Training your dog is not necessarily rocket science, but it is a scientific process. It is a unique process, though, as you can emotionally feel the bond between you and your canine grow and tighten. That close bond can only be obtained through empathy, understanding, and clear communication on your part. Unfortunately, there is a lot of false and outdated information on how to tame your wild pooch. Let’s break down these common myths so that you can speak your dog’s language.
Myth 1: The dog needs a pack leader
While it is true that your dog, ideally, will look to you for guidance in many situations, you are not really a pack leader in the way an alpha wolf is pack leader. When an alpha wolf needs to get her point across to the subordinates, he will cause them some distress either by chasing them away from food or a mate, pinning them to the ground to show she’s boss, or even go as far as a nip or bite. Unless you have four legs, fur and a tail, acting out such behaviors will only confuse and frighten your dog.
Instead, follow the guiding principles of B.F. Skinner’s experiments of classical conditioning. The theory states that if an animal is rewarded for performing a wanted behavior, he is more likely to become reliable in performing that behavior. If he is punished, he is only slightly less likely to perform that behavior, or will make an attempt to perform it in other ways to avoid the punishment. In other words, if you want a reliably well behaved dog, only react to and reward the behavior you want!
Myth 2: The dog misbehaves out of spite or anger
Dogs do what they do for the consequence that comes after or during their actions. For example, if a dog sits when you tell him to, he is doing it because of the positive reward he has been conditioned to believe he will receive after he sits. If he chews up your couch, he is doing so because chewing the couch relieves some kind of stress he is experiencing at that time, not because you left him all day and he is angry at you.
Dogs do not feel emotions in the same way we experience them. They are incapable of feeling anger or spite. They can, however, feel fear, anxiety, joy, trust and attachment. The next time your dog acts out, try to understand what is going on with them before assuming he is mad at you!
Myth 3: The dog is stupid
To assume that a dog cannot learn a new behavior because of his intelligence level is typically human error. Dogs are constantly communicating to us, even ones that may seem to not be the brightest! Dogs are instinctual and speak to us through their body language. If a human is trying to teach something new to a canine, and the dog just doesn’t seem to get it, it is because the human is not sending clear messages and listening to their pet’s body language!
To make both you and your dog look better during training, start at his training level. Set him up to succeed first and reward him for the baby steps it takes to get to your finished product – that is your trained behavior. You will be surprised at how quickly he catches on if you spell it out for him first!
Myth 4: The bond is unbreakable
Bonding with your dog is one of the most important things you can do behaviorally with your best friend. It is this bond that lets him trust you, follow your guidance and become the best you’ve always dreamed of having. The bond is not unconditional, however. Dogs may be extremely forgiving animals if you happen to weaken you bond either through punishment or misunderstandings. When this happens he may slowly develop behaviors that can quickly turn into problems, such as reactive barking and fear aggression, which will take patience, time, and empathy on your part to rebuild that bond you once had. Trust him just as you wish he would trust you, and that bond will tighten, strengthen, and the two of you will truly be best friends.