Misconceptions Owners may have about their dogs

Cute Puppy, Dog Trainer

From experience, these are some of the misconceptions owners have about their dogs (This in no way applies to all owners or includes a list of all misconceptions):

Their dog isn't listening because they are stubborn:

Dog's aren't stubborn in the way that humans can be; they don't go out of their way to choose to ignore you. That's a human trait! If a dog isn't listening to you, read below:

All dogs learn the same way, but each individual learns at a different pace. Dog's also don't generalize very well- that means that if you've only taught them to "sit" in your living room, we can't expect them to sit outside, or even in the kitchen without training them to do it.

So, if you have only taught your dog a command in one location and are stumped as to why they won't do it in a different location, chances are they just need to practice in the different location. If it's an area with lots of distractions, we need to proof the command with minimal distractions and then slowly build up to bigger.

Another reason (there's many of them) the dog may not be "listening to you" could be that the cue was poisoned. Cue poisoning happens when a command is given over and over again- and it becomes irrelevant to the dog. If you've ever had to tell your dog to "sit" multiple times before they finally do, or completely stop rewarding the dog altogether (food, toys, life rewards etc), the dog eventually learns to ignore the command because it's meaningless for them. With that said, if you're dog isn't listening to you, try to figure out the why and what's changed since the last time they performed something correctly for you.

That their dog is trying to dominate them, or wants to be the alpha dog:

Dominance theory has been taken out of context, and large parts of it are highly untrue. Here's a link to more on that:

Dogs know that we aren't dogs- saying they are trying to dominate us when dominance means animals in the same species competing over resources (food, shelter, mates, etc) wouldn't be accurate.

Example: if a dog is pulling on a leash, it doesn't mean they are trying to dominate you-it means they have never properly been taught how to walk on a leash. If a dog is excited about another dog approaching, and we haven't proofed loose leash walking, chances are they will pull due to a lack of training (not dominance).

Example: If a dog bites a child, because the child had just stepped on their tail and pulled their ears, it doesn't mean the dog is trying to be dominant. Chances are, the dog was giving out warning signals saying "please stop, I don't like what you're doing". If the dogs request to stop was ignored, and he felt threatened, he may bite-not because he was trying to establish his dominance, but simply because he was scared and in pain. If someone were pulling your hair and ears, and you kept giving them warnings to stop, when would enough be enough? It's the same for dog; Every dog has their own threshold of what they can tolerate.

That You need to be tougher with certain breeds:

I've worked with many different breeds, From Afghan Hounds to Xolo's (Ok, technically Yorkie would come after Xolo, but Xolo sounds much cooler 😝- and they are so awesome to work with!!)

I've owned American Pitbull Terriers since I was a kid- that's my breed!

I've trained Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs, Akita's, Boxers, Dobermans. Want to know what they all have in common? They all learn exactly the same way. Dogs learn through Operant and Classical Conditioning- Positive Reinforcement (rewarding a dog for doing something you want them to do) always works if done properly. There's never an excuse to use pain, fear or intimidation on any dog, no matter the breed.

That "if you train a dog with treats, they will become dependent on it and will only work for food".

My initial reaction to this is "well-the dog has to eat anyways, so even if this were true (which it's not), I'd still rather a dog do things only for food than using pain or intimidation to do it". But-thankfully, that's not the case at all.

A common error when training is always showing the dog the reward before they do what you want them to do. This can be done intentionally (a bribe) or unintentionally (having the treat in your hand visible to the dog). Using rewards to train a dog isn't a bribe-or at least it shouldn't be. We want to teach the dog that if they do something correct, they may get rewarded with it. We don't want to teach them to ONLY do something if they see the reward first.

As for continuous rewards (think food, toys, affection etc) there's many types of Reinforcement schedules to put the dog on after they have learned a behavior. I prefer a variable-ratio schedule, and compare it to a slot machine- pull the lever and you may get a reward (or not). I also use life rewards ALL. THE. TIME. What's a life reward? Dogs have to eat- why not make them sit and stay before you put down their food bowl? Most dogs go outside to go to the bathroom or go for a walk- why not make them sit and wait before opening the door to let them out? These are examples of life rewards- having a dog do something you ask of them before doing something they want to do.

These are just some examples of common misconceptions I've heard about Dogs, Positive Reinforcement Dog Training, etc.

Stay tuned for more in a future blog!

And thanks, Wag Worthy Dog Training for the question!

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