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Top 5 Clicker Dog Training Myths Examined

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When it comes to clicker dog training, myths abound.  For some reason, people find it hard to believe that something so simple and fun could actually work!  And, not only work--but produce better results than the more heavy-handed methods most people associate with dog training.

I can't counter every objection that someone might conceivably have in an article like this.  But, I've found that most people who dismiss clicker training do so out of pre-conceived notions--that dog training has to be difficult, that pit bulls in particular are hard to train or from misunderstanding the role of the clicker.

So, here are the clicker dog training myths I've encountered most frequently. . .

Myth #1: My dog will become dependent on the clicker and/or the treats and won't perform without them.  

The clicker and the treats are training tools--not permanent props.  Like scaffolding that surrounds a building while it's being built, the use of the clicker is discarded when it is no longer needed.  (The command has been learned).  Treats are tapered to a variable schedule so that they are only given occasionally. Many clicker trained dogs compete beautifully in obedience, agility and other contests in which food treats are not allowed.

Myth #2:
Clicker training only works with "soft" dogs.  My dog is too strong willed to be successfully trained this way.

The more strong willed a dog is, the more likely it is that he will be driven to work hard for something he wants.  In this case, clicker training becomes a form of psychological juijitsu--redirecting the dog's energy and drive into positive channels instead of destructive behavior.

Of all the clicker dog training myths, this next one can be the trickiest to deconstruct because it's not just a single mistaken belief.  It involves an entire mindset about the dog-owner relationship.  It goes something like this. . .

Myth #3:  If I treat my dog for obeying a command, then she is only performing for the treat, not for me.  I want my dog to obey me because she wants to please me--not because she is expecting a treat.  

Whether we realize it or not, we humans do have a tendency to project a fair amount of our own psychological "stuff" on to our pets.  And, it's not always easy to tease apart our projections from the dog's reality. My short answer to Myth #3 is: Don't confuse obedience with love or a desire to please.   Your dog may love you like crazy--probably does.  But, that won't by itself make her an obedient pet.  Obedience training is a learning exercise--not a test of your dog's devotion.  

Myth #4:  I have to punish my dog when he does something bad so that he knows not to keep doing it.   It teaches him right from wrong.

 Like some other clicker dog training myths, this one is tangled up in the human version of reality which doesn't necessarily line up with your dog's version.  Dogs know what they like and what they don't like--what interests them and what doesn't. Beyond that, there's no evidence to suggest that dogs understand concepts like good/bad, right/wrong, should/shouldn't.  

What you are most likely teaching your dog when you yell, swat or jerk on his leash is that you are unpredictable and kind of scary at times.  Whether he will interpret his prior behavior as the cause of your outburst or assault, is an iffy proposition. As you will learn if you take up clicker training in earnest, there are much more effective and elegant ways to deal with undesirable behavior.

Myth #5:  My dog will get fat if I train her with treats.

Reality:  The treats you will use for clicker training are bite-sized.  About the size of a small piece of kibble.  Your not going to give your dog a whole stick of Pupperoni each time she performs correctly.  Still, it's a good idea to adjust the amount you feed at meal time to compensate for the treats she received during her training session that day.

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