Paul Hutton Canine Behaviour Centre

Dogs and their Owners

Facts and Fallacies

Fallacy... Some dogs are untrainable.

Fact... All dogs are trainable. Some just require more skill to control than others because of their 'personality type''.

Fallacy... Older dogs can't be trained.

Fact... Age plays no part in a dog's ability to learn.

Fallacy... Some dogs are more intelligent than others.

Fact... Some dogs are certainly easier to train/control because they are either more biddable or have inherited a desire to work. This does not mean they are more intelligent.

Fallacy... Neutering makes dogs better behaved and easier to train.

Fact... The human influence in a dog's life far outweighs changes made to its hormonal balance. Although some dogs may show some behaviour modification when neutered, the vast majority do not. However, neutering is highly recommended for other reasons.

Fallacy... Neutering stops dogs wandering.

Fact... Contrary to popular belief, it does not. Regardless of training or neutering, a fully fenced section is a must for your dog's safety and your sanity. It is best to fence your dog in a way that allows visitors access to the front door without coming into contact with your dog.

Fallacy... Neutering remedies aggressive behaviour.

Fact... Because aggressive behaviour is a 'learned behaviour', it will not.

Fallacy... Food rewards are necessary to train dogs.

Fact... Offering food to dogs to 'get your way' is simply bribery. It is unquestionably the quickest way to lose respect from your dog. Reliable control, especially 'when it really matters' will never be achieved without the development of respect and this simply cannot happen with 'bribe training'.

Fallacy... You should eat before your dog to reinforce your leader status.

Fact... This theory is nonsense. Because you are not competing with your dog for survival, it makes absolutely no difference who eats first.

Fallacy... Dominance techniques such as scruff shaking, holding down in the submissive position, making eye contact are sometimes necessary to show your dog you're the 'boss'.

Fact... Nothing could be further from the truth. These techniques were naively made popular many years ago on the incorrect assumption that in order to train a dog you need to behave like a dog. Apart from not working, these practices nearly always induce undesirable behaviour such as cringing or aggression, where biting is a real possibility.

Fallacy... Dogs know when they've 'done wrong'.

Fact... Dogs have no understanding of right or wrong, good or bad or other such moral values. All too often, the submissive reaction demonstrated by dogs when they are 'told off' or 'disciplined' is unfortunately misunderstood as 'he knows he's done wrong' when in fact it is only acting submissively in response to its owner's anger, with no understanding of why...

Fallacy... Dogs learn from the 'tone of your voice'.

Fact... The 'tone of voice' method of training is simply verbal dominance. The word 'NO'! (or more recently 'BAH'!) is nearly always used with this type of training, but unfortunately because dogs don't speak English, they only hear them as threatening sounds. Any favourable response induced occurs only because the dog was intimidated or distracted, not because it understood. Undesirable side effects are almost inevitable from the use of 'tone of voice' training. They include submissive behaviour such as cringing or in the case of strong minded dogs, aggressive behaviour where biting can easily occur.

Fallacy... Electric dog collars are a valuable aid to training.

Fact... In the ‘wrong hands’ these are disastrous devices, which can cause severe psychological damage.  While there are some situations, with certain dogs (and in the ‘right hands’), where these collars can be useful and humanely effective, they will always be an unnecessary tool for skilled handlers. 

Fallacy... Young dogs need to play with other dogs to become 'socialised'.

Fact... Allowing young dogs to interact in a robust, physical manner should be totally avoided. Naively called 'play', this practice in fact teaches dogs the art of fighting. The development of aggressive behaviour as the dog matures is highly likely.

Fallacy... You need a strong authoritative voice to control a dog.

Fact... Such an approach ensures that your dog becomes conditioned to only responding when a certain threat level is reached. As your dog becomes desensitised to the threat, increased threat levels will become necessary. The best results come from using a 'normal voice' in association with psychologically effective reinforcement techniques. The occasional and selective use of an authoritative voice can then be used to your advantage in situations of emergency.

Fallacy... Dogs that kill livestock should be destroyed.

Fact... Although in many cases unacceptable, the natural normal prey chasing instincts that dogs inherit mean that this behaviour can never be considered abnormal. All livestock killing incidents are the result of either inadequate fencing or insufficient control by the owner. Destroying the dog unfairly shifts the blame.

Fallacy... Dogs that bite people should be destroyed.

Fact... Canine aggression, as with all species (including humans) is a natural, normal, instinctive reaction to specific, provocative stimuli. While maybe unacceptable, it is never abnormal. All biting incidents are the result of either poor management or insufficient control by the owner. Destroying the dog unfairly shifts the blame.

Fallacy... Some dogs bite even when unprovoked.

Fact... There's no such thing as an unprovoked attack. Dogs only bite when their natural, normal instincts are activated by provocative stimuli.

Fallacy... Some dogs are naturally aggressive.

Fact... All aggressive behaviour is learnt by experience, regardless of predisposition factors such as breed and personality type. The owner is totally responsible for their dog's experiences.