A dog seated before a white fence responds to "sit" from his trainer.

Sometimes, dog training can feel like the most difficult job in the world. Whether your dog just doesn’t seem to get your expectations, or they begin to ignore a command they’ve obeyed 10,000 times before, it can be frustrating and highly demanding of your patience.

While all of this is true, what’s also true is that patience, repetition, and reward are the only universal ways to make dog training stick. Nevertheless, there are a host of persistent dog training myths that continue to plague owners and dogs alike. Many of these mistaken beliefs are rooted in ideas that seem logical, but behavioral studies and an evolving understanding of dog psychology have unseated them time and time again.

To help you understand the truth about dog training — and get on a solid path towards a better understanding between you and your pup — we’re debunking 6 of the most stubborn dog training myths below.

Myth #1: Punishment Will Always Have Its Place in Dog Training

This is the worst myth, and not just because it can lead to needlessly unpleasant experiences for both dog and owner. No, it’s a bad myth precisely because it undermines the only goal of training: to get dogs to correct unwanted behaviors and exhibit desired ones.

Surveys of training professionals repeatedly show that they get better results from dogs when sticking to positive reinforcement as opposed to punishment-based reinforcement. Further, negative reinforcement comes with its own set of undesirable side effects compared to positive reinforcement-based training, including fear and aggression responses.

Now, with that said, animals that display aggression should not be in a position to hurt someone, so aids like head leads or muzzles may be needed — not to punish but to protect everyone involved. Also, the withdrawal of something seen as positive, such as attention, can be important to training so as to not send mixed signals about what will or won’t prompt a reward. Anything withheld should not be essential to the dog, though, as opposed to withholding meals or refusing to provide them with a bathroom break.

Ultimately, animals should not have to feel as if there is the threat of violence or some other unpleasant consequence in order to “scare them away” from certain behaviors. Instead, they need to come to recognize that performing those behaviors won’t get them what they want, but the desired behaviors will.

Myth #2: Dogs Misbehave Because They Feel “Dominant,” So You Need to Teach Them Their Place

Dogs don’t instinctively know what we expect of them until we teach it to them. And the best teacher is always positive reinforcement. If they understand that certain behaviors will bring them rewards, then they will seek to demonstrate those behaviors any time they have the opportunity to do so.

By the same token, just because a dog isn’t doing something you expect doesn’t mean they’re trying to “get one by” on you. Either they misread the cue, or something in their health, or their environment is preventing them from picking up on it. Your goal, at that point, is to identify these barriers and then try to help your dog learn to overcome them. 

For example, a dog that wants to lay only on the furniture may be feeling sore when they lay on the ground, or they may not feel as comfortable on their own bed — especially if that bed is far away from where everyone else in the house usually is. Dogs that ignore cues in public situations may not be hearing them, or they may need more training while being exposed to distractions.

The concept of a dog exhibiting “dominance” misunderstands the meaning of the term, even according to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT).

“Dominance describes a social relationship between two or more individuals,” they explain. “It is NOT a character trait. Despite what many people believe, dogs do not spend their time seeking to establish control over humans.”

Instead of focusing on power struggles, focus on making cues as easy to follow as possible while repeatedly showing that your way of doing things is the best way for the dog, too.

<h2> Myth #3: Dogs Respond to Certain Training Methods Because They Are Like Wolves in a Pack

Humans domesticated dogs before they even learned to grow crops. Tens of thousands of years later, there are quite clear differences between the biology and behaviors of dogs compared to their ancestors.

Yet, certain training philosophies try to “tap” into the subconscious wolf-ness within every dog. Never mind that most dogs probably wouldn’t do well on their own if left in the woods — especially if they came into contact with a pack of wolves.

“Dogs are not wolves,” observes the APDT, “and there are many significant differences between dog and wolf behavior such that wolf behavior is completely irrelevant to how we live and interact with our dogs.”

The ADPT also points out that many conclusions drawn about wolf behavior stem from decades-old studies that have, themselves, been debunked by scientists who closely study and publish research about wolves.

Myth #4: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Unless they’re having cognitive issues, dogs of any age can pick up on the reinforcement process — called “operant conditioning.” At the same time, if they have gotten used to a certain way of doing things, then it can be harder to break old habits. You may need to try several different approaches, especially when it comes down to breaking certain behaviors into smaller steps.


For example, if your senior dog is having trouble going to the bathroom inside the house, first start with establishing a routine of outside bathroom breaks multiple times a day. Provide praise and perhaps even a tasty reward each time they go. Keep the dog restricted away from areas where they tend to wander and go while unsupervised. Clean any messes thoroughly so as to avoid leaving smells that encourage them to revisit the scene of the “crime.” Gradually, the rewards of going outside will overpower the desire to go inside, especially if there’s nowhere for them to conveniently go.

With that said, recognize that certain “behavioral issues” may actually stem from medical necessity. Take your senior dog to the vet and rule out any issues with their digestive system, bladder, or joints that could be causing them to have trouble holding it or making it outside in time. If you have a dog that’s been going on the patio when let out instead of the yard, for example, you may need to start walking (or even carrying) the dog to the grassy area so they can overcome their physical barriers.

Myth #5: Rub a Puppy’s Nose in Their Excrement to Help Potty Train Them

Yeesh, this one at least understands one thing: this is a nasty experience for the dog! However, the desired effect is unlikely to be achieved. Instead, puppies can learn that they will be subjected to extreme discomfort at unexpected times.

“Unfortunately, rather than making the connection between their accident and the punishment, your puppy will learn you’re harsh and unpredictable,” writes the American Kennel Club. “Dogs live in the moment, so unless you catch them in the act, there’s nothing to do but clean up the mess.”

If you do catch your puppy in the act, they elaborate, then interrupt them calmly and take them to the spot they are supposed to be pottying. Then, when they finish, provide them with some sort of praise or reward. To ensure this doesn’t become the pattern, though, you may need to introduce more frequent bathroom breaks or restrict their movement through the house until they get better at holding it in.

Myth #6: Treats and Food Rewards Are Just “Bribes”

Food-based rewards can lead to quick progress thanks to the clear connection between behavior and outcome. However, there’s one smidgeon of truth to what’s being implied by this myth: food should not be the only way to get your dog to do what you want them to do. Instead, rewards should include praise, as well as attention, affection, or the ability to enjoy activities like fetch or other games after exhibiting the desired behavior.


Another thing to keep in mind is the nutritional content of the reward. Human food should be entirely avoided, including scraps of things like fat or gristle. Rich treats should be restricted to a once-a-day or once-on-occasion event. Instead, you can reduce the amount you feed them as part of their diet and then use this food as a trickle of rewards throughout the day.

You should also aim to quickly transition from entirely food-based rewards to a combo of food and praise or positive attention. The latter should be able to elicit the expected response in a pinch because, after all, you won’t always have food handy!

Get Help With Dog Training to Make Life Easier and Better for Everyone in the House

Now that we’re done debunking dog training myths, we want to help owners and pets become closer than ever before. At Greenlin Pet Resorts, we offer dog training and puppy training that focuses on your unique goals while striving to meet your dog’s unique motivators. Every regimen concludes with one-on-one demonstrations and instructions owners can use to continue training in the home setting.

Greenlin also offers dog daycare and pet boarding to ensure your dog is getting the exercise, stimulation, and bathroom breaks it needs while you can’t be there.

Find out more about our training philosophy and how we can help you and your pooch enjoy a better quality of life together when you reach out to one of our six locations near Harrisburg or book your pet’s stay online! 

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