Dog Training Myths Debunked!

1. My dog looks “guilty” when he does something wrong.

By saying our dog looks “guilty,” we are projecting human traits onto an animal. While there can be a change in their appearance, it is not guilt that they are portraying. Pinning their ears back, showing the whites of their eyes, licking their lips, or displaying their belly are – in dog body language – ways of appeasement. They are signals that act to soothe or relieve tense situations. Dogs are experts in body language, so if they notice your eyes widen, muscles tense, or your chest expand with a deep breath, they might anticipate something is stressing you out. To avoid problems, your dog will go into appeasement mode as soon as they notice something is off. They can also detect tonal changes very well, so if you have a stern or angry voice, they might start displaying those behaviors that seem like guilt to us, but they are just trying to diffuse the situation.

2. Muzzles are bad


Muzzles have a negative connotation in everyday life. However, they are simply a safety precaution, unlike a seat belt or a leash for walking around the city. A properly fitting basket muzzle does not restrict the dog’s regular movements, such as panting, eating, drinking, or even barking, but it will prevent your dog from biting. Proper training is necessary when introducing a muzzle to ensure your dog is comfortable wearing one. Once your dog acclimates to their new accessory, you and your dog can be comfortable and confident in situations they might not have been able to be in previously. Muzzle training is also helpful for vet or grooming visits. This way, the animal care staff, and your dog can get through the visit more comfortably.

3. I need to be my dog’s “alpha.”


In the mid-1900’s researchers, Rudolf Schenkel and David Mech published separate observations of social structures in groups of wolves. These observations gave rise to the concept of an “alpha” that had control over the rest of the wolf pack. Later, this theory people used to justify training dogs using “dominance” through force and other aversive tools such as shock, choke, and prong collars, among other painful instruments. However, Schenkel’s initial study has long since been debunked. Since his study observed a large group of wolves in a small containment area, it was impossible to draw conclusions about wolves in their natural state from the study. David Mech has since addressed the issue on his website Here you can read his take “Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years than in all of previous history. One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf.”

On top of outdated and unsubstantiated theories, using force or fear is not a good way to build a good relationship between you and your dog.

If you think your dog is dominant, check out out blog on the subject here.


4. Aversive tools (shock, choke, prong collars, etc.) are necessary for large dogs.


Using force or aversive tools in training is unnecessary. No matter what size, breed, or age your dog is, they can learn through positive reinforcement and proper management. Many zoos use the same force-free approach to training their animals. You can train your large dog if they can successfully train a jaguar using these techniques.


5. Specific breeds are stubborn and can’t learn.


Stubborn dogs don’t exist. Dogs are always willing to act in their best interest. By building a solid relationship with your dog and having positive interactions with them on a consistent schedule, you will notice your dog becoming more responsive to you. If you find your dog not listening to you, check for a few things before resigning to the idea that your dog is just “stubborn.”

  • Is your dog distracted by something more interesting?
  • Are you in a new environment?
  • Have you rewarded the skill you are asking for enough times in previous training sessions?


6. Playing tug leads to aggression.


Tugging is a natural fun behavior for dogs. It is a way for them to play. While playing tug, you can use the opportunity to train behaviors such as “drop it” or “take it” and practice your dog’s focus and responsiveness during situations where they are highly stimulated. Playing tug can also be used as a reward during training sessions!


7. Dogs will only listen when you have treats if you use them in training.


Using treats during training sessions is a great way to motivate your dog to practice those desired behaviors. Training with treats as a reward does not mean bribing your dog every time you want them to do something. On the contrary, we want to move away from having to give treats 100% of the time. To accomplish this, we need to work on fading out the treats. This process is slow and can vary from individual to individual. We don’t want to begin fading the treats until your dog knows the behavior (they do it for you in several locations, on the first cue, and without hesitation). Once you are confident in the behavior, you can begin cutting back on the treats. Do this gradually. If you go from 100 to 0% of the time, your dog will lose interest and stop finding the behavior rewarding. Try giving treats 9/10 times in a few sessions, and then gradually lower the number of treats you use in the sessions. Remember that practicing a behavior in a new location is almost like learning a new behavior for your pup. Make sure you have enough reinforcement to compensate.


8. Old dogs can’t learn.


As long as your dog finds SOMETHING motivating, they can learn new behaviors. Find what this is for your pet and work on fun training with them! As your dog ages, doing more training with them is beneficial to keep their brain active and sharp. Through these training sessions and new experiences, you can help ward off cognitive decline in your senior dog.


9. Puppies need to be older before they can learn.


Puppies start learning from the day they are born. Once you bring them home at around eight weeks, it is up to you what they will continue to learn. Beginning training from the start can help prevent bad habits from forming. Those habits might include jumping up on guests, chewing on clothes or hands, or barking at any movement through the window. This early period in a puppy’s life is a critical socialization period and is essential to helping your puppy grow up confident and comfortable with new surroundings. Speak with your trainer about how to work on socialization! (P.S. No, it’s not meeting seven dogs at the dog park every day)


10. You should shove your dog’s nose in their potty accidents


Unfortunately, there’s not a one-and-done method of potty training a puppy. Shoving your dog’s face in their accidents can be traumatic for them and lead to your dog dreading going to the bathroom in front of you. You may think, “well, good. Then they won’t go in the house,” right? No, they might find a hiding place and leave some secret prizes for you to find later. It can also make them uncomfortable to use the bathroom outside while you are nearby. Instead of using punishment, use management for potty training. Put together a bathroom break schedule to try and take your puppy out once every hour or two to start. After a few weeks of success, you can try extending the periods between those bathroom breaks. Make sure you reward your puppy for going potty outside on the grass. Do this immediately after they use the bathroom. Please do not wait for them to come inside, do not call them to you. Immediately after the action, so they connect the act of going to the bathroom outside with the reward.

Please note that entire books can be written on some of these topics, so this is just a quick overview. If you’d like to learn more about any of these examples, please contact us at (786) 299 – 1552.