Dog Training Myths: The Rest of the Story - McCann Professional Dog Trainers

Dog Training Myths: The Rest of the Story

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It amazes me how small our world is these days. If your message is strong enough, it can easily make its way around the world, which makes for a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. The power is in the message, the responsibility is in the user validating that message. Unfortunately, responsibility is the component that is often skipped. The Internet is the medium that provides a means of exchanging info, but our attentions spans continue to grow shorter, so the messages have to be quick and concise to get our attention. This means a lot of the details get truncated, leaving confusion and lots of filling-in-the-blanks. It often reminds me of the game of 'telephone' where a line of people would share a bit of information by whispering it from on person to the next. The point of the game was to show that inevitably, the message would completely derail by the time it reached the last person. The internet often reminds me of that game. 

I've truly learned to question EVERYTHING I see online these days. That is the direct response to seeing myths passed off as fact within my own industry. It's easy to believe things that are outside of your immediate knowledge base if the marketing is slick enough, but when it's a subject that you know more thoroughly than most others in your world, it's much easier to see the holes and question the message! 

So let's talk about some of the current well intentioned messaging that's gone through the proverbial game of telephone and come out distorted and confused on the other side.

Asking for Consent

This one is popping up on Facebook quite readily these days. It seems so clear. We should ask our dogs for consent when we set out to handle them in any way. While it's a lovely idea and not outside the realm of reality, it is flawed. What's missing are answers to the following important questions:

  • what happens when you don't receive consent from your dog?
  • what happens when you don't receive consent from your dog and you need to handle them to help them? Things like medication administration spring to top of mind
  • where are the details that should be coupled with this message that educate people on how to teach a dog to grant consent every time you need it?


I am not advocating for old methods of training here, but to simply spread a message that you mustn't handle without consent is dangerous. Consent is not without its place, but you must know how to get there and what to do when consent is not given.

As an example, the first thing I do when I trim toenails is ask for consent. I ask my dogs to jump on the grooming table and then I ask for one of their front paws. When it's given, they get a cookie - every time. The majority of the time, consent is granted and all is well. What if I didn't get consent? I would simply run my hand gently down his leg and pick up his foot. The difference would be the reward of the cookie. If you consent, you get rewards because I want you to be cooperative and freely participate in nail trimming, but you don't get to dictate since, plain and simple, I know best. Not many dogs love having their nails trimmed. Their feet are sensitive and they generally don't enjoy them being handled, but that doesn't negate the need for good foot health from frequent nail trimming. 

I'm going to be blunt - my dogs can't be given the power to dictate what I can and cannot handle on their bodies. I am the 'adult' in this relationship. I am charged with certain responsibilities. It's my responsibility to keep my dog safe and healthy. That often includes medicating and grooming and things that simply must be done. While it's very, VERY important to teach your dogs to be cooperative, the desire for cooperation can't trump their health and safety. 

Now, having said all of that, it's crucial to note that I would never just insist a dog allow me to handle them without prior training. That would be very unfair and potentially very unsafe as well. There is a definite need to teach your dogs to accept a wide range of handling by creating positive associations. Check out this previous post, "Handling and Why It's Important." That, in my opinion, is the other missing piece of the puzzle. When I see this message, it is typically isolated in a meme or some other such graphic. There's rarely a mention of how important it is to train your dog to accept handling, especially if they don't like, appreciate or consent to it. It could be about saving their life one day or it could just be about needing to medicate for an ear infection. Regardless of the circumstance, make sure you've taken the time to teach your dog to accept handling and take the idea of consent with a few caveats. 

Never Say No

Dog training is a living, breathing creation. It is ever evolving and always changing. One of the benefits of being in the industry as long as we have (since 1982) is that we've seen trends come and go and we have been able to learn what works and what doesn't through hands on experience over tens of thousands of dogs. We're always evolving too, but not when it comes to our ideology. We know that saying "no" provides our dogs with valuable information for them to move forward with. There is a barrage of bad information out there designed to make you feel bad for saying "no". 

How unfair that is for our dogs! To only give them half of the equation is frustrating and sets you both up for a downfall. 

Saying "no" is not about being harsh or even punitive. It's about giving your dog good information so that they know how to be right. So say 'NO', do it humanely with forethought and clarity and follow it up with "yes" by showing the dog how to be right. You can read more about this in a previous post "Why Ignoring Bad Behaviours Won't Work."

Leadership is a Bad Word

Finally, I would like to say that internet became extremely divided over the mere mention of the word leadership. Without leadership, the world would cease to function. Yes, pack hierarchy theory has been debunked. I don't think that's surprising to many people these days, but that does NOT negate the need for good leadership. Parenting children well is all about good leadership. Running a business with happy, safe and productive employees is accomplished by good leadership. And raising a dog who is happy, healthy and enjoyable for the whole family is a direct result of good leadership. 

Being a good leader means you are calm, fair and kind. It means you are ready and willing to give your dog direction, set your dog up for success and you manage them well in the interim so they don't make the wrong choices - things like crating a youngster who is not housetrained and keeping a leash on a dog who does not yet have a reliable recall are examples of good management. 

Leadership is never a bad word. You can read more about how to be a good leader in a previous post, "The Truth About Leadership."

I hope that helps to clarify some of the random pieces of advice that float around. It can be very difficult to wade through all of the myths out there, but your dog will thank you for persevering through to the truth! 

As always, Happy Training!

Hi! I'm Shannon Viljasoo and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.

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