For every good dog tip circulating on the internet, there is probably a dozen or so pieces of bad advice. Dog training and behavioral science have been greatly modernized over the last few decades, and the cultural ethos surrounding dog ownership is not yet fully internalized. Let’s go through some common dog training myths and learn more about what the science says.
1. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Despite the popularity of this phrase, we know it’s not entirely true. Dogs can learn and benefit from it at any age. The hard part is usually working to undo a previous learning history, especially when the behavior has been rehearsed for a long time. For example, if your 10-year-old dog was always barking at the post office, that’s definitely something to work on. But it will likely take time to break through old behaviors and develop new ones.
2. You must be an “alpha” that your dog can listen to.
The term “alpha” originated in a study of wolves published in the 1970s and has since been revised by the researcher who coined it. We now understand that feral wolves live in small family groups consisting of two parent-offspring pairs, rather than in a strict and forcibly reinforced hierarchy. In addition, the behavior of our domestic dogs differs greatly from that of their wild cousins. Any training philosophy that uses “dominance” as its cornerstone is outdated, imprecise, and unnecessary.
3. Relieving your anxious dog “increases” the anxiety.
Behaviorally, it is virtually impossible to reinforce fear. The concept of reinforcement applies to behaviors, not feelings, especially involuntary feelings like fear. When our dogs are frightened, it’s perfectly fine (and preferable) that we provide them with the comfort they need so they can feel safe and secure. A strong bond of trust is essential if we ultimately want to help make our dogs feel less anxious. The applied animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell offers a useful analogy:
4. You can’t use positive reinforcement for serious behavior problems.
It is believed that serious behavioral problems such as aggressiveness require more rigorous training. However, there is a large and growing body of research that not only shows the harm of using aversive training strategies, but that positive reinforcement is actually more effective! Hundreds of trainers around the world use positive reinforcement coaching to work successfully through aggressiveness, interaction, resource protection and more.
5. Using food in training is a bribe.
There’s a big difference between a bribe and a reinforcement! Bribery is used to bring about the behavior, while the reinforcer drives the behavior after it has already occurred. If we want our dogs to repeat the behaviors we love, we need to reinforce them. Food is typically the most convenient way to teach new skills, but once your dog understands a cue, you can take advantage of other rewards in life, such as: B. playing with toys, going for a walk, greeting friends and exploring the surroundings.
6. My dog should listen to me because he respects me.
The term “respect” is unfortunately only a human thing! Dogs are immoral beings. They navigate their world and make decisions based on their learning history. Simply put, dogs do what works for them to get the results they want. This means that as creatures with big thumbs and big brains, we need to organize our homes so that the behaviors we like are the same as giving the dog what it wants.
Dog myths are common, but evidence-based training and compassion are key to dispelling them. If you need help separating myths from facts about your dog’s behavior, your best bet is to consult a qualified and evidence-based dog trainer.