Dog Training Myths

Hello and welcome to Dog Works Radio, I am Michele Forto the lead trainer of Alaska Dog Works. Today we are going to talk about something that we have built our training program on over the years. It’s what we call Dog Training Myths. On today’s show we tackle concepts of aversives, positive trainers, TV dog training fads, training tools, and more.

To listen to this as a podcast please click on the player, otherwise continue to read:

In the world of modern dog training the word “traditional” has become a word to fear. Respected dog trainer Karen Pryor refers to “traditional” training as a “negative reinforcement”. Pam Sheehan describes traditional training with words like, “pain”, “choke”, and “pinch.” She defines a traditional dog trainer as someone who, waits for a dog to do something wrong and then delivers a correction.

In the world of professional dog training the word “traditional” has become synonymous with abuse. Traditional trainers are often referred to as control freaks, disreputable, old-fashioned, and disgusting. These epithets are not restricted to training techniques; they are also assigned to the people who train dogs with traditional methods. Expert and traditional trainer Cesar Milan has often been accused of putting dog training back 20 years.

Rather than amalgamating with decades of dog training culture, the modern movement in dog training is repeating an error that has occurred time and time again throughout history. Invigorated by its own sense of educated self-assuredness, the “Click & Treat” movement in dog training has taken the position that almost everything “traditional” is bad and that the only way to save our pets from abuse and grief is to train them with treats, toys, and a positive attitude.

Supported by a wealth of selective scientific research, the positive only crowd has created a seemingly impenetrable industry wherein they are often regarded as the best. Using terms like positive reinforcement, dog friendly, and well researched, all while labeling traditional trainers abusive, the modern movement in dog training has fabricated an incredible myth that has proven dangerous and in some cases fatal to wonderful dog training careers.

We ask the question, What is this myth?

The positive only movement has convinced much of the public that any form of discipline will result in an unhappy dog that fears its owner. Drawing on the human need to be loved and accepted, positive trainers encourage guilt by portraying modern dogs as frequent victims of human ignorance. They report that the greatest problem in dog training is the use of aversives and that the only way to educate dogs is to abandon any form of correction and adopt a forever positive attitude. “Ignore the negative and reward the positive,” they sing as they hop and skip across the country, click, click, clicking all along the way.

However progressive and positive they represent themselves to be, historically speaking, one of the greatest errors a society can make is to engage in the systematic and calculated removal of traditional practices. In more cases than not, these traditions are rooted in profound truths that people have learned after centuries of trial and error.

For hundreds of years dogs have been trained with methods that reflect the way we teach each other. Because the lives of dogs and people are so intimately entwined, the modern dog has evolved under the influence of human intuitiveness. Throughout the dog training world there are people who can almost read their dogs’ minds. The bonds that many people share with their dogs can seem almost supernatural at times and it is not uncommon for dogs to risk their lives to ensure the safety of their owners.

Because our union with dogs is so intensely special it stands to reason that millions of people have developed an accurate understanding of how dogs learn and have used this understanding to train dogs for centuries. If we are to believe what the university halls are now teaching about positive only training, we must accept the hypothesis that dogs have been unhappy for centuries, that they have not been able to work with a joyful heart and that centuries of aversive training has oppressed dogs with sadness and pain. That could not be further from the truth.

To bring this conversation closer to home take the success of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer. Millions of people all around the world love Cesar. Notwithstanding all the bad press and internet slander that takes place, his popularity continued to grow. Academically based trainers would have us believe that this success is a fluke, and that his fame is based on his involvement with superstars. However, there are a great number of click-&-treat trainers who work with superstars and never reach the kind of celebrity that Cesar Milan has achieved.

An educated man reaches the peak of his own narcissism when he can stand on a hill and shout down to the masses “you are all wrong!” When a person assumes that their formal education makes them more insightful than the common man, then that person has missed the greater purpose of higher learning.

In the same way that your children will not learn to fear you if you raise your voice, and your husband won’t walk out on you because you have a disagreement, healthy dogs are not made to feel any less loved because they are disciplined. They do not learn to cower in fear because you use a chain collar, nor will they love you better because you give them treats. We know this to be true because we see that it is true every day, every night, and year after year.

The training of your dog is best achieved when you feel comfortable expressing yourself. Be honest with your dog and your dog will be honest with you. If you feel that you can responsibly use a chain collar while training your dog, then you should pursue that path. If you feel uneasy about training with a corrective collar, then don’t use one. In the end, you should use a training method that best represents the union between you and your dog. Choose your training method because you feel free and confident, and not because you fear that your dog may become a victim. Decisions based on fear and guilt is almost never healthy. Empower yourself with choice, and you will empower your dog as well.

What do you think about these dog training myths? We are sure they will open up a fair amount of discussion. Please reach out to us on our social channels by searching Dog Works Radio and always, check out our website at Alaska dog