Both new and experienced dog owners can feel overwhelmed by the prospect of training a new pup. With such an abundance of contradictory training tips and tricks, it is only natural to feel somewhat confused. If you want to cut the confusion and approach training as efficiently and effectively as possible, you must first be able to differentiate training myths from training facts.
Following are three of the most widely held training myths, as well as the correct training techniques that you should follow instead.
One of the more prominent training myths asserts that, like their wolf ancestors, dogs rely on a “pack structure” with an “alpha leader”. Consequently, you can only get your dog to listen to, and obey, you when you establish yourself as this dominant alpha leader.
This myth overlooks the fact that today’s modern dogs have undergone thousands of years of selective breeding and domestication. Modern dogs are intelligent, compassionate, and communicative. They learn best not through domination, but through consistent training and positive reinforcement. Strategies that focus on domination and confrontation are linked to fear and aggression, not successful training.
Some individuals avoid adopting older dogs out of a fear that they won’t be able to teach them new skills and break existing bad habits. Fortunately, there is no age limit on training. Dogs, both young and old, benefit from the mental stimulation of learning a new skill or concept.
You may need to adjust your approach depending on whether you are teaching a puppy a skill for the first time, or retraining an older dog. However, with enough time, dedication, and consistency, you are bound to see beneficial behavior changes. As an additional benefit, you may even find that older dogs are more mellow and easy to train when compared to their young and rambunctious counterparts.
There is no wonder why we often use treats as a training tool. Treats provide a compact, convenient, and reliable form of positive reinforcement. Over time, your dog learns to associate a desired behavior with that tasty treat and is encouraged to perform that behavior.
However, there are some situations where you cannot use treats. Perhaps your dog is overweight and needs to cut back on “non-meal extras”.
Or you may be away from home without any treats at your disposal. Luckily, if you find yourself in one of these situations, there is no need to worry - positive reinforcement can take many forms. Toys, praise, petting, and play may all be used to encourage good behavior.
Consistency and repetition are key to successful reward switching. Instead of abruptly replacing treats with a new reward, slowly wean your dog from one form of reinforcement to another. For example, if you are rewarding your dog for sitting still, first pair praise with the treat that your dog expects.
With repetition, your dog will learn that both of these items are rewards. Then slowly start to remove treats - only offering a treat every other time that your dog performs this behavior - while placing greater focus on praise. Eventually, you can eliminate treats altogether, while still reinforcing this desired behavior.