Superstitions: Debunking Dog Training Myths
When you believe in things that you don’t understand Then you suffer Superstition ain’t the way – Stevie Wonder
Phone calls with new clients can sometimes be a little challenging. A lot of times, they’ve already tried to fix whatever behavior problems they’re having themselves. And they use Google as their main tool. Now I’m as big a fan as the next person of Google and solving my own problems, but as a lot of my clients are quick to point out, everything one dog trainer states contradicts another dog trainer.
I personally try to think of it more as parenting rather than training. You aren’t here to “train” your dog so much as to answer their questions and guide them onto the right path of behavior. Once they are there, it’s pretty easy to keep them there with lots of positives, and the occasional gentle negation of unwanted behaviors.
But sometimes I hear some really off-the-wall ideas. Downright fallacies not based on science, but rather based on…superstition.. Thoughts and ideas that crumple once faced with logic. “Flat Earth” level nonsense.
So here we go. The top 4 “facts” I hear about dogs and behavior.
1) Don’t wrestle with your dog; it teaches them they can win.
This is my Sparta. She’s a 120lb Rottie/Shep mix that I rescued over 11 years ago. When we wrestle together there is no doubt in our minds who will win. She will. Every. Single. Time. When we wrestle, she Nerfs it for me, and we both know it. Wrestling with your dog is like 50 Shades of Gray: Safe words are a must. You stop as soon as the first person says the word. That way there are no misunderstandings. Good, safe fun for everyone.
But not playing because Sparta knows she can win? That’s a power trip. Are you going to turn down that game of Candy Land with your 5 year old because they may win? Everyone loves Candy Land!
That’s like me never playing Super Smash Bros. with my 13yr old daughter because she might win. River kicks my ass all the time.
So go ahead and wrestle with your dog. Just make sure that everyone is respecting when it’s time to stop, and when things have escalated too far. If your dog hasn’t learned impulse control yet, or doesn’t stop when you call it quits, that’s a Piloting issue. Get it sorted out first, and then enjoy your own little WWF.
2) Puppies only need 5 minutes of exercise a day per month of age.
WTF is this? Good luck with your 5 month old Boxer who is only getting a 25 minute walk every day.
First, let’s start with the fact that at six months, little Fido is no longer a puppy; they are a viable young adult, (roughly) akin to about a 15 year old human. At 15, a 25 minute hike was a warm-up for me. Secondly, is there a one-size-fits-all amount of exercise that a human needs? Dogs are so much more varied in size and athletic ability than humans, you can’t really make such a generalized statement about their exercise needs. Rather than relying on various memes posted, learn to read your dog’s own specific needs. Is Fido climbing the walls? Maybe time for some activity (learn how to exercise your dog beyond the walk here). Is Bella suddenly stopping and dropping on the walk? It could be that she’s overstimulated, especially if she’s still rambunctious again in the house. Again, that would be a Piloting issue that needs to be resolved. But if Bella is calm on a walk, or seems to be able to calm herself down in the house, then you are probably giving her enough activity.
Final thought on activity for dogs. More frequent and less duration is key with younger dogs. Break it up into smaller “meals” of activity rather than just one big lump of a five-mile run. Learn to read when your dog is “hungry” for activity rather than what some random meme tells you.
3) Don’t play rope toy/tug with your dog. It teaches them to be aggressive.
Newsflash: your dog is a predator. They were born aggressive. And guess what? It’s okay. Rope toy looks awful sometimes when your dog is really into it, but the Fifty Shades of Gray analogy still works: as long as you’re both still having fun, it’s all cool. When you say “stop”, the game should be able to end. If Fido is still going, it’s indicative of a Piloting problem, not an aggression problem.
Also, everything a dog does is geared towards being a more effective hunter, and working with the pack to effect a kill. Paying rope/tug is just practicing how to hunt an animal together. Think that's weird? Well, where do you think most Sportsball games originated? War games. Learning and practicing warfare, but them nerfing it.
"Legend has it that around 2,500 years ago Iranian warriors flaunted their defeated enemies' decapitated heads in sport to showcase their battleground prowess. In addition to proving their worth on the battlefield the game of polo is believed to have originally been adopted for training cavalry regiments." - SW Londener
In the end, you do you on this one. If you like practicing how to kill innocent rope toys with your dog, have at. If not, there are plenty of other ways to bond with your dog. But honestly, it’s the only upper body workout I ever get, so Sparta and I will still continue to play tug. And she will still Nerf it for me so I can sometimes win, too. #GoodDog.
4) You shouldn’t let your dog on your bed/couch/chairs.
Client: Is it okay if I sleep with my dog? Me: I don’t care who you sleep with; that’s none of my business.
Don’t fall for anyone else’s rules. Rules are stupid, and nobody pays attention to them anyway. Just like Monopoly…I guarantee you aren’t playing by the rules
Rules are different than when you give a dog a negative.
1) When you don’t like their current behavior; or
2) When they’re “Yo, Bitch-ing” you. Learn what the “Yo, Bitch” is here.
That’s it. If you don’t care about their behavior, and it isn’t a “Yo, Bitch”, it’s okay. If you’re fine with the behavior, so am I.
There are a lot more fallacies and bits of misinformation out there, but these are the biggest bits of lunacy I hear on a regular basis. And as Stevie says:
Keep me in a daydream, keep me goin’ strong You don’t wanna save me, sad is my song
I’m inclined to agree: Superstition ain’t the way
What kinds of silly nonsense have you heard about dog training?
Arguably one of the greatest riffs of all time. Thank you, Stevie.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio