This month I wanted to address (and maybe put to rest forever!) the dog training myths that I’m asked about on a daily basis!
MYTH #1: Puppies can’t be trained until they’re 6 months old
Wrong! At 6 months old, dogs are at the height of their adolescence (think teenagers!).
This guarantees a bit more resistance even in the sweetest tempered dogs. They can’t help it – it’s a stage. That’s not to say that you can’t train adolescent dogs, of course you can. BUT, young puppies 8 weeks and older are walking stomachs (will train for food), who love to follow you (heeling), run after you (come when called) and think you’re the best thing ever. If you’re lucky enough to have a puppy at this stage, Get Training!!
Not sure where to start? The first thing that I teach is the “Name Game”. Have a friend or family member hold your puppy while seated on the floor in either an enclosed outdoor or confined indoor area. The puppy should be wearing a puppy collar and a light 4-6-foot leash so that if he chooses to dash away you can still catch him. Next, show your puppy that you have a very yummy, extra-special ‘something that he never gets except in training’ treat. Let him have a little nibble then walk a few feet away and sit on the floor, facing the puppy. In an excited voice, start calling the puppy’s name “Pumpkin! Good boy, Pumpkin, Pumpkin!” – that should incite your puppy to struggle out of the holders’ arms and into yours! After a certain amount of struggling, have the holder release him. When your puppy gets to you, feed him his treat, holding it against and in the center of your body – this teaches him to come close to you. Hook one finger into his collar while he’s nibbling his treat, and you’ll be conditioning your puppy to love when someone touches/grabs his collar. Very convenient when you need to attach a leash – or guide him away from something you’d rather him not be near. When your puppy masters the game, move ahead to longer distances and new locations, and soon you’ll have a puppy that will leap tall buildings in a single bound to come to you when he hears his name!!
MYTH #2: The best training collar is a “Choke” collar
Definitely not true. The best training collar is the one that works for your dog! There are so many different types on the market – buckle collars, martingale collars, head halters, and body halters that don’t allow your dog to pull, just to name a few. People tend to think that a choke collar will prevent their dog from pulling, but have you noticed how many dogs are dragging their owners around even while wearing a choke chain? The dogs wheeze, gag, choke…and still pull.
Bottom Line: Dogs should start training on a nylon or leather buckle collar, but if more control is needed, seek the advice of a professional dog trainer.
MYTH #3: My dog is stupid. We offered him steak and told him to “Sit” and he wouldn’t.
Sigh. OK, so steak is great. Dogs love steak. Unless they don’t.
Maybe he loves cheese. Maybe he loves fetching a ball, or playing tug, or roughhousing or scritches, and is “meh” about food. That’s ok!
But the problem in that example is that either he doesn’t understand the command, or he doesn’t care for steak. *I* think the problem is that you don’t (yet) understand who your dog is, which makes it very hard to get a training relationship going. Think of it this way – if you hated pasta, and your boss said that if you hit a certain number of new clients this month, he would give you a $5,000 gourmet basket, filled with the finest pastas and sauces from all over the world, would that be a great motivator to you? Probably not, unless you were planning on re-gifting it! In order for your boss to motivate you, he has to know you. In order for you to motivate your dog, you have to know him. It’s that simple.
To make it even easier, how about this: dogs can be motivated for training by food, toys, or play (either with toys or without). If your dog won’t motivate for any of the above, try upgrading the food to something really yummy that he never gets unless you’re having “special time” together (aka training time). Or maybe have a toy that you reserve for the same purpose. How about thinking out of the box where toys are concerned – maybe a 2-liter plastic bottle with the label and cap removed is your dog’s idea of a good time. And if you’re roughhousing with your dog and he doesn’t like it, maybe he’s a softie and just wants a nice scritch behind the ears. Or vice versa. Know thy dog’s preferences and the keys to the obedience kingdom will be yours.
MYTH #4: You can’t train a dog if they’re ‘older’.
SO not true!
Every year, dogs of all ages are brought to (or left at the doorstep of) animal shelters all across the U.S. When they’re adopted by new families, they have to learn new house manners, new eating schedules, and in some cases, new names. I’ve personally re-trained many shelter dogs and older dogs and I can tell you that there is no reason you can’t teach a healthy “old dog” new tricks.
Does your old dog run when he hears “come”? AWAY from you? If so, listen up: I have a gigantic pearl of dog trainer wisdom to bestow upon you. It’s way easier to teach that dog to “come” if you start from scratch and use a new command. If he could talk he would say “Come” meant run the other way because most of the time when he’s called, it’s for something he considers negative, or that it’s an optional command. Both of those are tough misconceptions to change your dog’s mind about. Better to teach a new command, like “Here” or “Front” or whatever you want, but this time, teach it well – be consistent and don’t skip steps like you did last time when you taught the “Come” command (because we see how well that worked!). If you teach it correctly, he will come!
MYTH #5: Dog training is so HARD!
Wrong! It’s actually pretty easy and lots of fun. We pride ourselves in making sure our students are learning a lot while having fun in the classes. In addition, we will even train your dog for you in our FastTrack program! We have a library of lesson sheets and will even video what an exercise will look for you in class, so that you can refer to it when you get home. We’re available by email and phone, practically 24/7, and we’re happy to lend an ear, a shoulder to cry on, or give a rousing pep talk. Our mission in life is to help you create a dog that “everyone loves to have around”, and to make the journey getting to that point as fun and easy as possible!