Common Myths in Dog Training by Niki Tudge Copyright 2011

There are so many myths in dog training and far too many to detail here. The myths that are most misleading and have the most impact on the living conditions of our pet dogs are the following.

1.      Myth #1 - Dogs that do not learn are stubborn or stupid.

This is very inaccurate. Like Humans, dogs learn at different paces and are motivated by different things. Dogs also have different drives and sensitivities. Many dogs fail at training due to inappropriate training methods, poor instruction or a lack of clear and concise cues or simply because owners expect them to learn just for the reward of pleasing the owner. As an example, your dog’s physical condition and health must always be considered. A dog that is suffering from hip-dysplasia may not be able to do ‘sit’ and ‘down’ exercises.

  1. Myth #2 - Puppies cannot go to training class until they are 6 months old.

This myth originates from the days when training incorporated many harsh leash and collar corrections. Using the proper modern methods, puppies can join a well-run puppy class when they are 10 weeks old.  You can start training them at home the day you bring them home using the new more effective methods.  It is important to socialize your puppy as soon as possible by exposing it to as many new people and things as you can. This will help your dog grow up to be behaviorally healthy.

  1. Myth #3 - My dog knows when he has been bad since he looks guilty.

We all love to attribute human emotions to our dogs. In most cases humans make these comments when they arrive home or catch a dog soon after it has exhibited a behavior that it has been punished for. The look of guilt is actually a look of anticipation of something unpleasant about to happen since the dog has learned that if it does this and then the human appears, it is punished.  The dog is displaying appeasement behaviors which are intended to cut off conflict.


4.      Myth #4 - My dog does this because they are dominant.

This is one of the more popular misconceptions used by dog owners when they are trying to explain an undesirable behavior their dog is displaying.  Dominance actually describes a social relationship between two or more individuals. Dominance is not a character trait. The APDT notes that “Despite what many people believe, dogs do not spend their time seeking to establish control over humans.” Dogs display behaviors that work for them. If your dog runs through the door before you it does not mean he is dominant. It simply means your dog is excited to go outside and does so in a rambunctious manner because they have not been taught to sit and wait for the door to open. If your dog pulls on the leash they are not being dominant. They have simply learned over time that if they pull to get to the smells or to explore what they want and you follow. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follow from it.


5.      Myth #5 - Positive reinforcement training is not preferable with large breeds.

Positive reinforcement is the common protocol with marine trainers and many trainers of exotic animals, such as those trainers preparing animals for movie roles. If the methods work with whales, dolphins, lions and bears then there is no reason they should not work with large breed dogs.  Research supports the consensus that using aversive training methods on fearful or aggressive dogs creates fallout and leads to aggressive tendencies, learned helplessness and anxiety disorders. Reward based training helps empower animals, creates confidence and develops strong trusting and safe relationships between dogs and their owners.