months old. For older dogs experiencing fear-based aggression, teaching them how to react appropriately to certain triggers is especially challenging because their aggressive behavior has probably helped them in the past, or at least they’ve perceived their aggression as helpful. Challenging, but not impossible, and certainly worth the attempt as it could save a life.

If you start positive reinforcement training from a young age, you’ll be able to continue teaching your dog new tricks throughout their lives. If your dog is older and you wish she knew more than a few commands, it’s never too late to give professional training a chance.

 

I watch that one dog training show, so I don’t need classes.

These days, dog training shows and videos are a good way to get training tips and pointers, as long they promote reward-based training techniques. However, there is nothing like sitting down with a professional dog trainer and having her coach you and your dog, one-on-one. While dog training shows and videos often only give you a short summary of how to train certain commands, dog trainers evaluate your specific needs as they relate to your unique dog. They allow you to get immediate feedback and they demonstrate ways to improve your techniques on the spot. And best of all, it’s really not that expensive! Some of the best dog trainers in Oklahoma City charge less than $30 per class and offer free evaluations.

To learn more about dog training options at Barkley University in Oklahoma City, please visit barkleyuniversityokc.com or call (405) 652-9843.

 

 

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