Over the centuries, various schools of thought have been developed on how to train a dog to be well-mannered, appropriately behaved, or obedient so that they can share homes with humans.
Thankfully, trainers, behaviorists, and researchers have come a long way in this but there are various popular misconceptions and myths about dog training. in this post in Pets-Post, we will take a look at 13 mistakes of them they are . . . all false!
Myth #1: You must set yourself as the leader of the pack because dogs are domesticated wolves.
Although dogs and wolves belong to the same family, dogs are not wolves. Dogs are a set of unique animal species with the ability to learn very complicated behaviors from human beings. Today’s dogs were likely first selectively bred about fifteen centuries ago to live with us, provide company, and engage in activities such as herding, hunting, or calling our attention by barking when a stranger is around.
Any attempt to overlook the role humans play in the life of domestic dogs will only reflect a failure to acknowledge the reason why the modern dog even exists at all. However, most of the ace dog trainers seem to disregard this central point completely in favor of certain methods that underestimate the intelligence of modern dogs.
Majority of these trainers base their assumptions on a false understanding of wolves’ behavior that has already been discredited by most researchers who studied the behaviors of wolves. For example, L. David Mech, a renowned wolf researcher, debunked the “alpha wolf” idea (Robisch, 2009). According to David, when wolves are placed together randomly in a confined environment, they don’t fight for resources; clearly, such behaviors are only exhibited when wolves are placed in an unnatural environment.
“In the wild, wolves [the wolves that our dogs descended from] actually get to be the leader of the pack they belong to simply by mating, maturing, and giving birth to offspring,” says David. “In essence, leadership roles and positions are merely parental roles. The pack, as we know it, is actually a familial, social structure, just like the human families.”
In summary, any training routine that is focused on you taking up a “pack leader” role or an “alpha” rather than a loving parent to your pooch is basically flawed right from the start.
Myth #2: Your dog will stop listening to you the moment you start using treats.
This is yet another myth. If properly trained, with time, your dog will learn to obey without treats, but you might still need to use treats much longer than you might imagine, probably for over six months after your dog first learns a behavior. In this case, we are talking about your dog learning a skill completely. For that to happen, your dog needs a lot of repeated exercise and has to practice under different circumstances.
For instance, whenever you’re at home alone with your dog, it would sit for you even without a treat, but when you take a walk to a park where there are lots of noise and distractions, it doesn’t. This is because dogs don’t generalize situations well. As a matter of fact, a change of environment or other variables is the single biggest thing one can do to throw a dog off its balance. In cases like this, you’ll have to reteach your dog that skill in the new environment.
Once your dog has learned the skill completely, don’t immediately stop giving it rewards, because dogs love to be randomly rewarded. This will be more like an intermittent reinforcement, and reports have shown that dogs really perform well when you randomly reward them. You can perhaps reward them with a treat for a certain behavior, then probably skip the treat the next two times they do it and reward them three times in a row. At the end of the day, your dog would have learned how to generalize such behaviors even without a treat.
Myth #3: If you want a dog to listen, you have to dominate it.
The best way to teach is to communicate and not to dominate. The main objective is to teach a dog to do what they want and not to force your dog into submission. By attempting to dominate a dog by yelling at them to play the “alpha role” or using some subjective collars that are designed to cause some pain or discomfort, you will end up severing the relationship between you and your pet and affect the training process.
At the end of the day, such training is more likely to teach the dog what it shouldn’t do rather than what it should do. These techniques make you lose the trust of your dog. In addition, your dog will not behave as it should, especially when you take the collars off or when you don’t use any forceful methods.
Positive training, on the other hand, works well for virtually all dogs. Even if you have an aggressive dog, research has shown that the use of forceful tactics will likely make your dog’s behavior worse. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior, it was found that the use of confrontational techniques, such as intimidating a dog, striking it, taking up the alpha role, and staring them down often, leads to aggressive responses. By using confrontational tactics, you will appear as a threat to your dog, thereby increasing the chances of your dog using aggression against you (so it’s more like fighting fire with fire).
Myth # 4: Speak in very simple terms if you want dogs to understand.
Many trainers often advise that you restrict your phrase to very simple requests by saying a word at a time. While this is actually valid at the initial stage when introducing a new concept like sit, bark, and stand, there’s nothing wrong with taking the language a step further after few a weeks of basic training.
You could still choose to use the one-word requests; however, saying, “Please sit down,” “Have a seat,” or any other instruction to your dog will eventually help to expand its vocabulary. According to research, dogs can have a very broad vocabulary (comparable to a toddler’s). On average, a dog can learn a minimum of 165 words, but dogs that are highly intelligent can learn up to 250 words or even more.
So obviously, you don’t need to water down your vocabulary. For instance, if your dog is barking, you can decide not to use phrases such as “Don’t bark!” Alternatively, you can use a more advanced grammar, like saying, “Please, stop barking.” Learn to teach your dog your language the same way you would teach a young child. Speak freely without holding back, and let it flow naturally. You’ll be surprised at what your dog can actually understand.
Myth #5: Your dog can only learn one thing at a time.
Dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures. Like humans, dogs have the ability to process multiple ideas at the same time. However, this does not mean that you should expect your dog to learn ten new tricks in a single day. There is a clear difference between working to cover multiple new concepts and confusing your dog. You’ll need to determine the limits of your own dog. Generally, though, about two to four simple tasks at a time are ideal.
It is also important to know that you need not wait until your dog perfects a new concept before you move on to the next one. Most people wrongly believe that dogs need to learn and master the house training before they move on to other basic training. Ensure that you do not share such a mindset. While still house training your dog, you can also work on other basic concepts. Dogs enjoy working with humans, so don’t hesitate to speed up your dog’s training by teaching your dog multiple skills.
Myth #6: If a dog can’t learn a behavior, it is either stubborn, dominant, stupid, or a combination of the three.
This is not true. Dogs and humans share certain things in common. Some dogs learn very fast, while others might need more time and attention before they get it right. Most trainers understand the fact that when a dog finds it difficult to learn a task, it’s because the dog is not well communicated to in a way the dog can understand.
Moreover, dogs might find it hard to learn a new task if they’re not instructed properly, such that they can’t even tell whether they’ve done it right or not, so they don’t even know what you’re asking of them. Always reward your dog for doing something right and use patience when demonstrating the desired behavior. However, if your dog still finds it hard to learn new skills, you might want to review your teaching methods and try to see things from a dog’s point of view.
Perhaps some of the new behaviors you’re trying to teach might not be as clearly spelled out as you thought they were, or there might be some environmental factors that might be confusing or distracting your dog. You could also ask yourself, “Is this task too complex and therefore needs to be split into smaller bits?” Another thing to do is to ask yourself whether your dog is capable of physically learning this particular behavior or not. For instance, if your dog has a hip problem, it might find some tasks like “sit” difficult or uncomfortable.
Myth #7: Rubbing my dog’s nose in his “accidents” will house-train him.
The simple fact is that dogs don’t feel guilt and shame. Therefore, whenever starters rub their dog’s nose in its own mess in order to deter it from messing up the house, they are only abusing the dog but not passing any important lesson. At the end of the day, such dogs will end up feeling reluctant to go to the bathroom, thereby making it more difficult for you to house-train them.
Myth # 8: My dog knows he did something wrong because he looks guilty.
Whether dogs feel guilt just like a human is a subject that is often debated by scientists. In a recent study at Barnard College in New York, the so-called “guilty look” that is observed by humans can be attributed to what we expected to see in the dog. What this means is that once your dog observes from your reaction that something is wrong, probably from the look on your face, they, in turn, change their body language in order to appease to you. In summary, the guilty look you observe is just a response to your own feelings.
Myth #9: “Positive reinforcement” training only works with small/happy/regular dogs, not tough/large/obstinate/stubborn dogs.
Positive reinforcement tactics have been used by various animal trainers, especially large marine mammals. Large predators, like the killer whale and the tiger shark, have been trained using positive reinforcement tactics by focusing on rewarding good behaviors. If such large animals could be trained with such tactics, there should be no big deal training your dog with it irrespective of its breed. In fact, according to research, the use of other unpleasant tactics will make the dog more aggressive or fearful, which could lead to worse behaviors. On the other hand, training that focuses on rewarding the dog and allaying their anxieties and fears often lead to stronger human-animal relationships and will produce well-trained dogs.
Myth #10: My dog is dominant. He jumps on me, pulls on a leash, won’t let me clip his nails, lies on the couch, etc.
The term “dominant” has been abused severally, and it is used to explain every inappropriate action of dogs that the dog owners complain about. Sadly, even some dog trainers are also found guilty of this offense. The term “dominant” is not a character trait. Rather, it is used to describe a form of social relationship that exists between two or more people.
Against the popular belief, dogs can’t even consider exercising control over humans. Assuming a dog jumps on you, it did that simply because it is yet to be taught that such behavior is undesirable. In the same way, if the dog should pull on the leash, it is because it hasn’t learned that it is supposed to walk closely beside you.
What if your dog doesn’t like being groomed? It could be that it finds the clippers and brush scary, uncomfortable, or both. The point to take home from these situations is that if your dog acts in a way
you don’t like, dominance should be the last thing on your mind. Better still, why not try to take a closer look at your own actions and teach your dog the right behavior? Finally, do not forget to reward it whenever it does something right.
Myth #11: My dog should please only me; therefore, he has to work for me. That is false.
The reality is that dogs do whatever they do because it is working well for them. In fact, humans should count themselves lucky to have such an amazing creature that enjoys being in our company and share part of our lives. However, we should bear in mind that such association is meant to be a mutual relationship; and dogs benefit from us through the food, shelter, affection, and time we share with them among other things.
Clearly, we can see that it is natural for them to act appreciatively. So when your dog does something impressive that makes you happy, you don’t need to be overly excited, assuming that your dog did what it did just because it wants to please you. They do what they do to make us happy because it’s when we are happy that they will be able to get their treats from us, or perhaps it could earn them a belly rub. If you belong to the school of thought that believes that there’s no need to reward a dog for good behavior, then you will end up with a dog that is difficult to train because your dog won’t be able to discern whether it has done something right or not.
Myth #12: An old dog can’t learn new tricks and will find it difficult to bond to you.
This manner of thinking has been around for a long time. “You cannot teach new tricks to an old dog.” Although clichés usually have an iota of truth to them, that does not apply in this instance. Dogs, like any other animal, can still be trained no matter their age.
Dogs of all ages love to learn, so do not be afraid to teach your dog new tricks to keep them mentally active. There are lots of other interesting facts about dogs that you might not know, but remember that the older the dog, the longer it will take for them to learn a new behavior because the old training it received is still hanging somewhere within. So it may take a longer time to change its behavior.
At times, training an older dog could even be easier than training a puppy. This is because, generally, older dogs are calmer than puppies and can give you their attention when working with you.
Myth #13: You should never play tug-of-war because this creates aggression.
Playing tug-of-war with your dog is a good way to play with your dog as long as you do it the right way! Your dog needs to learn that sinking its teeth into your skin while trying to grasp the toy with its mouth is wrong. In addition, your dog needs to learn to “drop” the toy at your command once you’re set to end the game. The use of tug as a form of reinforcement in place of food is one of the common tactics among working dog trainers and dog sports competitors because dogs generally enjoy the game.
Myth #14: My dog became angry and started urinating in the house.
Dogs naturally will not urinate in the house, but if your dog is urinating ‘ the house, there could be a few possible reasons:
- You left the dog to hold its bladder beyond the normal time.
- Your dog is distressed because of extreme separation anxiety.
- Your dog is not fully house-trained.
- Your dog has a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection.
Dogs are not capable of such evil thoughts to act by urinating in the house because you hurt their feelings. But if you observe that your dog is not fully house-trained, it is often advisable to start the training from the beginning as though the dog is still a puppy and ensure that you’re consistent with the training and supervision.
Once your dog starts going out of the house to urinate, do well to reward it for going outside. There are times when sudden changes, such as relocating to a new apartment, could induce confusion for your dog. However, you might still need to take your dog to a vet to be sure it does not have some underlying medical conditions.