When it comes to dog obedience training, everybody is an expert. After I got my first dog, many of my neighbors gave me all sorts of dog tips. Much of it was conflicting advice, and much of it was wrong.
The best way I found to approach dog obedience training is to get the facts for myself. Initially, this can be a bit daunting, but it gets easier with time.
In particular, it is important to get training information from multiple sources. Do not believe what you see on a single television show, what you read in a single book, what you find in any one web article, or even what you may hear from a so-called professional dog trainer. The dog obedience training field it not regulated and anyone can refer to themselves as a professional trainer.
Instead, get your information from all of these sources, from many different people, from top veterinarian schools, and scientific studies. Then, use that knowledge and common sense to determine which ones are dog obedience training facts, and which are myths.
Dog Obedience Training Facts
Fact 1 – Almost all dogs can be trained to follow obedience commands and to stop undesirable behaviors.
When I first got my Shiba Inu, it seemed like he was an extreme devil dog and no matter what I did, his behavior only got worse. However, after a few months, I finally started to understand the basics of dog obedience training and things improved dramatically.
The only time where dog obedience training fails is when there are health issues involved. For example, a dog may have neurological disorders, or some other physical ailment that is causing his erratic behavior.
Fact 2 – Most dog obedience training issues and bad dog behaviors are a result of human error, or human misunderstanding.
When a dog misbehaves, we commonly blame the dog. However, most bad dog behaviors come from us, rather than from our dogs.
Dogs are not born mean. In fact, bad dog behaviors usually occur when we mis-communicate with our dogs and inadvertently reward bad behaviors. If a dog consistently gets bad results for a given behavior, he will stop that behavior. Conversely, if a dog consistently gets good results for a given behavior, he will increase the frequency of that behavior.
Similarly, if we do not fulfill our dog’s needs, including his need for exercise, chewing, digging, playing, and wrestling, he will try to fulfill those needs on his own. This is when our dog suddenly turns into a devil, and causes havoc and much property damage. However, if we provide our dog with positive outlets for his hyper energy, he will be happy and content to lie by our feet when the day is done.
Dogs are not humans, therefore they do not learn or think in exactly the same way as we do. Many people attribute bad dog behavior to hate, malice, or spite. Those particular nasty emotions are a human thing and not a dog thing.
Similarly, we are not dogs. Therefore, we should not try to pretend to be a dog by biting our dog’s neck with our fingers, pinning them to the ground by their necks, or try to fight and posture like a dog. Our dogs are not stupid, they know we are not dogs, and that our fingers are not their mother’s teeth.
When we jab at a dog’s neck, he does not think that it is another dog biting at him. In fact, it probably feels nothing at all like another dog biting at his neck. Instead, the jab causes some discomfort or pain, which causes some dogs to stop his current behavior in order to avoid further pain.
Dog Obedience Training Myths
Myth 1 – Bad dog behaviors are a result of dominance and can only be dealt with through physical corrections.
Dogs usually misbehave not because of dominance, but because we respond in the wrong way. When a dog jumps, we try to push him away with arms and hands. This actually rewards a dog for jumping because from the dog’s point of view,
Jumping = Fun game of wrestle.
Similarly, if we frequently take things away from our dog by force, he will learn that
People coming close to my stuff = Stuff gets taken away.
This conditions a dog to start protecting his belongings with whatever means necessary.
Myth 2 – Operant conditioning methods that work on dolphins, bears, tigers, and other animals do not work on dogs because dogs are pack animals. As such, they only understand dominance techniques.
Yes, dogs are pack animals; and in fact, so are we. Dogs do sometimes engage in dominance posturing, and they may sometimes fight because of dominance issues. Humans do the same things. However, dominance displays and fights are only a small part of a dog’s life. We are often the ones who project our own need for dominance onto our dogs.
Operant conditioning methods that work on dolphins, bears, tigers, and other animals will work on dogs as well. In fact, almost all of our current dog obedience training methods are based on operant conditioning principles. This includes both reward obedience training (time-outs, food rewards, withdrawing attention, NILIF) and aversive obedience training (leash corrections, alpha rolls, shock collars, finger jabs, muzzle slaps).
Myth 3 – We cannot stop dog bad behaviors with reward training. Reward training is just for learning dog tricks.
Contrary to what some people may say, reward training can be used to both stop bad behaviors and to encourage good behaviors. Similarly, aversive training can also be used to stop bad behaviors and to encourage good behaviors. Each school of training has its advantages and disadvantages, but both can work to shape behavior.
Myth 4 – Using food to stop bad dog behavior is treating the dog like a human. Therefore, it does not work.
I will never understand why food is considered to be a human thing and not a dog thing. Dogs have to eat too.
The reason why dogs jump and bite during dinner time is because *we* become afraid when that happens, and quickly give them their food. This rewards the jumping and biting behavior, which causes the dog to jump and bite more. If we only give our dog food when he is sitting and waiting patiently, then our dog will quickly learn that,
Sit = Get food, while
Jumping and biting = No food.
Randomly giving food to a dog with no attention to timing, teaches him the wrong lessons. Similarly, randomly jabbing a dog because of some perceived dominance issue teaches him the wrong lessons as well.
Timing is crucial in dog obedience training, no matter which techniques we choose to use. However, the risks and consequences of timing mistakes are greatest, when we use pain based aversive techniques.
Dog Obedience Training Facts and Myths
I believe that the most important thing, is to give our dog a good quality of life. This includes fulfilling his needs, as well as ensuring his health and safety.
Dog obedience training is necessary to provide some structure for our dog and keep him safe. This allows us to take him walking, play fun games, meet and greet people, and much more.
However, we must not forget that dogs are individuals, with their own will and their own mind. There are some things that my dogs must do, such as go to the vet, walk on a leash, and not use their teeth on people. At most other times, they are free to think and act on their own.
As pack leader, I help my dogs be the dog that they want to be; rather than use pain and force to make them into the dog that *I* want them to be.