I?ve had the pleasure of working with many animal trainers over the years, including one of the best animal behaviorists in Texas, Michael Baugh. Dog training myths, for some reason, run rampant.
And they drive me f?ing nuts.
Here?s the thing: Just because you read something on the internet (ha, ha) doesn?t make it true. Please feel free to fact-check this piece when you?re finished reading. Let me know if you think I got something wrong.
Some dog training myths are merely annoying, but others can cause serious behavioral issues among our canine companions. And that needs to stop.
How Do Dog Training Myths Get Out of Control?
When you?re chatting with a friend over the phone and the subject of your dogs arises, your friend might say something like, ?Oh, I heard that prong collars are the best way to stop pulling.?
A subtle jab at your pooch, who always seems to storm ahead like a locomotive.
You accept her advice as gospel because, well, she?s your friend. Then you tell other people who struggle with maintaining their dogs on walks.
Dog myths also get out of control when a so-called expert produces a YouTube video, writes an article, gives a speech, or otherwise spreads harmful messages.
That?s why you have to get in front of the rumors.
You can debunk dog training myths on your own by digging into the research. Start with scientific evidence. There?s plenty of literature out there about positive, modern, pain-free dog training methods.
What?s the Best Puppy or Dog Training Method?
There are hundreds of ways to train dogs. Many of them are super effective.
Rob Peladeau, a successful dog trainer who has worked with service animals, law enforcement K9s, and aggressive dogs, gave a wonderful speech during a Google talk. He says that the only thing three dog trainers can agree on is that the other two are wrong.
Peladeau brings up great points about so-called positive reinforcement training. It doesn?t mean that dogs never have consequences. It?s that you don?t need to use pain or force to get a response.
A consequence to misbehavior can be not getting a treat or stopping a game of fetch. Instead of adding something, such as an e-collar or other primitive training tool, you take something away.
There are times when you have to use force. For instance, if your dog bites your toddler, you?d better find a way to separate the dog from your child. We have to respond to misbehavior based on its severity.
So, what?s the best puppy or dog training method? The one that works for your dog, results in long-lasting positive behaviors, and doesn?t cause your dog anxiety or pain.
55 Dog Training Myths to Ignore Starting Now: Part One
Let?s get to the good stuff. You might be familiar with some of these dog training myths, but some may come as a surprise.
We?re all learning, right?
Here are the first 15 dog training myths to ignore right now. In a few days, I?ll have the next installment posted, and the last will come at the beginning of next week.
Let?s dive in.
1. Puppies can?t learn until they get older.
I?ve heard six weeks, nine weeks, and twelve weeks as milestones at which a puppy can begin training. It?s all bullshit.
Animals start to learn the moment their born. Even when they don?t have working eyes and ears, then sense their environment through smell. They know when Mom and siblings are close, when food is available.
I started training Piper, my Labrador mix, when she was nine weeks old. That?s the day we brought her home from CAP, one of my local animal shelters.
She had a pretty solid sit and lie down within two days. Stay took about a week, and leave it was almost instantaneous.
According to the VCA, many trainers won?t work with dogs under six months of age. The VCA issues a stern warning:
Actually, this juvenile stage is a very poor time to start. The dog is learning from every experience and delaying training means missed opportunities for the dog to learn how you would like him to behave.
The main caveat is to make sure you don?t over-stress your young puppy. Short training sessions of 10 to 15 minutes work well.
2. You can?t teach an old dog new tricks.
I have a nine-year-old Labrador mix named Bella. She?s the sweetest dog in the world and thinks she?s a person.
Last week, I taught her how to high five me with both paws. She?s also recently learned to circle around me on command.
Age doesn?t matter, whether we?re talking about puppies or seniors. The keys are good timing, consistent feedback, and tremendous patience.
3. Training can be accomplished in a few classes.
Whether you?re training your dog yourself or taking classes with a professional, a series of five or six sessions won?t turn your pup into a mannerly master.
Writing for Rover, dog trainer Shoshi Parks says, ?You?re never really done training a dog.? Emphasis hers.
She lists eight variables that can impact how fast your dog will learn. What do you want him to do? How quickly does he pick up new behaviors? Can you get results from a distance or with distraction? What?s the dog?s history?
Generally speaking, basic obedience training takes about a year of daily training exercises. Prepare for the long haul.
4. You need force to make your dog behave.
How do you teach the sit command? If you?re pushing your dog?s rump to the floor or forcing his neck backward, you?re going about it the wrong way.
Animals, including humans, don?t learn when they?re forced to perform a behavior. Imagine if your algebra teacher wrapped her hand around yours and directed your pencil as you wrote out a problem. Would you learn? Absolutely not.
The same goes for your canine companions. You can use classical conditioning, operant conditioning, or a mix of both to teach your dog how to follow commands without force. Luring is a great solution.
5. Special collars speed up training.
When I see a choke chain, e-collar, or prong collar on a dog, I want to shake the owner by the shoulders and demand he or she remove it. These collars seem to work because the dog behaves better. Once you take off the collar, the bad behavior returns.
Imagine that you?re forced to wear an electric collar that zaps you every time you try to eat something unhealthy. You don?t want the shock, so you reach for veggies.
Once the collar comes off, you?re relieved and less stressed. You want a cupcake, so you eat one. Just because you can.
That?s how dogs deal with collars.
An article at PawCastle celebrates ?special? collars for improved dog behavior. However, in the same article, we?re treated to images of the damage these horrific tools can cause.
How would you feel if your dog looked like that after a morning walk? It?s unconscionable.
So, what?s the alternative?
Use positive reinforcement. Teach your dog a solid sit and look at me or hand target. When you walk, get your dog?s attention on you every few feet. When he complies, reward with a treat.
6. You should train your dog ?in the moment.?
One of the worst dog training myths is that you should wait for a specific scenario to present itself, then train your dog. Sorry, kids, but it doesn?t work that way.
Your parents come over for dinner, and your dog rushes them. She?s jumping up and down, so you grab her collar and yank her back. You make her sit. You force her to stay still.
She?s not learning, folks. That?s because it?s difficult to internalize an instruction when you?re in a state of heightened anxiety or excitement.
Imagine you?re walking alone down a street and someone sticks a gun in your back. He demands your wallet, watch, and jewelry. You comply, your entire body full of adrenaline. Then the mugger asks you for the square root of 81.
You probably wouldn?t be able to do it, regardless of your competency in math. Anxiety eliminates your ability to focus on anything other than the threat.
The same goes for excitement. You?re at an awards ceremony and have just been gifted the biggest available prize. Someone asks you the name of the first street on which you lived.
Your brain can?t compute. You?re focused on the excitement and energy of the moment.
Dogs are the same way.
Additionally, when your parents, friends, or other visitors arrive, it?s not their job to train your dog. That?s your domain. Don?t make them uncomfortable by forcing them to enter and exit your home or refrain from petting your dog when she jumps.
7. Your dog is too dumb, stubborn, anxious, distracted, etc. to learn.
Have you ever had a bad day? That?s what I thought.
Dogs have bad days, too. Sometimes, they?re just not in the right frame of mind to train, and you have to respect that.
Intelligence has nothing to do with it. Dogs learn to recognize patterns and identify behaviors you like by repetition. Furthermore, no dog is anxious, stubborn, or distracted all the time.
Control your dog?s immediate environment. Pause training when either of you become frustrated. If your dog is overly anxious, guarded, or willful, take him or her to the vet to rule out an organic reason behind the behavior.
8. Some dogs aren?t trainable.
This one?s actually true, but the situation is an extreme rarity, and people cite it as gospel.
I had a dog named Molly. She was sweet, beautiful, and anxious to a fault.
You Were a Good Dog, Molly
Before we took you home, we drove you to the nearest PetSmart to buy you all the essentials: food dish, leash, collar?
Then she had a couple seizures. We hired Michael Baugh, a well-regarded dog trainer in our area, to help. He worked wonderfully with her, but the anxiety persisted. She grew aggressive toward me and began guarding my husband.
We had to put her down because of her seizures and behavior. The vet suspected she had some sort of tumor or neurological disease. I miss her more than I can say, but I know she?s happier without having to patrol our house 24/7, waiting like Chicken Little for the sky to fall.
Don?t believe the dog training myth that your dog isn?t trainable. He is. You just need patience. If you?re struggling, look for an animal trainer or behaviorist in your neck of the woods who uses modern, positive methods.
9. Food rewards instill bad habits.
When you were a child, someone probably said to you a variation of, ?Be good at the grocery store and I?ll get you a lollipop.? Food is an excellent motivator because we all need to eat and because we enjoy foods we like.
Most dogs respond well to treat rewards. You just have to know when to phase out the treat. If you treat unpredictable for a good behavior, your dog will still respond because she knows there might be a reward at the end.
Some dogs will jump on you or otherwise misbehave when you pull out the good treats, such as tiny pieces of chicken. You can stop that behavior by refusing to begin the training session until your dog lies down for a certain number of seconds.
10. Food is the only reward.
If your dog is high-energy, has recently fed, or feels distracted by the world around him, treats might not provide sufficient incentive to work. That?s okay.
There are other ways to ?pay? your dog for good behavior. You could play a game of tug-of-war, chase, or fetch. These are great rewards because they not only help you teach good behavior, but you also get their energy out.
11. Clickers are used to tell a dog what to do.
One of the biggest dog training myths is that clickers should be a precursor ? not an antecedent ? to good behavior. When clicker training first came out, dog trainers would say ?sit? and click at the same time.
Don?t do that.
The click is a representation of the reward.
Let?s say you want your dog to sit. You say sit, click as soon as butt hits ground, then deliver the treat. You can?t mix up the order.
If you want to incorporate a hand signal, give the vocal command first, then the hand signal. After that, click and treat.
12. A dog should understand a verbal command immediately.
Dogs don?t speak English. We?re constantly talking to our dogs, but they don?t hear specific words unless they?ve been taught to pick them out.
For instance, you might say the word ?walk? while in conversation with your spouse. Seconds later, your dog is sitting where her leash hangs and wagging her tail.
But it takes time for dogs to understand English, and they often pick out single words.
Every dog learns at his or her own pace. Don?t get discouraged if you can?t get a solid leave it right away. Give yourself ? and your dog ? a break.
13. Dog training services are a quick fix.
I once saw an ad for a dog trainer who claimed to fix problem dogs in a single training session. That?s bullshit.
Dogs learn over the course of weeks, months, and years. Your dog trainer is there to provide support, critique your performance as well as your dog?s, and provide helpful tips.
There?s no magic bullet here, so don?t expect miracles when you hire a dog trainer or animal behaviorist.
14. Dog farming doesn?t exist.
Listen up, because this is a big dog training myth. We assume that dogs come from safe backgrounds, but even if you buy from a breeder, you never know.
According to Sentient Media, beagle farming is alive and well in the United States. And the torture visited upon these dogs is atrocious.
Dogs can come from abusive, negligent, or unhappy backgrounds. Some dogs exhibit aggressive behavior because they think it?s the only way to cope in a harsh world.
If you know that dog farming, dog fighting, and other rituals exist, you can work harder to advocate for animals.
15. Your dog will never walk quietly on a leash.
It feels like it, right? You try tugging on the leash, issuing follow commands, and making funny faces at your dog. Nothing works.
This is probably the most time-consuming aspect of dog training. It?s a dog training myth that you can?t teach a dog to walk quietly on a leash. The truth is that it takes time and patience to get the results you want.
Bow Wow For Now
Thank you for reading this guide and for loving your dog. That?s more than a lot of people can say.
I?m not a licensed dog trainer or animal behaviorist. However, I?ve worked with lots of animals, and I wanted to share what I?ve learned from those relationships. Hopefully, you?ve found something useful here.
But this is just the beginning!
I?ve covered 15 dog training myths. We have 40 to go, which will be published in two installments. Check back to read about more dog training myths that drive me f?ing nuts.