There’s all sorts of dog training advice available to pet parents, but not all of it is science based – or even accurate. In this article I’m going to be busting just a few dog training myths that I encounter on an almost daily basis.
A few weeks training is all I need
Puppies and dogs never stop learning. They go through lots of different life stages and each stage calls for a different level of training. For example, a 12 week old puppy will be needing to focus on learning about the world and building a bond with their human family. A 6 month old puppy is likely to be showing signs of adolescent behaviour and will need plenty of patient and consistent training to support them (and their human family!) through what can be quite a testing life stage.
Young humans don’t learn everything they need to know in a few weeks – neither do pups. People spend up to one quarter of their life in education (longer if you include workplace learning). And arguably the most important lesson we learn (and continue to learn throughout our lives) is not reading, writing or maths, it is lifeskills. How to negotiate everyday life, get along with others and find happiness. So by my reckoning, if the average lifespan for a pet is 12 years, dogs need regular training for at least 3 years – and longer if they’re enjoying it.
Click here to read my article on how long to train your dog
My dog is too dominant
Dominance in dogs, is based on a debunked theory. As a dog behaviourist, I’m often approached by clients who feel that their dog is exhibiting dominant behaviour. Dominance implies fear – something about the dog’s behaviour in certain situations makes the owner feel worried or fearful. In fact, it’s more likely that the dog is afraid and is using the only communication tools it has to make the scary thing go away.
Growling, biting, barking, lunging, resource guarding, nastiness around food, aggression towards other dogs (or humans) are usually signs that a pet is actually afraid of something. For example, a dog who has been denied food in the past – perhaps a rescue dog – will of course try to make sure their next meal doesn’t get taken from them. Likewise, one that feels threatened will growl and snarl to warn off their perceived attacker.
Your dog is not trying to be boss of you – they’re trying to protect themselves. These are behaviours that won’t improve without professional help. Always consult a dog behaviourist if your dog regularly reacts badly to a particular situation.
Puppy socialisation is all about puppy parties
Puppy socialisation, just like child rearing, is about teaching your pup how to behave with dogs (and people) of all sizes, ages and characters in “real life” situations.
In my opinion, puppy parties do nothing to replicate a real life situation and can in fact, do more harm than good if run badly.
Every pup has a unique character and a unique set of likes and dislikes. Some enjoy rough play, others prefer to sit and observe. Not every pup wants to join in with mad games – in fact some are terrified by them. Wouldn’t you be frightened if a complete stranger ran up to you and bit your ear?
Unless they are very carefully managed, puppy parties teach exuberant pups that it’s OK to persistently jump on other dogs (aka bullying) and they teach quieter pups to be wary (or scared) of other dogs.
Yes, your puppy does need to learn to get along with other dogs, which is why my puppy and dog training classes mix pets of all ages and temperaments. Pups and their owners learn how to “read” doggy body language and have fun without getting into a muddle.
My puppy should greet every dog and every person it sees
Not every dog wants to be greeting by a bouncy puppy. And let’s face it, you don’t want to inadvertently train your pup to drag you across the park every time another dog appears on the horizon. Yes, of course your pet must learn how to greet other dogs, but let’s teach them about manners too.
As a rule of thumb, I suggest letting your pup greet one in ten dogs you meet on your walks. Reward your pup for resisting the temptation to greet another dog dogs whilst out and about. And always stick to dog owner etiquette. Put puppy on a lead when you see another dog and always the other human before allowing your pup to approach their pet.
Your ultimate aim is for your dog to be able to focus on you when other pets are around and only play when you deem it’s safe to do so.
If I tell my dog off it will stop the problem
Imagine you have started a new job, you are given no training, and yet you get in trouble for every mistake. Would you love your job? Do just a little bit more than you needed to? Will you look forward to the next workplace adventure or the next level of learning? No? Me neither. But that’s what a dog goes through if it is told off – especially if they have no idea how they are “supposed” to behave. Remember that they are hardwired to live with dogs – living with humans is the equivalent of us living with aliens.
Going back to the workplace situation. Instead of telling you off, wouldn’t it better if your colleagues showed you what you needed to do and praised you when you got it right?
That’s how we should be training our dogs too. Dogs learn by association. They associate people, places and things with consequences (either good or bad). And they live in the moment. So when you come home to a mess on the floor and you yell at your pup, the puppy doesn’t associate your outburst with the fun they had ripping that cushion. They associate your homecoming with a telling off. It doesn’t take long for them to develop a fear of you coming home.
When you say “no” to a dog – it means nothing to them. It’s just a loud noise that means you’re angry. Instead of “no” try asking for a different behaviour. “Sit” will stop a dog jumping up at someone. “Come” will distract them from chasing next door’s cat. Having said that – your dog must be able to understand those alternative cues – and that’s where dog training comes into play.
Shouting and punishing your dog breeds fear. For a strong, loving relationship with your pet, use reward based training, management and praise to build his or her confidence in you.
I’m the pack leader
Studies have shown that dogs living in the wild do not have a pack leader. They all work together as a team to ensure that everyone in the pack survives. Each one has a role to play in raising the pups. That may be hunting for food, protecting against predators, teaching the pups to explore their environment and also helping them to understand doggy body language.
Your role in your puppy’s life is to nourish your pup. Help them grow in confidence, protect them from harm and fear and introduce them to the ways of the world. You are not a pack leader, you are a puppy parent. And as we discussed earlier in the article, dominance does not feature in any dog’s psyche. Your job is not to dominate your dog because dominance is all about fear.
Puppies should cry it out when first left
It must be terrifying to be ripped from the security of the only home you’ve ever know and taken to live in a strange place with none of your siblings. That’s what happens when a pup leaves the breeder to join his or her new forever family.
Quite often, the pup will be too engaged by the travelling and meeting new people to be worried for the first few hours. But when night falls, and everyone disappears, there must be an overwhelming fear. Puppy feels abandoned – he doesn’t realise you’ll be back with him or her in a while. The trauma, will flood your pup’s little brain and body with adrenaline and cortisol – the stress hormones.
It’s only natural that puppy will cry – he or she is calling for help, just as you and I would if we were kidnapped. But that surge of stress hormones will inevitably have an effect on his or her confidence. Far better if puppy is gradually introduced to the idea of sleeping in his or her own bed.
When new pups arrive in the Willingham household, I expect to have them very close to me for the first few nights – or until they have got used to their new surroundings. Usually I sleep on the sofa with puppy in a crate on the floor beside me. For the first few nights, my sleep does get disrupted by puppy cuddles. But it doesn’t take too long for puppy to become more independent.
I always advise prospective puppy parents to book themselves at least a fortnight of quiet time with their new ward. Expect a few disturbed nights and don’t try to work through the exhaustion. Instead, take an afternoon nap with your puppy, take time to cook nutritious meals for yourself and work a rota with everyone else in the house so that you can soak in the bath.
Allowing your puppy to “cry it out” night after night will do nothing for your relationship with the pup. And it won’t help puppy grow into a confident dog. Instead, plan ahead, cuddling your bewildered puppy isn’t spoiling him or her, it’s building a lasting bond between you.
Need help to plan for your new arrival? Download Puppy’s first steps – our Dogversity course in beginning life with a new puppy.
Rewards make dogs fat
Rewards are an essential part of training and at first it seems odd to reward for all that good behaviour. Don’t worry, as your training becomes embedded in the dog’s psyche, you’ll need fewer treats. But in the short term, simply remember that you need to roughly match the calories that your dog eats with the energy he or she burns off.
If you have a busy training day with lots of treats – pop a little less food into their bowl at feeding time.
You could also look at the types and sizes of treats you are giving for rewards A treat should be very small – less than a mouthful because you want to be able to reward your dog and move straight on to the next behaviour. Waiting for them to chomp on a giant Bonio will kill the “mood”. Whereas a small chunk of carrot or a piece of cooked chicken will be snapped up in a second and the training impetus won’t be lost.
Why not look online to see if you can find recipes for healthy home-made dog treats to use as rewards. That way you will find it easier to keep your pet’s waistline under control.
There are literally hundreds of dog training myths out there. At the end of the day, science-based dog training – the sort of training we use at Best Behaviour Dog Training – is the kindest and most reliable type of training.
Here are some articles that explain the principals behind our dog training methods
What is force free dog training and how does it work?
Is your dog misunderstood? – revealing the real reasons behind doggy behaviours
Communication and relationships for successful dog training