10 training misconceptions
Ever wondered why your dog still has that thing he or she does that you can’t seem to get a handle on? There are often misunderstandings between us and our canine pals, and these frequently go unnoticed by we humans. Here are ten common misconceptions when it comes to living with and training our dogs.
“You mean there’s no guarantee my dog will be trained?”
Relationship is powerful and it matters. It’s something we trainers cannot change for you. How you live with your dog affects training. What kind of relationship you have with your dog at home will influence how they behave in the world. Just like parenting children, living with a dog is an allthe- time kind of commitment. Be careful how you spend your time.
Is your relationship healthy? Too much fun or not fun enough? Too much discipline or not enough? Too much closeness or not enough? We know that too much or not enough of any of these can create imbalances in our relationship and result in unwanted challenges. Don’t let your human or dog relationships become one sided. Creating the appropriate relationship at home will set you up for success everywhere else.
“Oh it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok…”
This is a common phrase I hear as I watch a well-intentioned pet parent pat and rub their dog in an attempt to make them feel better about whatever its concern is. Unfortunately, interacting with our dogs in this way often results in the opposite of what we were trying to do. Acknowledging our dogs in that mindset can teach them that you agree with their concern.
They become validated by your affection and more of the undesired behavior persists. Instead, practice detachment when your dog is worked up. Wait for them to settle and only reinforce their calm behavior choices. Interact when they are calm and you get more of that. Cultivating this exercise at home carries profound positive effects outside the home.
“They’re my babies!”
This is a common point of view in the pet parent world, that our dogs are our babies. Some agree and some don’t. Here’s the thing: I don’t believe this emotion is necessarily bad. Sure, let your dog be your surrogate child. I talk to my dogs like they’re little humans all the time. I talk like I know they understand. I support your decision to baby talk your dog.
However, never forget that they are still dogs and they naturally communicate in some very different ways from humans. Although I talk to my dogs, you won’t catch me using regular talking for communication with them. I interact in a way that they understand. With body language and word association. Being able to switch off the baby talk and speak dog when you need to will be your ticket to creating clarity for your dog at home.
“He’s a rescue so he needs a lot of space in the house.’’
Another well-intentioned belief causing trouble in many homes is that, because the rescue dog came from a kennel environment, they must need lots of space and freedom to recover from that experience. The trouble is, freedom and space can set up opportunities for the new dog to develop or rehearse unwanted behavior. And it is not uncommon for that to happen.
If you have a new dog at home, whether they came from a challenging situation or not, always remember that dogs thrive on a consistent routine. When people say “structure,” this is what they mean. Consider how your day would go if you had no particular daily routine for your toddler, and you just reacted to the events of the day as they came. It would almost certainly become a gateway for behavior issues. Your dog wants and needs to count on a regular routine, which offers him fewer chances for bad habits to show up and persist. Set your dog up for success by actively planning daily experiences.
“Dogs have to eat from a food bowl!”
In so many homes that I visit, the food bowl is the number one culprit for families not achieving results with their dog. At the very least, what many people do is get their dogs to sit while they put the bowl down and give permission for the dogs to eat. That’s great! Now what? When the dogs perfect that and we don’t change how we deliver their food, we miss out on a huge opportunity to train them. Work them for their food. You already dedicate time at least twice a day to feeding them. Ditch the food bowl and use their food to teach them how to do everything else you want from them. I promise, you will get faster results out of your dogs.
“They’re so cruel…”
That’s one point of view about crating a dog. To me, much of this view comes from the same mindset as concern over certain dog training tools. Yes, the crate can be cruel if the person using it is not a kind person. Using it as punishment, for extended periods of time with no breaks and forcing entry with no conditioning can absolutely be cruel. That’s not how it was intended to be used. Don’t do any of those things and there’s no worry about cruelty. Be kind, teach your dog to enjoy the space before leaving the house, and be responsible—your crate can become a valuable tool for behavior prevention and management.
“I need to socialize my dog.”
This is another difficult lesson to teach pet parents. A common belief is that socializing a dog means flooding them with exposure to different people, dogs, and situ ations. That belief is only half true. Yes, we want to create scenarios in which our dogs will be exposed to social interaction. But remember that interaction should always be controlled. Encounters full of unrecognized pressure or negative experience can result in an outcome you didn’t want. Socialization should be about peaceful coexistence and your dog feeling safe.
“He should be fine. He has the yard.”
Just because you have space for your dog doesn’t mean you get to clock out. Ever wonder why your children have all those toys, but they still seem to do everything except play nicely with those toys in the space you provided? We find them grabbing things they shouldn’t. Putting things in their mouth they shouldn’t. Kids do this and so do dogs. Just like kids, dogs need social interaction. Leaving them to figure it out in an open space won’t satisfy their needs. They still need many other types of interaction from you to succeed. The yard should be one of many ways you provide for your dog, not the only way.
“It’s their walk.”
Many people believe that when they walk their dog, it is the dog’s time to “be a dog” and explore. What can happen, though, is our dogs learn to tune us out and lead the way. Why does that matter? Well, think about what you’d do if your young child charged ahead and regularly ignored you. Most people make attempts to reel children in and give them more reason to want to stay close. We tell our kids when it’s appropriate to venture out and when we need them to stay close. It’s about teamwork and cooperation. It should be the same for your dog. When it’s always your dog’s walk, be ready for unwanted habits. Teach your dog teamwork on the walk, in addition to exploring at the right time. When you do, you can be certain your walking experience will improve.
Hiring a Trainer
“He doesn’t come back cured?”
It is common for a family to think that paying for training will make their dog problems go away. So many people unknowingly set expectations far too high when it comes to their dogs. Hiring professional help can make things better. Sometimes training can turn things around completely … if the family does the work. You can get your dog into a one-week program or a month-long program and it won’t suddenly be better at home. Behavior doesn’t generalize without the family continuing the work. Training can help us get control over many challenges, but it does not change who a dog fundamentally is. It can’t change your dog’s perceptions of your world together. After the training, you need to stay committed to living the training. That’s how transformation happens.