Training myths busted!

There are many myths surrounding training your dog. Here are the facts for some of the popular training myths.

Myth: If a dog can’t learn behaviour, he is stubborn, dominant, stupid or a combination of the three.
Fact: Dogs are just like people. Some dogs learn quickly while others will take time and more guidance. If a
dog is unable to learn, it’s only because the dog is not instructed in a way that he would understand. There are other times when a dog will not learn a behaviour because there has been no ‘REWARD’ at the time when he displayed it and is unaware of what you require from him. Another possibility is to consider whether the dog is physically able to display that behaviour – for instance, in the case of a hip dysplasia, dog may find certain positions of ‘sit’ uncomfortable.
Myth: My dog knows he did something wrong because he looks guilty.
Fact: Dogs do not understand language but yes they are able to gauge from your facial expressions and the tone of your voice. So when you say your dog knows he did something wrong, it’s only because of the tone of your voice, that you would use when you are upset with him. The guilty look displayed by your dog is probably a result of learning to exhibit this to appease angry or upset body language that has worked for him in the past with you.
Myth: A puppy has to be at least six months old to be trained.
Fact: Dogs begin to learn as soon as they are born…yes, their attention span of learning is quite limited but once the puppy is above three months of age and has completed his immunization schedule with ‘positive reinforcement’ techniques, he will learn quicker. After all, it’s important to socialise your puppy as soon as possible to new people and surroundings so that he can grow up to be a confident dog minus any unwanted behaviours.
Myth: The ‘positive reinforcement’ training only works with small/happy/regular dogs, not with tough/large/obstinate/stubborn dogs.
Fact: The ‘positive reinforcement’ training will work with any dog irrespective of size as using force or intimidation tactics on fearful or aggressive dogs is only likely to worsen the situation.
Myth: My dog pulls on leash because he’s dominant, or my dog jumps on me because he’s dominant, or my dog lays on the couch because he’s dominant, or my dog won’t let me clip his nail cause he’s dominant, etc.
Fact: If a dog is engaging in behaviours that you as a pet parent find to be dominating, it’s only because you have not taught him, for instance, not to jump on you, not to pull while on a leash, to allow grooming, etc. With the right teaching techniques which involve praise/toys/food or a combination of the three, undesired behaviours can be brought under control or eradicated.
Myth: Using food in training is bribery.
Fact: A reinforcement or a reward such as food or treats is used more commonly and simply because our canines love them and is an easy motivator to use to get a required behaviour.
Myth: I shouldn’t use food to train because then I will always need food in hand to get my dog to do something.
Fact: Food can be used as a positive reinforcer during training provided that you accompany it with praise before you reward the dog with it. Gradually you can stop using food and use only praise as a reinforcer.
Myth: Using human food for training will make my dog beg at the table.
Fact: Feeding your dog in the dining area will cause him to beg at the table. You can either contact a canine behaviourist to sort out the issue or simply place your dog under a stay command, choose to ignore him or get him to do the ‘go to bed’ command.
Myth: Using head collars will cause neck/spinal injury.
Fact: Collars such as choke chains, pinch collars are known to cause injuries in dogs but regular collars used correctly will not create a problem.
Myth: I heard my dog should work for me only because he wants to please me.
Fact: The bond that we share with our canine is a mutual one where we get unconditional love and companionship and in return we provide food, shelter, exercise, love, etc. So, when a dog does something to make us happy, he does it because it also gets him either love, treats or praise in return.
Myth: If you adopt an older dog, he won’t bond to you or learn new behaviours and how to live with a new family because ‘an old dog can’t learn new tricks’.
Fact: You can train a dog at any age…it’s just that the earlier you begin, the better as you rule out the possibility of any unwanted behaviours. Older dogs are calm and have a better span of attention than puppies. The only time when training takes a little longer with older dogs is when you are trying to reverse an unwanted behaviour.
Myth: My dog is trying to show she is in charge when she doesn’t listen to me.
Fact: Dogs don’t have complex emotions like us. When they don’t listen, it’s simply because the dog has not understood or the dog is not motivated enough to do the required behaviour. Most dogs will not do a recall (come while being called) for their pet parents as through past experience they have learnt that whenever they do. They are leashed and taken back home when they would rather stay outside and explore.
Myth: It’s always the pet parent’s fault when a dog misbehaves.
Fact: This is sometimes the case with pet parents who have been ill informed about training methods and have attempted to train their dogs using force and intimidation. However, a bad dog doesn’t always necessarily mean a bad pet parent as there are some dogs who are aggressive due to breeding malpractices, etc.
Myth: When a dog chews up furniture or destroys furniture, it’s because he’s punishing the pet parent.
Fact: When a dog indulges in destructive behaviour, it could simply mean lack of exercise, boredom, separation anxiety, attention seeking behaviour and in a puppy’s case teething behaviour.
Myth: My dog is urinating in the house because he’s angry that I left him alone.
Fact: If your dog is urinating in the house, there are certain things to consider. Maybe he has developed a urinary tract infection, is suffering from separation anxiety, maybe you left him for long and he couldn’t control his bladder, not fully toilet-trained or indulging in attention seeking behaviour. Consult your vet.
Myth: When your dog has a potty accident, it’s important to rub his nose in it to let him know what he did.
Fact: By rubbing your dog’s nose in his own mess will not teach him toilet training. On the other hand, it will teach him to sneak and do his bathroom in another place when you’re not around to avoid a similar confrontation with you making toilet training a difficult exercise.
Myth: You should never play tug of war… this creates aggression.
Fact: Tug of war is a game that you can play with your dog as long as you play against gravity and teach your dog that it’s never alright to put their teeth on your skin when they grasp the toy in their mouth. Also the dog must know to ‘leave’ on command.
Myth: A dog shouldn’t sleep with you or be allowed on furniture or he’ll think he’s the boss and misbehave.
Fact: As a pet parent it’s entirely your choice if you wish to allow the dog on the furniture but if you have a dominant dog on your hands, then it’s best advised to not allow the dog on furniture.
Myth: Shelter dogs have too much baggage. It’s better to adopt a puppy to start with a clean slate.
Fact: Many shelter dogs are well behaved and are not kept by the previous pet parents for several reasons. Adopting an older dog lets you skip the testing stages of potty training and teething. However, before adopting an older dog, it is always best to consult a canine behaviourist who can assess the dog for any behavioural issues and will help you adopt one suitable to your home.
Myth: All dogs should enjoy being around other dogs.
Fact: Just like us, no two dogs are the same, some dogs do not like to socialise with other dogs while some do. Various factors such as breeding, lack of socialisation, etc could attribute to a dog who doesn’t want to mingle with his own kind.
Myth: You should let dogs fight it out when they get into a scuffle.
Fact: This is partly true in the case of maybe a home where a new dog is causing unrest in the pack order established in which case the first fight must have a winner and a loser to avoid more fights in the future. However, as a pet parent, if you have already interfered in the first fight and your home has now turned into a canine war zone, it’s best to contact a canine behaviourist to solve the problem. Remember if you would have contacted a canine behaviourist in the first place, you wouldn’t have had any trouble as prevention is better than cure. Also when the dogs are engaged in a fight, it’s best to distract them with a loud noise, doorbell, treat, etc but don’t try to separate them physically as you would probably be rewarded with a dog bite.
Myth: A dog can’t really be happy unless he can run off leash.
Fact: A leash is a tool that safe- guards your dog against on-going traffic to avoid accidents and a trained dog is quite content to be on leash by the pet parent’s side. Off leash play must only be engaged in an enclosed surrounding
Myth: Dogs are great judges of people, so if a dog doesn’t like someone, it must mean there is something wrong with that person.
Fact: Dogs do have a sixth sense to pick up on cues that go unseen by us but majority of the dogs who display fear or aggression need to do so to safe guard themselves.
(Malaika Fernandes is a certified Canine Behaviourist-Trainer and is Director at Walk Romeo based in Bandra that caters all pet care services like training, behaviour modification, grooming, etc.)