The Most Ridiculous Dog Training Myths Ever
As a trainer I get to meet all sorts of people with all sorts of different backgrounds and as a result hear all kinds of dog training myths. There really are all types out there! From the busy dog mom who just needs Fido to calm his tits a little, to the rough and tumble adventurers who need their dog to be ready for anything life throws at them. In my time I’ve heard some pretty crazy myths, fables, and old wive’s tales regarding the do’s and don’ts of training. Believe me, some of them are downright bizarre.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t condone any of the myths that are listed in this post. Some are benign, but some can really land you into trouble with your dog. I also want to make clear that NONE of these myths will help train your dog or get you to your goals with your dog.
Myth #1 - Your dog needs to face their fears to get over them
This is a fairly common myth, but it’s anything but fair to the dog. Like many of these myths in this list, I don’t know where this belief started or why it’s going on so strong today.
In a nutshell, this myth claims that for your dog to get over a fear that they have, you as the owner have to force them to deal with this fear. No letting them run away or get away from the scary thing, putting them through it “as many times as it takes”, and depending on what they’re fearful of, forcing them to interact with the thing. This myth also supports dragging your dog closer to the thing they’re afraid of.
What this actually does
Let’s reframe this a little. Say your child or younger sibling was afraid of something. They are crying up a storm and very clearly uncomfortable. Do you choose to make them “face their fear”? Does doing so make them less fearful in the future? Does doing so make them trust you more in these types of situations?
Your dog is no different. Dogs forced into situations very commonly develop strong fears and reactions to the thing that made them uncomfortable. Often their outbursts spread to others parts of their lives as well. Anxiety and stress usually go up as well, which is never a good thing if you want a calm, reliable, and trustworthy companion.
Myth #2 - Crates are cruel and are unnecessary
Usually those who believe this myth strongly are the ones who could actually benefit from crate/pen use the most!
Crates are an invaluable tool when it comes to raising the best companion you can. Not only does it ensure that your dog has a safe and comfortable place to relax in, it also helps establish and reinforce boundaries, as well as build good habits when it comes to potty training and chewing. There are also many advanced uses for crates in training, especially when it comes to impulse control training. And we can’t forget car safety either; dogs in crates survive crashes! Puppies gain huge benefits from crate training as it allows them a safe place to be and practice life skills. Plus it gives you the peace of mind that your puppy isn’t chewing the hell out of your drywall while you’re in the shower, or rearranging the soil in your potted plants while your back is turned.
Overwhelmingly I see dogs who have never been crate trained have a myriad of bad habits in their homes, habits that stem directly from having too much freedom as a youngster, not knowing how to be alone, or very poor impulse control. I see dogs get injured, need to be put on crate rest so they can properly heal, but who suffer miserably because they don’t understand the concept. I see dogs who are restless and can’t calm down in their own homes because of the lack of access to a cozy, private, and safe area that is just for them.
Where did this myth come from?
I have a pet theory about this one. There is a step by step process when it comes to teaching a puppy or dog that a crate or pen is a comfortable and relaxing place to be. The problem is that most owners have no idea what this process is and unintentionally make the crate traumatic by turning it into a prison as step one. Step two in the process is ignore the terror until it stops. Rinse and Repeat.
As described above, it’s going to be a drawn out and traumatic process for both the pups and the humans. This is not at all how experienced trainers go about teaching their dogs to interact with the crate, and not even close to what our process is like. At best, the above process will give you a dog that will perhaps use their crate begrudgingly as an adult, but it’s hardly willing. At worst you have a dog who fights being in a crate, eventually escaping wire crates (probably more than once) and striving so hard for escape that they will injure themselves trying. Cuts, scrapes, raw snouts, broken teeth, all because they were never properly introduced to the crate.
Crates and pens are valuable tools that are often completely misunderstood by the average dog owner. Used improperly they can cause very real trauma, and not just for the dog.
Myth #3 - It's best to let dogs sort out a pecking order themselves
There is a lot wrong with this particular myth. Personally I think it speaks volumes about the lack of general knowledge people have available to them about dogs. I’m sure that pretty much every person who owns a dog has heard another owner tell them “Eh, it’s ok, they’ll work it out” or “They’re just figuring out who’s the leader” or “He doesn’t mean it, he won’t actually bite”.
Why a hands off approach is dangerous
Removing the human element from these things and giving dogs free reign like this opens up so many cans of worms. Hands down this is one of the more damaging things you can do whether you’re at the dog park, bringing a new dog into the family, or just trying to set up a play date. I have owners seeking out help from me all the time with stories about how their dogs are not getting along, and how it’s continuing to escalate. With these types of issues if nothing is done there is a very real possibility of the family having to be broken up and a dog having to be rehomed.
We want our dogs to look to us for guidance when they are in over their heads. We want our dogs to know we have their backs and will support and step in to help if needed. Impolite, scary, and overwhelming interactions can occur. Clashes over resources like food and toys can happen as well. In a family unit we want our dogs to like each other. That’s not going to happen if they feel unsupported by their people or like they have to constantly compete or fight with others in the home. At dog parks or in other public places it can be even worse. After all there can be a dog behind any bush, or around any corner. It is a terribly stressful way of living and sets your dog up to become reactive.
Myth #4 - Sending your dog to training dissolves the bond between you and your dog
To say that I hear this myth a lot would be an understatement. Many people are concerned about their dog being trained by a trainer, and often these are the dogs that need very focused and hands on training! The fact is that sending your dog to training is the most effective way to actually reach your training goals with your dog.
Why sending Fido to school is better than training them in your own home
One of the biggest benefit to dogs who go to a trainer for training is that in a new environment we have a massive advantage when it comes to putting an end to problem behaviors. We are free to teach the foundation pieces that dogs are missing; things like impulse control, how to be calm, how to understand what we want, or how to adjust to new situations. Additionally the environment is a training environment, in short it is a place that is totally focused on learning and fostering success with the dog, which means stronger and faster results.
At home the hardest struggle I see with owners has to do with ending patterns that are established and ingrained. The environment can’t be changed enough for the dog and the owner to succeed and actually begin educating the dog. Maybe your work schedule means that you can’t train your dog more than once a day. Or that you’re totally tired out because of both work and simultaneously needing to micromanage the dog and juggle all of your other responsibilities. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed with what feels like a constant and never-ending struggle with your dog. In all of these cases everyone loses and actually getting to your goals with your dog becomes something that stretches out for YEARS. All the while becoming harder and harder to change.
Another huge issue that I see is the fact that owners are novices. Dog training is a skill, it gets better with experience and practice and is not an innate ability that you’ll somehow pick up. Often times when I’ve worked with an owners dog, whether during a private lesson or consultation, the owner will tell me “Wow, how did you do that so quickly?”, “My dog never does that for me!” or “He’s being so calm!” or any number of similar things.
The fact is that as a dog pro I’m already speaking the language that your dog will understand and can quickly teach it to your dog in ways that a novice simply can’t. It’s like building a house. Yes you can do it yourself, but it’s not going to be like a house built by pros, and that’s not your fault!
This isn’t to say that you yourself can’t train your dog, however there will be stumbling blocks and holes in your knowledge and skills that will greatly slow down the process. There’s even the danger of Backwards Training, which you can read about HERE. And as already mentioned, if you’ve got the wrong environment, training that actually is effective with your dog can be an impossibility.
Does being away from you change the relationship you have with your dog?
NO!!! Your dog will not forget you or your family. Time away does not erase the memories and good feelings your dog has about you. Upon coming home your dog will be thrilled to see you, and because they’ve learned their training foundation, you’ve now got a dog who you can communicate with. A dog who has important knowledge about the world and how they should behave in it. And because of the style of training that I teach, you dog will never see you as someone they are in conflict with, and you will no longer be in the role of police officer doling out punishment or tickets.
Training jumpstarts your dog for you and takes care of the hard bits, making it much easier for you to get to where you want to be with your dog. Time away is often good for both of you as well; on the human side of things it gives you a breather and rest from the stress that your dog may be wreaking on your home life. With a clear and refreshed mind, you yourself are able to learn the skills you need to keep your dog on the right track instead of having things clouded by frustrations, stress, and anxiety. This as well gets you to goals that much faster because you’re an effective team with your dog, and not trying to muddle through things.
Myth #5 - You have to show your dog who is boss or else they won't listen
Whew, this myth is a lot to unpack. This line of thinking is one of the most damaging things when it comes to having a true partnership with your dog. Sadly this has been perpetuated by the media, popular TV shows, and celebrity trainers. This myth is one that is harmful to having a good relationship with your dog but is so pervasive. I think we have all gotten advice at some point in our lives on how to MAKE a dog listen. Or have been told that because you’re not ALPHA enough your dog is misbehaving. Both of these claims are 100% false. And we’ve got science to prove it as well.
What this is actually doing
Let’s reframe this a little.
You’ve just made a mistake at work, and you’re totally unaware of it and think you’ve done the right thing. Your boss pulls you aside, docks your pay, yells at you in front of the rest of the office, and tells you to get out because they can’t stand to even look at you right now. You have no idea why they’ve just done this. The whole experience was jarring, stressful, and confusing.
You’ve just made a mistake at work, and you’re totally unaware of it and think you’ve done the right thing. Your boss pulls you aside, takes you into their office, and informs you that a mistake has been made. They then show you what was expected of you and make sure you understand the process fully. Together you fix it.
Which boss is better? Who would you trust and have a better relationship with? Who do you want to be to your dog?
This is very similar to what can happen with our dogs. Often they are punished for breaking rules they didn’t even know existed or get in trouble for things they were never taught how to properly do. Other times there are such high expectations placed on dogs who weren’t trained to that level. They’re practically set up to fail.
You can either have a relationship based on conflict and confusion with your dog, or one based on partnership and trust. There is real danger in keeping or fostering conflict in a relationship with a dog. Some of the most severe bites that I’ve seen were from dogs who’s histories were ones of conflict with owners and owners who used force of some kind.
I’ll leave you with this. In zoos training tigers, marine animals, and really anything in the zoo, force and dominance are not used. These animals are all well trained, they have to be so they can be safe patients for zoo vets, and for the safety of their daily care by zoo keepers. You’re not going to intimidate a tiger, bear, or hyena to do anything for you. Yelling at the dolphins doesn’t make them more likely to do tricks.
That same knowledge applies to dogs. No force necessary. “Alpha” and dominance theory/myths are not true. Your relationship with your dog doesn’t have to contain violence, force, fear, anger, or stress. There are many better ways that are much kinder to both you and the dog. Training your dog should be a joyful experience, not one that leaves you feeling guilty, wishing you didn’t have to do X to your dog, or wondering if there’s a better way.
There is a better way and it’s not to late to learn!