As a new pet owner unaware of dog training myths, you may feel overwhelmed by the abundance of information available on the topic of dog training. With just one web search for “dog training”, you’re presented with countless articles, videos, and opinions – many of which contradict each other, leaving you feeling lost.
But fear not – we’re here to help you navigate the vast ocean of dog training advice and separate fact from fiction. By examining time-tested training methods and scientific research, we can distinguish myths about dog training from the truth and provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to raise a happy, obedient, and well-trained pup.
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"Using food or treats in training is just bribery."
Bribery VS Reward
The notion that using food or treats to train a dog is equivalent to bribery is a common misconception. However, there’s a crucial difference between bribery and reward – and it all depends on the way food is being utilized in training.
Our friends at Latchkey Pets explain this concept by stating, “Bribing involves offering treats or other rewards to get a desired behavior from the dog, while rewarding involves voluntarily offering treats or other rewards for good behavior that has already occurred.”
Bribing involves offering treats or other rewards to get a desired behavior from the dog, while Rewarding involves voluntarily offering treats or other rewards for good behavior that has already occurred.
Latchkey Pets, Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Pros
My Dog ONLY Responds When There's Food
If your dog only responds to commands when food is present, you may need to call in a reliable positive reinforcement-based trainer. These trainers can guide you on best practices to train your dog and develop his skills without being overly dependent on food.
"Positive reinforcement training is too permissive."
No Correction Needed to Finish Training
While some people believe that dogs need to be corrected when they misbehave, many positive reinforcement-based trainers maintain that it’s more productive to ignore undesirable behavior and reinforce desirable behavior.
But what about when a dog’s behavior puts someone at risk, say when they knock down an elderly person? Should we really just ignore the dog’s behavior? It’s a legitimate concern, but it’s also a gross over-simplification of positive reinforcement training.
Positive Reinforcement Dog Training is NOT a Permissive Approach! On the Contrary, it Involves Setting Boundaries by:
Preventing Undesired Behaviors
When the dog jumps up, no attention or treats are given.
Teaching an Alternative, Desired Behavior
Dog receives attention and treats when all four paws are on the floor.
Building the Desired Behavior by Making it More Rewarding than the Undesired Behavior
If we want the dog to keep "Four on the floor", give lavish praise and treats when his paws are all on the floor. Eventually, the dog will understand that one behavior benefits him more than jumping on guests.
Using Negative Punishment to Take Away What the Dog Wants
And yes, punishment is also used, but not in the form of physical force, rather by using negative punishment where something the dog values is taken away temporarily to deter inappropriate behavior. For example, we can take away our attention when the dog misbehaves or place the dog on a leash to keep it away from visiting grandmas.
So in the example of knocking over an elderly person, we would teach the dog that it only gets attention if it has all four paws on the floor. The minute it jumps up, attention gets removed. And when grandma comes over, we keep the dog on a leash until we are confident it won’t jump on her. This gives us the control needed to make sure the appropriate behavior is reinforced, while ensuring that the dog is unable to get close enough to grandma to knock her over.
These techniques are far from permissive – instead, they set up dogs to succeed by reinforcing appropriate behaviors and removing rewards for negative behaviors, allowing them to flourish and develop good habits.
"Some dogs are stubborn and need to be trained with a heavier hand."
Avoid Outdated, Harmful Training Techniques
This myth is untrue, and its belief can lead to harmful, dominance-based training techniques that may negatively affect your dog’s behavior and mental health. The truth is that most dogs are NOT inherently stubborn – rather, they are intelligent animals that can learn and adapt to their environment with proper training methods.
For instance, a dog might reliably perform the “sit” command at home, but not respond to the same cue in a dog training class – this may be because the dog hasn’t learned to perform the cue with the distractions present in class.
Play Sherlock...Figure out WHY There's Aversion
I had a client whose dog suddenly stopped responding to the sit cue. I requested a vet evaluation, and the dog indeed had a back leg injury that made sitting painful.
Sometimes the aversive that has killed the behavior response is not as obvious. I had another client that reported that his dog had stopped going in his crate, a space he previously loved. It turns out that he was in his crate on garbage day, and the sound of the garbage truck was scary to him. He associated that scary noise with being his crate. So in his mind, avoiding the crate was also avoiding the frightening sound.
These two dogs were not being stubborn. They were worried.
"You should never feed your dog 'people' food."
Many 'People' Foods are Good for Our Dogs!
For example, vegetables like carrots and green beans are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals. Fruits like watermelon and bananas can also be great treats, as long as you remove any seeds or pits. And many types of lean protein, like chicken and fish, are excellent sources of nutrition for dogs.
'People' Food that Can be Dangerous to Dogs
Of course, it’s important to be mindful of the types of human food that can be dangerous for dogs as well. Chocolate, grapes, and onions are just a few foods that should never be fed to our furry friends.
By doing a little research and consulting with your veterinarian, you can easily determine which human foods are safe and healthy for your dog. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is another great resource for learning what foods dogs can safely eat.
How to Use 'People' Food as a High-Value Treat
When using people food as a reward, it’s important to choose high-value treats. This could be something like small pieces of chicken, cheese, or hot dogs. These types of treats are much more motivating than bland dog biscuits, and they can help to keep your dog engaged and focused during training sessions.
Feeding Dogs 'People' Food Won't Teach Begging
One of the main reasons why people fear feeding their dogs people food is the concern that it will lead to begging behavior. However, it’s important to understand that dogs learn through context and consequences.
Feeding a dog people food will NOT teach him to beg for food. Feeding a dog people food while you are eating might.
But if you grab the chicken out of your bait bag while asking for a sit, it will NOT create bad behavior at the table. Instead, your dog will learn that sitting quietly is the fastest way to get some food.
Common Dog Training Myths Summary
Remember, positive reinforcement and consistency are key to successful dog training, and old-school methods like punishment and dominance training should be avoided. With the right approach, any dog can become a well-behaved, obedient, and happy companion.
Devene obtained a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University and spent several years working in marketing. However, when she adopted her first greyhound (who came with some behavior challenges), she began researching ways to modify her problem behavior and found help with a local dog trainer. She became a volunteer assistant to learn more, and eventually started teaching classes and conducting private lessons. She currently trains puppies full-time to become scent detection dogs. Devene lives in Michigan with her husband and kids, as well as 4 dogs, 2 cats and a tortoise.
Morgan Messick is a content creator for Dog Training Newbie, a website that is all about dog training tips, techniques, news, and more. Morgan has two dogs, three cats, and a lovely wife who support her passion for writing. Morgan loves reading murder mystery novels and listening to true crime podcasts in her spare time. She is also passionate about supporting small businesses by creating dynamic content that customers want to see.