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Dog Training Myth Vs Fact

Updated: May 24, 2020

Last night was the most recent of many conversations I have had correcting many dog training myths. So I felt that it would be beneficial to address some of them here.

First it is important to understand that there is a fierce debate in the dog training world between traditional punitive (dominance and punishment-based) training methods and force-free (science-based) training methods. With this in mind, I am sure there will be many questions and even some that disagree with some of the content in this article. But, do not worry I will be writing articles addressing many of these in time to come.

I stand firmly in the camp of canine psychology and science based behaviourism, this has also been coined as, force-free. Having trained dogs (including my own) with both methodologies, I have first hand experience in the longevity of the training and the bond with my dog.

10 Common Dog Training Myths:

  1. There is more than one way to train a dog.

  2. Positive training methods don’t work on 'dangerous breeds' of dogs.

  3. Dogs only 'respect' leaders who assert 'dominance.'

  4. Positive trainers do not believe in discipline.

  5. Training a dog with food is basically bribery.

  6. Positive training stops working when you stop giving treats.

  7. Aggressive dogs are trying to be dominant.

  8. Dogs are pack animals like wolves and are hell-bent on becoming the 'alpha' or 'top dog' over their owners.

  9. Dominance training is safer because it has quicker results.

  10. Positive training is always slow.

1. There is more than one way to train a dog.

This is the trickiest one to answer, because frankly speaking, yes, this is true. You can train positively using canine psychology or you can train with intimidation and fear. (Within these two approaches, there are a lot of different tools and methods you can use.)

There are a few questions you have to ask yourself with regard to this:

  • What kind of person do you want to be and what kind of relationship do you want to have with your dog?

  • How do you or would you feel if someone were to keep you living in a state of fear so that you behave yourself?

  • Do you want your dog to do what you ask because of a strong bond, trust and the fact that he wants to, or do what you want them to do your bidding out of fear of what you may potentially do to them?

Punishment does work... for a while, if you scream, poke, yank, shock, kick or hit your dog, he will probably stop what he is doing, but the bond and trust will be broken and if you continue to intimidate him, you increase the potential for aggression, either directed at you, or redirected at someone or something else. If you want to have an emotionally balanced and confident dog that trusts and wants to be with you, the positive path is the one you should take.

So although there are more than one way to train your dog, it is down to you to chose which methodology you will use.

2. Positive training methods don't work on 'dangerous breeds' of dogs.

Actually, this is where clinical canine psychology based (positive reinforcement) methods are at their most powerful. Using this method on 'dangerous breeds' or severely aggressive dogs is not only a safer option, but also a much more effective one.

Force-free training does not only work on small dogs with minor obedience issues, it is also by far the most effective way to treat severe anxiety and aggression cases. I have successfully rehabilitated big, powerful dogs both mongrel street dogs and large breeds suffering from severe anxiety and aggression issues. Think of it this way, in an argument you are more likely to become even more confrontational if whoever you are arguing with shouts louder than you, pushes or strikes you. Fighting aggression with aggression results in someone eventually getting bitten or the dog going into an emotional shut down due to fear.

If you find yourself in a situation with an aggressive or very anxious dog, engage a qualified behaviourist who will be able to truly change the way your dog feels for the long term. This is done by being able to read and analyse why the dog is behaving in an aggressive manner. You can read more about the different kinds of aggression in the Noble Canine article, Aggressive Behaviour.

To handle canine aggression successfully, it needs to be handled sensitively and with compassion. Aggressive dogs are feeling incredibly anxious and stressed. Stress needs to be managed so that the dog can feel better while the behaviourist finds the cause of the aggressive response, only then can the dog and the owner work towards improving the situation. Instead of using forceful or using punitive methods, the dog is guided by using positive techniques that help him see the core of the aggression in a different light. Some dogs can be rehabilitated relatively quickly but for others it can take a while, which is why it is important to see every dog and every situation as unique.

3. Dogs only 'respect' leaders who assert 'dominance'.

Although we do need to be effective leaders to our dogs, the idea of dominance is very complex and most often misunderstood. Unfortunately, most of the time dog owners misunderstand the leadership their dog requires and go down the incorrect path.

Being a leader or the head of a family is not about being dominant, tough or the most aggressive. Think about a large family gathering of your own. Your grandfather may sit at the head of the table as the head of the family. But why? Surely one of your uncles could dominate the old man. They may well be able to but they don't out of respect for the leader of the family. Dogs are the same. Even in a pack of dogs the leader is not necessarily the most dominant of the group. The leader must be able to provide safety, security and those things which generally make them feel good. Aggression and dominant behaviour does not get this, a leader with knowledge and experience does. Dogs are not looking to be the head of the family, the alpha, the top dog or the pack leader. They know we're not dogs. As a species, dogs have been living along side us for tens of thousands of years. They prefer us to provide effective, non-combative and punishment-free leadership. Contrary to popular belief, we do not need to try and act like what we think an alpha wolf would do when dealing with our dogs, but rather provide consistent, reward-driven learning which helps guide dogs into making the right choices - the choices we want them to make in order to succeed in our world.

So do not get caught up in whether or not you or your dog has the upper hand in the battle for dominance. Focus instead on building a common language, rewarding the good behaviour, redirecting the bad behaviour, and instilling confidence in your dog to live successfully within the boundaries that you set for your household.

4. Positive trainers do not believe in discipline.