When you search online or scroll through social media, there is no shortage of “dog training advice.” Self-proclaimed experts make lots of claims and statements regarding dog training and what you should or should not do with your dog. Many of these claims are false and some are just plain nonsense. Let’s dive into the most common dog training myth I encounter on a daily basis as a credentialed dog trainer in York, PA.
This is false! Dogs need motivation in order to work. The training we ask them to do is in fact work to them. Think of what your dog does naturally when not on a leash and has the freedom to explore their yard or a grassy field. They sniff, mark, watch for birds, chase squirrels, sniff more, take naps, and then sniff more. Dogs do not naturally seek to remain in prolonged down stays or walk calmly next to a person and ignore all the interesting scents and sights they were born to explore.
To complete the work that dog training entails, dogs require motivation. Most people would rather read, watch a movie or spend time with their friends rather than complete an 8 hour day of work. However, we continue showing up to work each day because we are motivated by pay.
Dogs are exactly the same. They will show up for training and complete the behaviors we train them to do if we pay them accordingly. And just like you would especially love a job who offered exciting perks like free trips, quarterly bonuses, and a fun workplace dogs also love to work when the work is fun!
We can make the work of dog training fun for our dogs by paying them with high value treats and surprising them with a new squeaky toy when they respond to our recall cue. Dogs are much easier to please than humans! No free weekend retreat to Napa or $10,000 bonus required. Your dog doesn’t want the newest iPad. Exciting treats like chopped chicken and a new squeaking ball will do the trick.
Unfortunately, there are trainers who will tell you dogs don’t need treats to work. What these trainers aren’t telling you, is that they are still motivating your dog (dogs need motivation to work) but they are doing so with fear and pain.
Shock collars (also called bark collars or e-collars), prong collars, slip leads, alpha rolling (slamming the dog into the ground), shake cans full of coins that startle and frighten your dog. The list goes on. These “tools” scare, choke, and cause acute pain. The dog is motivated by their desire to avoid a fear-provoking experience. Not only is this inhumane, the side effects are ghastly.
After being exposed to this type of training, studies show that dogs suffer from both short and long-term side effects. In the long-term they are prone to increased aggression, anxiety, avoidance (often of their owner) and over-excitability. Probably the exact opposite of what you were hoping to attain with training.
A red flag to watch out for when looking for a dog trainer is the suggestion of “magical motivation,” i.e. the dog just wants to please you. This mythology can be traced back to the TV show, Lassie. In the show, a collie named Lassie lived to protect and work for her owner. She seemingly required no motivation other than the joy of pleasing her owner. In reality, after each shot, off camera, Lassie was rewarded with treats for her work. The same is true of all the dogs we see on TV and in movies. All dogs need motivation to work.
If the dog trainer you are thinking of working with does not mention how they are motivating their client’s dogs, you can assume they are using fear and pain. If you aren’t sure, simply ask: How do you motivate dogs in training? A straightforward answer of: “I use reward-based training” is a green flag.
If the trainer responds with something murky, for example: “Through strong and consistent leadership, dogs feel more secure which increases their confidence and improves behavior.” Walk away. Dogs do not understand leadership or respect. They simply work for things they enjoy like treats and play, and work to avoid and protect themselves from things that scare them like pain.
Embrace that dogs, just like us, and all other animals require motivation to work. Your dog absolutely loves you, but they still need to be motivated to do the things that are unnatural for them.
Dog training is an unregulated field. That means that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer no matter how little education and training they have. The importance of working with a trainer who has completed formal training in the field of dog training and behavior cannot be overstated. If you work with a dog trainer, ensure they have letters after their name before allowing them to train your dog.
The Pet Professional Guild is a great resource that will help you find a professional in your area. All of the trainers on Pet Professional Guild are vetted for their methods and have formal dog training education. Meaning they understand that using fear and pain to motivate dogs to work has lasting long-term side effects, so they don’t do it.
When you use rewards to train your dog you learn that dog training is more fun when it’s enjoyable and safe for everyone involved.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior – AVSAB. (n.d.). https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/AVSAB-Humane-Dog-Training-Position-Statement-2021.pdf
Deldalle, S., & Gaunet, F. (2014). Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog–owner relationship. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9(2), 58-65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2013.11.004
Ziv, G. (2017). The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 19, 50-60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2017.02.004