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Cliched Dog Training Advice

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

As a dog owner, you’ve probably heard a lot of old-fashioned sayings when it comes to training your doggo, but not all of it is necessarily true or helpful. In fact, some of the most commonly repeated pieces of advice are downright cliched and not really relevant to the modern-day, balanced relationship we aim to have with our dogs.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of this cliched dog training advice.

Dog playing tug-o-war
Playing Tug-o-War with Jaffa

“Don’t play tug-of-war, it will create aggression.”

This piece of advice is not entirely accurate. If aggression could be created where there is none, dogs would never fail to make the grade when training for the police or military, but the reality is that they regularly fail dogs out of their program who just will not bite.

However, a dog who is pre-disposed to biting, possessive behaviour or resource guarding might certainly display that behaviour in this type of situation, so the tug-of-war might bring out the aggression that was lurking just under the surface. If you feel this is the case, refraining from this game whilst seeking professional help is very important.

In most households, tug-of-war can be a great game to play with your dog as long as it’s done in a controlled and respectful way. If you take the time to establish some rules and boundaries around how the game is played, such as teaching your dog not to snatch the toy from you, grab your hand, and to release the toy on command, it can actually help your dog learn impulse control and improve their listening skills.

Dog playing tug-o-war
Tug-o-war game with Zander

All three of my dogs love to tug and all three of them relinquish the toy when I give the command “Mine” and they are then rewarded with the toy being thrown or offered for another tug. However, if they don’t relinquish it on request, I’m ready to say no and make it a teaching moment. All three also vocalise during the tug game – and I have no problem with that either. At every step, I’m assessing a very important factor – their intent. If at any point, I felt like it was an aggressive growl, not a play growl, I’d be ready to say no and make it into a teaching moment. Especially with Miki who has a history of resource guarding.

I also make sure that during the game, sometimes I win and sometimes they win. Always making sure that you win is another variation of the cliché that is unnecessary, and in some instances impossible, for example, if you have a big, strong dog. If you and your dog have a healthy, balanced relationship why should it matter who wins?

In fact, imagine playing a game in which you never, ever win. How disappointing and frustrating!

“Always walk through doors before your dog to show you’re in charge.”

This advice is based on the idea that dogs are pack animals that operate in a hierarchical structure. But we know that, even in the wild, dog packs don’t necessarily have the leader go first. The leader of the pack might allow the best hunter to go first if they are hunting or the best tracker to go first if they are tracking – and it doesn’t make him any less the leader. More so, in fact, because he’s arranging things to ensure benefit to the entire pack.

Whilst we don’t look at the structure of our family in the same way that dogs probably do, there certainly is an amount of structure that is of benefit to the average dog and family. For us, it’s far more effective to focus on training our dogs to wait calmly before going through a door or gateway. They should simply wait until you give them permission to go through, and even then, we want them to go through calmly. This will ensure that frail, old Grandma isn’t going to be bowled over or small children knocked down the stairs. It also helps ensure the safety of the dog themselves, if they are not dashing out at the wrong moment, only to be hit by a car entering the driveway.

Two dogs wait to be invited out of the car
Jaffa & Zander wait to be invited out of the car

I teach all my dogs a release command that is specific to entering and exiting – our word is “Through” - and I teach it on all our important safety points such as the car, the gate, and the front door, as well as any other points that have meaning to me, and potential safety issues for them, such as our kitchen entry. They come in or out of those areas when I ask them to, not when they feel like it, and sometimes that’s ahead of me. However, at other entry or exit points, such as being allowed through the dog flap or going into the lounge room, they can choose for themselves.

“Dogs shouldn’t be allowed on furniture because it places them on the same level as you.”

Allowing your dog to snuggle up with you on the couch is something that most of us love to do; it can strengthen your bond and provide a source of comfort for both you and your dog. I would never say don’t have them up there, but I would say it’s important to establish some clear boundaries around when and where they can do it and to train your dog to ask for permission before jumping onto certain pieces of furniture

Dog sits on a sofa looking out the window
Jaffa enjoying sofa snooze time

Having some structure around this will mean that you’re offering them the opportunity to improve their listening skills and their impulse control, as well as making sure that when guests come over or perhaps your dog is muddy, you have some say in the matter of where they go and when.

I teach my dogs simply that they can come up onto the sofas or my bed when I invite each by name, so that I have a choice about whom I cuddle with, or perhaps I don’t want one who has recently been swimming to be laying on my bed. My message is clear because each knows their name and I’m ready to say no if they were to make a mistake.

“Dogs should never be allowed to eat before you because pack leaders always eat first.”

Dog eating from a dog bowl
Jaffa enjoying his meal

This is based on the idea that dogs need to understand that humans are the dominant member of the household, but when you have a healthy relationship with your dog there is no need to “dominate”. It’s more important to establish a calm, consistent mealtime, and routine, where you teach your dog to wait patiently for their food.

In my household, I always feed my dogs first, but I could swap that around if I wanted to.

Their meals are scoffed so quickly, that supervising takes very little time – yes, I always supervise no matter how experienced they are - or I separate them e.g., foster dogs are always separated – and then I’m able to relax and enjoy a leisurely meal without them staring, pacing, or vocalising.

A consistent mealtime routine is also important in our household as I have a dog who takes a specific medication at specific times, and I don’t always want to eat at that time, so having them eat first works well for us. I don’t require my dogs to eat on command, but you could certainly teach a command such as “Eat” if you are keen for them to learn it. It’s a great command for them to learn impulse control.

“Dogs should never be allowed to lean on you, lay on you, or place a paw on you because it’s them attempting to dominate you.”

This advice is based on the idea that dogs are constantly trying to push their owners around, but not every dog is like that. Some dogs are simply seeking attention or affection, whilst others are deliberately pushy but without any bad intentions. A few are using this as a deliberate attempt to push owners around.

While it’s important to teach your dog to respect your personal space, it’s also important to provide plenty of positive reinforcement and affection when your dog displays appropriate behaviours. The reality is that most dogs have tried quiet, calm, and independent behaviours such as laying near you or wandering gently up beside you, and it got them nothing, so they revert to behaviour that is likely to be noticed.

My dogs are only required to ask for attention or affection by approaching me, and I’m tuned in to notice this all the time, though there are always occasions where I cannot, or do not, stop and pay attention to them. I should always have a choice. If I get home and they are jumping around and spinning in excitement, but not jumping on me or vocalising, I’ll stop to pat them if my hands are free – but not if I’m bringing in the groceries – then they’ll need to wait. And if a guest comes in, I don’t want them to feel obliged to pay attention to the dogs – some guests such as a tradesman are not here for that.

Dog & woman cuddling
Selfie with Jaffa

In conclusion, cliched dog training advice can often be misleading or incorrect and is often designed to be deliberately emotive. As a dog owner, you should do your own research and base your rules, requirements, and training methods on your own personal beliefs not deliberately emotive cliches. A combination of rewards and consequences, as well as clear boundaries and consistent training, can help you establish a healthy, balanced relationship with your dog, and bring you both to a point where you can go anywhere together enjoying life with ease.

About A New Leash on Life Dog Training

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training, and if you choose to train with me, we will be using rewards and positive reinforcement, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.

So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.

What do you believe in?


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