The 5 Biggest Dog Training Myths Debunked By Science
Does your dog show respect for the law? Does he require taming or squelching? What is the best method for reducing undesired behaviour? And who exactly is grabbing those dog biscuits while someone else is training them?
As the sciences of animal behaviour, ecology, and veterinary medicine continue to advance, our long-held beliefs about how to best educate dogs are beginning to change. The following are five of the most prevalent dog-training myths dispelled, utilizing the expertise of several scientists:
Dogs want to be in charge.
The idea that dogs want to usurp their human owners and become “the alpha” in the home is one of the most pervasive myths in the history of dog training. A wolf ecologist first introduced the idea in the middle of the 20th century. Still, it was later proven false when ecologists learned that the early studies of dominating behaviours were based on captive wolves kept in zoo cages and were unrelated to one another.
Even though ecologists realized they were wrong, the idea had already caught on in the dog training community, where many trainers still support using the so-called “dominance theory” when dealing with dogs.
In my book Wonder dog, a wild carnivore expert named Gabi Fleury said, “It’s hard to say how long it will take to wash out of the dog training world.”
Treats are bribes.
I find it particularly annoying that people think of treats as an idea of bribery, says Madeleine Goumas, an authority on animal behaviour. These concerns are based on the obstinate notion that dogs should obey commands out of respect rather than a desire for rewards.
Why should we expect our dogs to repeat learned behaviours without being rewarded, asks neurologist and dog lover Alice Gray. “I reward my dog for their hard work with treats, play, or praise.”
An old dog cannot learn new tricks.
I even fell for this one. I assumed that his training would be over once our dog reached adulthood. Not at all. Training is a continuous process that necessitates ongoing reinforcement. Thankfully, we play games while we walk to incorporate training into our daily routine.
“This is particularly important for recall and walking to heel, which are important for the safety of the dog and other humans as well as wild animals,” says Dani Rabaiotti, a wild dog researcher.
You have to play the bad guy occasionally.
Many dog trainers still use punishment to instil the desired behaviours, even though positive reinforcement is far more effective, says animal welfare researcher Nicola Clements. Reward-based training can result in more compliance and a stronger human-canine relationship than punishment-based training. Dogs may find it simpler to learn new tricks as a result.
“There is this popular notion that you need to act like a pretty severe person while training your dog,” claims evolutionary researcher and dog lover Ben Garrod. No, you don’t. All you need is persistence, self-assurance, and patience.
There is just one method for training a dog.
According to long-term behavioural studies of dogs raised under varied conditions in the 1950s and 1960s, a dog’s personality in adulthood may be affected by inherited traits (partially linked to breeding) and life events, particularly during puppyhood.
Environmentalist Charlotte Dacre says that this means there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method for training dogs. Trainers need to be aware that dogs have a “personality,” not to say they are like people.