By Laura Dorfman CPDT-KA
A few common dog training myths have been coming up lately so I thought I’d use this space to talk about dogs.
1. When you train with treats, you have to have them always and use them forever.
Actually it works against you if you continue to give treats for every behavior asked for in his lifetime. Continuous reinforcement is only suggested for a new behavior or for a puppy or new dog learning positive reinforcement training for the first time. After your dog understands the learning strategy, he will be happy to work for whatever you are offering as long as you pay attention to your dog’s needs and desires and reward him with what he loves. Toys, praise, attention, tennis balls, or even other people or dogs can be more important than food to some dogs. Even the ability to perform a valued behavior can be a reinforcement. Learn what’s important to your pooch and then work to use his favorite squeaky toy to reinforce a “roll over”.
2. A dog who pulls wants to be the alpha.
A dog can pull on the leash for a number of reasons; wanting to be the alpha is not on my list for why. Dogs pull on leashes for a variety of environmental, learned and instinctual reasons. One reason is they never learned to walk next to a human with a long string attached to them. They are just untrained at walking with a leash next to us. Second is that they may just want to get to the place they’re going more than you do. Other reasons may include that the dog doesn’t get enough exercise so he’s trying to run a sprint while you’re trying to do a slow steady marathon. Some dogs are bred to pull and the feeling of the taut leash around their neck or body can encourage them to pull more — sled dogs and Newfoundlands come to mind. The number one reason dogs pull is because they are successful at it. It gets them to where they are going. It works. Dog pulls, human moves forward, dog succeeds and repeats the behavior.
For more tips on this topic, see Pat Miller’s great article, Good Dog Walking.
3. Shouldn’t I eat first and feed my dogs after?
I tell my clients you may choose to eat whenever you want. It’s your house. You are the human, you are the intelligent species, you get to make the right decision as to what’s best for you and the entire family, both human and canine. That’s what makes you the leader. If it makes more sense to feed the dogs first, do it.You can show your dogs in a much more appropriate and constructive way that you are the leader. Eating first isn’t one of them. If you’re waiting for your family to come home for dinner and it fits better to feed Fido first, do it. Then you can sit and relax with the humans and not have to worry about hungry dogs or dishes late into the night.
4. My dog is much smarter than me.
It’s actually really simple. The human brain is more advanced than the canine brain. We get into trouble when we credit our dogs with more intelligence than we have. It takes our responsibility away and gives us an excuse not to train and not to teach our dogs to really learn. It also puts a huge burden on the dog to be the leader and in a human world it doesn’t work to have the dog be the leader. It’s a great to understand that our dogs are very intelligent animals, AND it’s also important to know that no matter how smart they are, they still need us to guide them through life on earth with human beings. We’re not the easiest species to live with, you know.
5. The dog’s not supposed to be on the couch or bed.
Again, the same as the feeding rituals, the furniture question is entirely up to the human leader of the pack. If you want Fluffy to have full reign on the sofa and beds, that’s fine. If you don’t that’s fine also. Your dog can be trained with humane and safe training techniques to stay off furniture, even when you are not home. It’s up to you. Some dogs ask for permission when they want to come up on the couch with you, some have full access. Dogs who resource guard their space may need restrictions regarding furniture. A dog on the bed or sofa does not mean that the dog has taken over being the pack leader of the family, it just means that the dog likes to be comfortable, or likes to be close to you. We should consider it an honor not a challenge.
6. My dog is friendly. He doesn’t need a leash.
I hear this in the suburbs all the time. There are a few red flags about this subject. First of all, in my suburb and almost all suburbs there are leash laws. Next, there are cars. Enough said on that one. The other important thing to know about your dog being friendly is that not all dogs are friendly. When you allow your “friendly” unleashed dog to approach an unknown leashed dog, it is a path that could take a very wrong turn. First of all, not every dog is friendly and you may be putting yours at risk. Second, the dog being approached may be afraid of your very “friendly” dog and it may be causing unnecessary stress and fear for the leashed dog. Your “friendly” dog can sabotage months or even years of conditioning work. All that conditioning can go down the tubes with one aggressive approach by a “friendly” dog. It’s not fair to put other’s dogs at risk who are obeying the law and following appropriate dog management.
Unless you have total control over your dog and keep him within six feet of your body at all times, you need to leash your dog. Remember even “friendly” people can sometimes have personality problems with “certain” people. Even very friendly dogs may have a problem with an unknown dog on leash.
Without education, living with a different species in our homes can be difficult, at best. It doesn’t need to be. Even people who have lived all of their lives with dogs may need some practical guidance. Read up on new ideas and positive training techniques to make your life easier. There are seminars, webinars and private or group classes to help you along your way.