“Sure, clicker training might work for a Poodle. But a Pit Bull needs to be shown who’s boss.”
We hear this all the time, and I want to put a rest to this myth once and for all. Many people believe that clicker training and other reward-based training methods won’t work for their breed. Whether it be a Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Doberman, Cane Corso, Malinois, Rhodesian Ridgeback, or Dogo, I’m often told that a certain breed is stubborn or dominant, and therefore needs to be trained with harsh corrections in order to become a well-behaved member of society.
First of all, the myth that clicker training “doesn’t work” for certain breeds is downright ridiculous. Clicker training is used in zoos and aquariums worldwide for every species of animal imaginable. If we can train tigers, killer whales, wolves, and even goldfish with positive reinforcement, we can certainly clicker train an animal who has been bred to live and work with humans for thousands of generations.
Dolphins are trained to lie calmly upside-down in the water in order to allow blood to be drawn (and did I mention that they need to hold their breath while this is happening?), and to open their jaws and allow feeding tubes to be inserted. Orangutans, who are incredibly strong and can be very aggressive, are trained to offer their arms for vaccinations and routine blood draws. Elephants allow trainers to care for their feet. Zoo animals of every species imaginable are trained to hop onto a scale and hold still for accurate weights, to open their mouths for tooth exams, to go into and out of crates, and the list goes on.
If all of this can be accomplished with wild animals who would as soon kill a person as look at them, you can certainly train your “tough” (but domesticated) dog to walk nicely on leash with a clicker. Even the toughest dog is no match for the danger presented by working with cetaceans or large cats.
But don’t these dogs need to be shown who’s the boss? Absolutely! All dogs should look to their owner as a leader. However, we now know that the myth of a violent or aggressive “alpha” was based on faulty research, and in fact true leaders are almost never aggressive. They don’t need to be. Leadership is all about control of resources. Since our dogs don’t have opposable thumbs, we’re already ahead on this count.
A good leader is benevolent and trustworthy. If your dog is pushy and status-seeking, which some of the “tough” breeds can be, take a good hard look at his day-to-day life. Are you teaching him to be polite and patient? Are you asking him to work for things he wants, or handing him everything on a silver platter as soon as he demands it? A pushy dog is a sign of a poor trainer who’s not utilizing management and who’s not investing time in training. Your dog is not lying awake at night plotting how to overthrow you. Promise.
Still skeptical that your dog can be trained with a clicker? Consider this. Not only have I personally trained hundreds of Pit Bulls using nothing but positive reinforcement methods, but Laws Dogs USA trained bomb- and drug-detection dogs using these methods, and more and more law enforcement, service dog, and military trainers are turning to positive methods as they realize that these techniques produce better long-term results. Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are more reliable for situations that require perfection.
If you’re still using corrections to train your tough dog, there’s a better way. Contact us for help! Remember that certain breeds have a bad enough reputation as it is. Those of us who know and love them know how wonderful these breeds are, but the general public still thinks every Pit Bull or Rottweiler is dangerous. How much damage are you doing to your dog’s breed’s reputation when you walk him around with a huge medieval-looking prong collar around his neck? How much good can you do for his breed’s reputation if the general public instead sees you out walking him on a bright no-pull harness or pretty collar? How much good can you do for his breed’s reputation if your dog becomes a breed ambassador, behaving calmly, politely, and joyfully to your every cue? If you truly love your dog, show the world what a great dog he is!
Please comment below with your questions or stories about your favorite breed. We look forward to hearing from you!