By Ketan Panchal*
You can find some excellent dog training tips online, in books and from fellow dog owners. Unfortunately, not all of the advice you get is accurate. Dog training myths can be harmful to your pet and can also make training it more difficult if you follow them. Here are some common dog training myths you should definitely ignore :
Myth 1: You Can’t Train a Pup Until It’s 6 Months Old ?
Truth: Puppies begin learning from their mom and siblings almost immediately after birth. They are capable of learning basic commands; being potty trained; picking up how to walk on a leash; and socialising to new people, sights and sounds as early as 8 weeks of age. Their attention span is shorter than adult dogs and will require more patience and positive reinforcement, but the sooner you begin a pup’s education the faster he will learn what you expect from him.
Myth 2: You Can’t Train an Aggressive or Fearful Dog with Positive Reinforcement.?
Truth: Using aggressive training methods to train an aggressive dog will most likely result in a more aggressive or fearful pet, and won’t alter the bad behavior. Positive reinforcement training is one way of earning your dog’s respect, and it helps him gain confidence as he gradually learns how you want him to behave.
Myth 3: A Food Reward is Bribery
Truth: When learning something new, whether its dogs or humans, a reward is a motivating factor to want to be successful – provided that the task was correctly performed. Most canines are motivated by a food reward during training sessions, and when your dog reliably complies with a command, you can phase out the treats. It does what you ask for because it understands what you want it to do.
Myth 4: Playing Tug-of-War Teaches Dogs to be Aggressive
Truth: Tug-of-War is a game dogs love to play, and it is used as a reward by people who train service dogs, working dogs and canines who compete in dog sports. However, there are two basic rules you need to enforce when playing. Never let your dog put its teeth on your skin when it’s tugging the toy, and it should know and obey the “drop it” command.
Myth 5: Dogs Work to Please Us
Truth: Our canine friends are opportunistic and driven by instinct. However, through the process of domestication spanned over hundreds of thousands of years, dogs and humans have learned that we share a mutual interest which benefits both species. Dogs perform jobs we train them to do, and in return we provide them with food, shelter, health, care and affection. Doing what we ask for gets the dog the rewards it likes such as a play time period, petting, an ear scratching session or a relaxing massage.
Myth 6: It’s a Phase
Truth: No, it isn’t. Dogs learn what we teach them on purpose and also pick up appropriate and inappropriate behavioural cues unintentionally. Unfortunately, canines learn bad behaviour when you don’t take the time to train them how to behave appropriately. If you don’t address unwanted behaviour, it will likely become more pronounced and harder to change. When you let it get away with growling over its food bowl or any other unwanted behaviour, it’s not something it will outgrow, nor is it just a phase.
Myth 7: My Dog Isn’t One of the Intelligent Breeds
Truth: Regardless of breed, all dogs can learn commands; some just require a bit more patience and time for them to comprehend what you are trying to teach. Canines were bred to do specific jobs and have the intelligence and characteristics needed to do them. It can be a challenge to figure out what motivates your pet to learn and how long its attention span for training is. Nevertheless, it will learn if you use positive reinforcement and persistence, and reward it with some tasty treat for doing what you ask for. The only reason the Border Collie tops the list of the smartest dog breeds is because they can learn a new command in the fewest number of repetitions.
Myth 8: My Dog is Too Stubborn to Learn
Truth: Some breeds can be stubborn, but there could be a good reason for their lack of desire to listen to you. A dog might be in pain due to a medical condition, feeling anxious, fearful, doesn’t understand what you want, or you haven’t found the right reward that motivates it.
Myth 9: You Have to Do Everything First so Your Dog Knows You Are the Leader
Truth: This is a myth based on how a wolf pack works, and there are two fundamental things wrong with this kind of thinking. First, dogs aren’t wolves. Second, the belief that you have to do everything first to establish yourself as the leader comes from a debunked study done on a captive wolf pack made up of unrelated wolves. It doesn’t matter if your dog goes first through a door, or walks a bit out in front during a walk. You establish yourself as the leader by building a bond and earning your dog’s trust and respect.
Understand that a puppy is an infant dog – not a miniature adult. Adjust your expectations accordingly, considering its physical and mental limitations. Before you know it, your puppy will be all grown up!
Puppy-proof your house with baby gates, a crate, and/or a pen. Any time the puppy is not directly supervised, it should be in a safe place where it can’t get into trouble. Provide appropriate safe toys for it to chew.
Train with high-value treats. You will be amazed at how much harder your dog will work for a tiny piece of chicken breast, cheese, or liver, compared to even premium store-bought treats. Those may work in distraction-free settings, but when the job gets more difficult, you need to bring out the good stuff. Training treats should be soft, so you don’t have to wait for Rover to chew before continuing the lesson.
Catch your dog being good. It’s easy to get caught up in scolding when your puppy is getting into trouble, but rewarding it out of the blue for being good lets it know it’s doing the right thing.
Dogs do the things that we reinforce. Those behaviours you don’t like? We usually have only ourselves to thank. Owners inadvertently reinforce all kinds of undesirable things, from excessive barking at the doorbell to counter surfing. Keep leaving food within reach on the counter, and your dog will learn that it’s worth its while to check.
Always be happy when your dog comes to you, whether you called it or not. A common owner complaint is that the dog does not come when called. Never punish your dog when it comes to you, no matter what it did before. Call it in a happy, playful tone and reward big when it gets to you, with treats, a toy, or praise.
Keep a positive attitude. If you are getting upset, your dog knows it!
Provide the right amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Bored dogs get into trouble. For young puppies, mental stimulation is just as tiring as physical exercise and is safer for their growing bodies.
* Ketan Panchal is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behaviourist (CPDT) USA. You can connect with him on Instagram@k9certifiedtrainer.