Let’s take a look at some of the mythology a little closer:
Myth #1: Dogs will only obey if you are “dominant” over them.
His experiments were repeated and confirmed: Yes, when you place unrelated wild wolves together in a contained and artificial prison with limited resources, they will have bloody struggles over those resources. Call it dominance if you must, but the struggle for survival is hardly unique to wolves, or dogs, or humans.
It turns out, recent studies in wild wolf populations suggest that constant dominance struggles are not even typical of wolves (David Mech, 2000). In fact, wolf society includes a wide variety of social interactions, only some of which can be understood through the rhetoric of dominance. It’s a limited paradigm that has been grossly overextended. Domestic dogs are still paying the price for this hubris.
Are humans capable of dominance posturing? Obviously, yes. Should the sum total of human learning and psychology be based on how people act in prisons or in survival conditions? Obviously, no.
Just like humans, dog psychology is complex, emotional, and sometimes even just plain old logical.
Myth #2: Dogs that are clicker trained will only work for food.
When using reward-based training, the faster you can dispense rewards, and the more accurately you can pinpoint the correct behavior with a sound, the faster learning happens. This is why almost all professional dog trainers that have devoted their lives to competitive dog sports, training companion and service animals, and rescue dogs have shifted to using clicker training or other reinforcement-based techniques.
However, using techniques such as chaining, fading, and randomizing rewards, professional trainers know that once a behavior is perfected, it is time to move away from food rewards as the dominant source of reinforcement.
Just because you use food to teach a new behavior, doesn’t mean you are stuck with food as the only reward to reinforce the behaviors you love most.
Myth #3: Clicker training only works for teaching silly tricks.
In fact, professional trainers also use clickers for reconditioning work. Have a dog that lunges on the leash around other dogs? Clicker training can fix that. Have a pup that is afraid of walking on shiny linoleum tile? Clicker training is still the best training method to help her overcome phobias.
Myth #4: Clicker training is too complicated.
- Decide on a criteria. (Set the bar for what behavior you will accept to earn a reward.)
- Wait for or use various techniques to encourage the desired behavior.
- Click the instant your dog offers the behavior.
- Follow with a small food reward (many dogs will actually just work for pieces of their kibble!)
Myth #5: Trainers that use clickers don’t believe in punishment.
Instead, professional trainers follow some basic guidelines before bringing punishment into play:
Manage the environment to make problem behaviors impossible to practice as the first step in extinguishing “bad” behavior.
Focus on training positive alternative behaviors FIRST, ignoring inappropriate behavior as long as it is not unsafe.
Never use punishment in formal training contexts since the goal is to have a confident, focused, engaged learner that has no fear of volunteering new behaviors—critical for shaping and refining behaviors.
Take advantage of the power of non-physical punishments such as a “Time Out” when adding a consequence to an already learned behavior. This and other “negative punishment” techniques operate by taking away something good (like freedom to run around) as a means of communicating to the dog that xyz behavior is not paying off!
If you have a chance to get involved in training classes that teach this technique, definitely give it a try. You and your dog will be well on your way to developing a language to communicate with each other based on rewarding success. Your dog will quickly gain confidence, and so will you!