In this post, I want to talk about breaking the dog training rules. That sounds controversial, but I’m really just referring to the habit of clinging to the first “rule” you hear about a dog training topic. When people want to learn more about dog training, they generally read a book or talk to their trainer to get more information. In most cases, the first information they hear from that first source is what they tend to believe. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s always a good idea to question the information you hear, no matter where it came from. Question the information you get from books about dogs, question anything a trainer tells you about dogs—even question the information I’m giving you right now!
It’s quite common for me to hear: “I’ve got this Blue Heeler, and a guy at work told me that all Blue Heelers are like this.” I tell them that yes, their Blue Heeler might be “like that,” but it could also be something completely different. There is no one stereotype that defines a whole breed. Other people say: “I read this book once, and it said this was how you’re supposed to house train.” Or: “My brother is great with dogs, and he said to do it this way.” When people hear information for the first time, they usually look at it as gospel truth. After that, any new information is seen as a threat to what they’re already thinking and doing.
Of course, there are certain things that I think of as rules. These are principles like: “Don’t slap your dog,” “Don’t feed your dog awful food,” or “You don’t need to scream at your dog to get him to be obedient.” There are plenty of things that are hard and fast. But there are plenty of other things that, as I often say, aren’t a problem unless they’re a problem.
For example, I often ask people not to put a bed in their dog crate. I’ve written and spoken a lot about this topic many times before. A bed in a crate will usually get chewed up, and its softness and absorbency tempts puppies to pee on it. However, a lot of people still want to keep a bed in the crate so their dog will be comfortable.
That’s when I break out that phrase: “It’s not a problem—unless it’s a problem.” If you put the bed in the crate and your dog does nothing wrong, then it’s probably not an issue. If he chews it up and pees on it, however, then it quickly becomes an issue. The list goes on and on. Should I put the crate next to my bed, or in another room? Should I let my dog out of my sight when he’s house training? My answer to these kinds of questions is always the same: it’s not a problem unless it’s a problem!
There are a few serious rules in dog training, things that you want to make sure you are doing absolutely right. But you and your dog are both individuals, and everything about you is unique. Not every person, dog, and situation has to abide by the exact same set of guidelines. Instead, you need to figure out what’s right for you and your dog. Hopefully, if you’re new to training, you will challenge all the information you hear. Understand that not everything you hear is a hard and fast rule. When you assume that it is, then you block off new information and hamstring your own ability to learn. So open your mind and check out new ways of doing things—you’ll be happy that you did!