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10 Dog Behavior and Training Myths
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10 Dog Behavior and Training Myths

I’ve watched decades of dog trainers with the newest, latest, training methods. But almost everything goes back to theories and training methods used by sheep herders, and farmers, for hundreds of years. The fact is, dog’s haven’t changed much. They’ve adapted to urban living, and they are now competing in an ever growing number of sports. But when it comes right down to it, dogs are relatively the same as they have always been.

1. Dogs Don’t Understand

This is the first myth. Dogs communicate very well, if you will listen to them. But they can also shut down. Dogs communicate continually. Most positive dog training is built on teaching a communication method with your dog. The most common is clicker training. I prefer using word markers (words) that have a meaning to my dog’s.

Keep the words short, and keep the meaning consistent. I use ‘good’ to mean I want that behavior. “yes” means the behavior is good and we want to keep moving. The most important communication style for dogs is body language.

When you learn to communicate with your dog training is easier, behavior problems often disappear, and you’ll have more control over your dog’s actions.

2. Your Dog Wants To Dominate You

I’ve have owned over 50 dogs in my life and worked with many more, and I’ve never had a dog want to dominate me that wasn’t trained to do so. The training may have been unintentional, but someone or something in the dog’s life gave it the idea that it was a good thing to challenge people.

I’ve cured a few aggressive dogs just by telling the owners to play with the dog, every day, for at least 30 minutes. Others have needed reactive training. Read More

3. My dog knows He is bad

Here are some of the comments I’ve heard from people over the years:

  • “My dog tore my coat up so I couldn’t go out and had to stay home with him.”
  • “My dog resents me going to work”
  • “My dog ate my husband’s boots because he is jealous”
  • “My dog does that to get me back.”
  • “My dog knows he is bad”
  • “Look at the guilty look on my dog’s face.”

Guilt, resentment, and jealousy are human emotions. Dog react to stress differently than we do. Stress, fear, and frustration are the greatest causes of behavior problems. If we stop treating our dogs like people, and ‘let them be dogs’ then they will often relax.

The only case where this may not be true is with separation anxiety. Some dogs grow out of this. Some dogs can overcome this with extra socializing and behavior modification. Others need help to eliminate the stress. No one should let the dog trash their house every time they leave, but treating dogs like humans is not the first step to eliminating the problem.

4. Never Train a Puppy

This was true when people used choke collars and punishment. They could break a puppies spirit very easily. Even today some trainers believe in waiting till a year old. If you do, make sure you continue socialization and mental stimulation. Do not let the puppy run the house.

I’ve done it both ways. I’ve started training puppies at 6 weeks, and older than 1 year. I haven’t seen any difference in the dog’s behavior. The dogs that burn out and stop competing at 3 -5 years old may have other attributing factors. Maybe the handler stopped viewing the sport as a ‘game’ and became more interested in the ribbons. Play is vital to dogs. Their strongest motivation is play, so when the game is no longer a game then they don’t want to play anymore. This has nothing to do with the age you start training.

5. Treat Training is Bad

I use food with all my dogs. If you start training with food it doesn’t mean you always need food. You just need to understand ‘operant continuing’. When a dog receives a food reward the dog releases dopamine. (a drug in the brain that makes them feel good.) Once a dog is conditioned to a certain response, the cue will initiate the release of dopamine, with or without the food.

As long as the dog is being conditioned, and not bribed, then food is a great way to train a dog to a high level of obedience.

6. Playing Tug Causes Aggression

This is not true. Tug is a great game that dog’s understand. It is a wonderful way to engage with your dog and build the ‘fun’ into the game. The more fun a dog has, the more ––he wants to continue playing. I end every training session with a ball, or game of tug.

7. Obedience is forever

I have worked with people whose dogs have been through several obedience courses. I recently worked with a dog who had been to a top trainer for weeks, and still didn’t know its name. Dogs do not learn like we do. They learn through association. We can read a book and remember it. Dogs need repetition.

A well behaved dog is a process. Dogs learn what we teach them. Dog training should be part of the dog’s life, not just a ‘once a week’ outing. Dogs need more mental stimulation than most people think. They can survive without it, but they may develop bad behaviors. The best way to keep your dog happy is to play daily, exercise, and keep teaching new ‘good’ behaviors.

8. My Dog is Too Stubborn To Learn

Dogs are not stubborn. Most times I have seen a dog that refuses to listen, I also find an owner who is very disconnected with the dog. They don’t interact with the dog. They haven’t taught the dog how to communicate. And 99% of the time they do not engage (pet, wrestle, play ball or tug) the dog.

9. Never Punish a Dog

Dogs do not need pain. I personally do not use a choker collar. In fact, my dogs do not have a leash or collar on them till 6 months old – but I start training at 4 weeks. But if you are patient, persistent, and communicate with your dog you can train it without punishment.

This doesn’t mean punishment doesn’t work. But I’ve seen 40 years of working and performing dogs, and the ones that ‘won’t let you down’ are the ones that were positively trained. The trick is using a balanced approach. When you are training a dog, turning your back, or withholding a treat can be seen as a punishment.

Dogs need boundaries, they need to know what is right, and what is wrong. But they don’t need pain to learn.

10. Training for Treats is not Real Training

I often have trainers from ‘working bloodlines’ tell people that food based training won’t work, or won’t reward a dog properly. The fact is, once you take the ‘ego’ or personal preferences out of the way, food is just another training aid.

Real training for sports dogs, working dogs, or service dogs, all depend on motivators. The choice of a motivator needs to be based on what that particular dog loves. If your dog goes nuts for a ball – then use a ball. If it will ‘stare you down’ to get a kibble, than that is the best motivator for that dog.



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