Most of us have heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” With some time and patience any dog, no matter the age, can learn. From positive reinforcement to training corrections, there are many ways to train your dog. If the Association of Professional Dog Trainer’s National Train Your Dog Month has you thinking about training your dog, or finding a trainer, you’ll want to make sure you do your research.
Here are some common myths you might see during your search. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers sets the record straight.
MYTH: Dogs are descendents of wolves and therefore training should be based on how wolf packs interact with each other.
REALITY: Dogs are not wolves and there are many significant differences between dog and wolf behavior such that wolf behavior is completely irrelevant to how we live and interact with our dogs. Moreover, when wolf behavior is mentioned as a model for dog training, the understanding of wolf behavior used is often incorrect and based on studies that have long since been disproven by research scientists who study wolves extensively. Read Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities for a more detailed discussion of this myth.
MYTH: My dog knows he did something wrong because he looks guilty.
REALITY: Guilt is a human emotion and whether animals feel emotions in the same way that humans do is subject to a great deal of debate among scientists! However, in terms of the "guilty look," a recent study at Barnard College in New York found that the "guilty" look people claim to see in their animals is entirely attributable to whether or not the person expected to see the look, regardless of whether or not their dog had actually done something to be "guilty" about. When a dog looks "guilty" it is because they are reacting to a change in our body language that tells them "something is wrong" and leads to body language on their part that "looks" worried and nervous to the human eye. In reality the dog has learned to exhibit these behaviors in order to appease humans who display angry or upset body language.
MYTH: If a dog can't learn a behavior, he is either stubborn, dominant, stupid, or a combination of the three.
REALITY: The truth is, dogs in many ways are just like people. Some dogs will pick things up very quickly and others will take more time and guidance. Often times when we as trainers see a dog having difficulty learning a task, it's because the dog is not being communicated to in a way that the dog can understand. Other times they fail to learn a task because they are not properly instructed as to when they've done the behavior correctly and therefore have no way of knowing what you are asking of them . Always reward your dog for doing something right and use patience when demonstrating a desired behavior. If your dog still seems to have trouble learning something new, think about how you've been teaching the dog from the "dog's point of view." Think about how certain behaviors may not be as clearly taught as you thought they were, or if there are elements in the environment that might be causing your dog to become confused or distracted. Is the behavior too complex and perhaps needs to be broken up into smaller steps? Another possibility to consider is whether the dog is capable of physically learning a certain behavior - for example, a dog that has hip problems might find certain positions like "sit" uncomfortable.
For more myths about dog training, or tips on finding a dog trainer, visit the website of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.