Don’t Take Bad Dog Training Advice

Golden Retriever in Crate

Yes, I know everyone recommends crate training. But if you shut the door, how will I get to lick everyone who comes to the door?

Of course you would never rub your puppy’s nose in his poop when he has an accident. And what kind of craziness is it to swat a dog for getting into the trash?

What about that dog training advice that might be good—for someone else? But it’s perfectly awful for you.

And how do you know it’s bad advice before you try it?

Bad Advice – Separation Anxiety

I loved my first dogs, Agatha and Christie. But they were the duo from hell.

Their household snacks included not one but two couches, a shelf of expensive cook books, and an oriental rug. They embarrassed me in front of company. They got into horrendous fights that sometimes ended in bloodshed.

But everything paled in comparison with their reaction whenever I left the house.

Before the key turned in the lock, they began howling. I could still hear them when I got to the corner of my block.

To this day, I hold their howling responsible for the crack addiction of my neighbors who shared a party wall with us.

One day I found a book that addressed separation anxiety. It had the usual advice:

  • Start off leaving for a short time and build up the dog’s tolerance for your absence.
  • Make your leaving routine calm and matter-of-fact.
  • Provide really yummy treats to entertain your dogs in your absence.

But it also had this little nugget: Surprise your dogs by exiting from different places. Don’t always go out the front door. Exit through the garage, the back door, or even a window.

I gave it my best effort. But the author, who I can’t remember after all these years, obviously had a suburban tract house in mind, not a three-story, urban town house with security concerns.

To exit by the back door, I had to scramble over the six-foot stockade fence so it remained locked after I went to work. If I didn’t, I was just inviting local thieves to use the protection of my fence to spend time breaking into the house.

Oh, and climbing out a window? Don’t forget the seven-foot drop from the first floor. Mind your first step, it’s a doozy.

The advice was well-intended. It might work great for someone else. But it did nothing to cure Agatha and Christie’s anxiety when I left the house. On the other hand, it certainly increased mine.

Bad Advice – Chasing Squirrels

I have to start by apologizing to Victoria Schade for including her in this post. Her book Bonding with Your Dog: A Trainer’s Secrets for Building a Better Relationship is one of my favorites. It opened me up to all kinds of new ways to strengthen my relationship with my dog. I recommend it without reservations.

But one piece of advice was not meant for me. And I was stupid to take it.

Among the games it suggested playing on a walk was this one: Ask your dog to remain calm in front of squirrels. Then, when you have her attention, reward her by saying, “Let’s chase” and taking off with her after the squirrels.

Y’know, out in the woods it’s probably a lot of fun.

But here in town, we have kamikaze squirrels. They don’t go rushing up into the trees when they’re chased. They dart into the street, in front of oncoming traffic.

I’ve played lots of games with Honey that Schade suggested in her book. But we stopped the squirrel game pretty darn fast. I should never have tried that one.

Bad Advice Today?

hound mix dog in t shirt

I hope this posture means she’s relaxed. And not that she’s humiliated to be wearing a t-shirt and duct tape.

What brings this topic to my mind? Thunderstorms.

When we’ve had mild thunder, our foster pup Chèrie has done fine. She looked to Honey and me for reassurance and was able to stay calm.

But we had a more severe storm the other day that caused Chèrie to panic. She was trying to squeeze through the six-inch openings in our fence to get away from the noise. We finally found a safe place for her, hiding behind a stack of lumber in the basement. She didn’t come out until an hour after the storm had passed.

Because of the severity of her reaction, Russ, our trainer, suggested I try D.A.P. Dog Appeasing Pheromone Spray (60ml) and a Thundershirt. With severe storms expected throughout the day, we were able to get the DAP spray but both local pet supplies were out of large size Thundershirts. So I followed some instructions online to create one using a t-shirt and some duct tape.

I put Chèrie into one of my t-shirts. I put her walking harness on over top, tied the waist into a knot, and wrapped duct tape around the middle to keep it on.

She doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. I can’t tell if it’s relaxing her or not. I guess we’ll see when the storms come through.

I just hope this isn’t another example of me following bad advice. Or badly executing someone’s good advice.

One Size Never Fits All

Some advice is good for no one. But there are lots of good advice out there that might be great for someone but not so hot for you. Or me.

I’ve met people who struggled for months to crate train their dogs because that’s the common advice. But their dogs hated the crate and panicked at the sight of it.

I guess it all comes back to having common sense and paying attention to the dog.

And, if you’re lucky, the bad advice you take will at least be good for a few funny stories.

Did you ever take dog training advice that seemed like a good idea at the time but just didn’t work for you? Was it disastrous? Or hilarious?

Some of the links in this post take you to my Amazon Affiliate account. That means you if you buy the item through the link, a small commission will come to me. It will not increase your price. And, if you do buy one of these items, thank you for supporting Something Wagging.

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Comments

  1. I’m old enough to have tried a lot of bad training advice.. I won’t list them here in case you or a reader calls the SPCA. Your thunder shirt is great! though I might have tried tying a ribbon/bandage rather than using duct tape 😉 I like creative approaches to highly priced items!

  2. Thank you for your continued posts on Cherie! She is a beautiful girl and I love reading her progress and obsticles. She reminds me of my old boy when I first adopted him. He had such over whelming thunder and fireworks anxiety that he has to be medicated 30 min before a known storm or fireworks. I wish the two of you lots of luck in both her continued progress (great job so far!) and with her finding the perfect loving family that can accomodate her needs. :)

  3. My peoples have followed LOTS of bad training advice, with their other dogs, and with me too. One thing I remember was that a trainer told Donna that she should use more motivating food for me (me, the dog who drools at simple things like carrots) and so my person brought chicken the next week.

    Did you know I made her fingers bleed?

    I never understood the squirrels much. Leah and Meadow chase them, but I’d rather dine on slow moving targets. Like dog poop. Easy to catch, and hey, you can make your own.

    My person has a copy of that book. She loved it, but it never really helped our bond. My person thinks that I don’t love her, because I don’t always listen, but that’s not the problem at all. Really. It’s just that sometimes, I’ve gotta better things to do.

    • Haha was that bad advice or just bad implementation? ;))

      • Nah. I’m still a shark with meat. Now my peoples train me with boring food, and they don’t need to buy so many bandaids. I pay attention better too. Meat gets me all worked up and I can’t think straight.

  4. The Thundershirt or t-shirt equivalent is, from what I’ve gathered, good advice. I just gave it to somebody on the Doberman forum this morning, in fact! It’s truth that not all advice works for all dogs; their individuality and situations really need to be considered.

    Collar corrections are a bit of training advice I wish I’d never even HEARD much less tried to take. My timing for it was not good, and I think that it ended up affecting Elka’s confidence.

  5. I’m not a great dog trainer, so I’m sure I’ve both followed bad advice along the way and taken good advice and turned it all upside down. Love the handmade Thundershirt. I kinda wondered if that would be possible, since they kinda just look like a very snug vest. We don’t actually have thunder here (well, very rarely anyway – maybe once or twice a year) but I wonder if it would help with some of her other fears. Need to do some research!

  6. Oh, my. We’ve had some good ones. One of our funniest ones was with his leash walking. Silas is not great at it, and he won’t take treats outside. So we tried the old “turn and walk the other way when the dog pulls” routine. Silas *adored* it. He would run, top speed, until he hit the end of the leash on the other side. When I turned around, repeat. He had such a good time! Silas, it turns out, isn’t pulling because he’s interested in whatever that thing over there is. That’s supposed to be the point of turning away–whatever the dog is so interested in is now “off the menu.” Silas doesn’t care in the least about where we’re going. He just wants to go there FASTER.

    • Oh that is too funny! Silas has his own unique version of fun, doesn’t he?

      You reminded me that piece of advice was a fail for us too. My last dog, Shadow, used to pull hard enough to make my hands bleed. When I tried the “walk in the opposite direction every time she pulls” advice, I ended up spinning in circles so fast I got dizzy and had to sit down on the sidewalk until I recovered for the walk home. :)

  7. Oh my! When we got the Felix, I was a total novice. We had dogs growing up, but this was the first time I was solely responsible for the care and training of one – and man, oh man, did I make mistakes! Felix was in no way trained to walk on a leash. Like Jessica and Silas, we tried the direction changes and Felix would hurl himself past me in order to pull. It was so unexpected that the first time he did it, my 17 lb dog dislocated my shoulder!

    I made mistakes again when Kolchak was a puppy. Our vet at the time recommended a training technique and I had no idea it was considered controversial and potentially dangerous. The “Alpha Roll”. Thank Dog, I was clearly doing it wrong. Instead of being a dominance moment where I stared with a steeling hardness into his eyes pinning him down, it was more of a moment where we gazed loving at each other as I gently rubbed his neck & belly. In fact, Koly still enjoys “Mommy & Koly Flip Over Time”. He’ll lay in my lap, flip himself over and look at my with those big eyes of his. I’m a sucker for those eyes.

  8. The Thundershirt works really well for us, but I’m pretty sure the homemade version is a little lacking. I think the reason it works is because it swaddles the dog.

    As for advice, yes, we’ve taken bad advice. Or, I should say, my husband has. Unbeknownst to me, before Kuster was even at home, he was told that Search dogs should ALWAYS be crated unless they’re working. It became a battle in our house, and it took a while for us to find a compromise. I am glad that we had a good friend who offered my husband some better advice and I’ll always be thankful to him for that!

    • Mike Webster says:

      From the Husband (Pam’s, not Houndstooth’s):
      Why is it that husbands are so seemingly glad to take advice from everyone but their wives? (Cf: Just About Any Mention of Pam’s Husband in Any of Pam’s Posts.)

  9. I’ve done the make-shift thundershirt and it didn’t work. BJ still ran to me and snuggled in as tight as he could and shook until the noise was over. I’ve also tried Bach liquid – 4 drops on his tongue. That didn’t work either. When I’ve come home during or after a thunderstorm, I’ve have found him hovering in the back of a closet.

  10. I think while I’m gone the dogs are plotting to take over the world so they don’t have time to be destructive. I’m trying to imagine four crates sitting in the house and trying to corral the dogs into them.

  11. Love this post! I, too, have followed plenty of bad training advice. One of the funniest was using a squirt bottle to stop unwanted behavior. One of my dogs ignored it; the other one thought it was a great game. I’m so glad I finally learned about training incompatible behaviors!

    Re: the Thundershirt, long before I ever heard of it, I attended a seminar led by a gifted trainer who was rehabilitating a bait dog. He was scared of everything, including all of the surfaces he walked on. She wrapped his body with a few Ace bandages and left them on him. She covered his whole body, just like the Thundershirt. We watched a video and saw the immediate difference this made.

    If you try this, make sure it’s not too tight. When I was a kid, I broke my foot but the break didn’t require a cast. My dad wrapped my foot in an Ace bandage much too tightly. I didn’t notice how tight it was, but I woke my mom in the middle of the night with my whimpering as I slept. She rewrapped my foot, which was turning blue!

  12. Hi Y’all!

    Just hoppin’ by to say “hi”.

    My Human’s idea of training is not the same as mine…I’ve been trying to train them for years now…they give me treats…I haven’t figured out how to reward them for doing what I want.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  13. Cherie certainly looks relaxed in the photo. How did she cope with the bigger thunder? I’m so glad I’ve never had a dog who is petrified by thunder. Frankie and Beryl don’t like big thunder and sometimes look a bit anxious but soon settle down.

    I’ve read, watched videos on and tried just about every training suggestion imaginable to get Frankie to walk nicely on a lead. All without a jot of success, so we mostly go places where he doesn’t have to be on a lead:) I call it management:) Some might call it giving up or quitting?

  14. loved this post, you make a good point. things I was told to do with nanook didn’t work for him, we found our own ways.

  15. You know, I’m one of those firm believer sin crate training. Not only is it good for things like housebreaking, but I’ve found when repairmen come over or things like that, its great to be able to put the girls in their crate. But then I got Riley, who hasn’t ben crated in almost 9 years of life. And my work schedule was such that I just couldn’t take the time to “train” him. So, I baby gated off the hall and it works just as well and he doesn’t freak out.

  16. I have a zillion things I did those first 6 months that seemed like great ideas but turned out very wrong. After reading this I decided to share one of them on my blog this morning in response. :-)

  17. My bipeds were given some really bad advice when I was a puppy, they also received some really good advice. We met a number of trainers who only have one way of doing something and blame the dog if it doesn’t work.

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