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Training Your Dog: Myths and Mistakes to Avoid

Updated on August 4, 2011

My German Shepherd Dog, Max

Training your dog does not have to be an overly complicated process, but there are some very common myths and mistakes about training your dog that you should know to avoid. Often, people get a cuddly new puppy with the vague idea that either they will naturally know how to train the pup as it grows or that someone else in the family will do the dirty work. (The kids promised to take care of it!) Others get an adult dog with the impression that the dog is already trained and they won't really need to do much of anything. Finally, some people have learned poor dog training techniques the same way some people learn poor parenting skills: by copying or listening to others who do not know how to train. (“I spanked my dog good when he peed on the floor, and he never did it again!”) All of mistaken these ideas can lead to frustration on the parts of both dog and owner, and if not corrected, can eventually lead to heartache. But, learning how to train your dog does not have to be a struggle. Here are some common dog training mistakes and myths and how to avoid them.

Common Dog Training Myths

1.You should punish your dog if he does not come when he is called.

I want to emphasize that when training your dog, this is, perhaps, the most dangerous mistake of all. Thereason is fairly simple. Imagine this scenario. Your dog slips out the front door and runs when you call him. Eventually, either you manage to catch him or he slinks back. You then yell or hit him, and your dog learns, “Whatever I do, I should not come when my owner calls for me or I will be punished!” The next time, your dog is going to make sure to run longer and further.

If you want to know how to train your dog to come when called, imagine the opposite. Your dog slips out the front door. You have been saying the word, “Treat” every time you give your dog his favorite snack, so when he gets out, you go get the treat jar and run back. You yell out, “Rover, TREAT!”Rover knows this means his favorite jerky treat is in hand and comes running back. You give Rover the treat, slather him in love, pats, and kisses, letting him know how wonderful he is, and then put him back inside. Rover has now learned that coming when called is the most wonderful thing he can do! And you have learned that training your dog to come when called is not really that difficult. I accidentally learned this trick with my Boston terrier, Sophie, who was a notorious runner when she was young. Funny enough, her favorite treat was potato chips, and they worked every time!

2.Using harsh punishment to house train is most effective.

Most people are now aware that the “rub his nose in it” technique when training your dog is cruel and only results in the dog needing a bath. However, some people still believe that if they find where their dog has had an accident in the house, the dog should be spanked or shown the mistake and yelled at. This technique tends to backfire and, if anything, can result in the dog trying to sneak away to hide when he has to “go”. The reason is simple. The dog learns that mom or dad is angry when he or she finds pee or poop. Unfortunately, the dog has not been taught what to do, instead of eliminate in the house. A far more effective technique in training your dog to eliminate outside is simple, though not necessarily easy. Supervise the dog closely, never allowing him or her out of your site when running lose in the house. (Crate the dog when you cannot watch him). Take the dog outside every couple of hours and praise and treat when the dog eliminates outside. If the pup starts to have an accident inside, yell, “No!”, pick the dog up, and take him or her outside. Praise and treat when pup finishes outside.

3.Playing tug-of-war will make a dominant puppy become aggressive.

This myth comes from the idea that letting your dog think he is the leader will result in a dominant dog that tries to boss you around.While letting your dog think he can be in charge, especially if he is strong-willed, can result in pretty serious problems, the issue is not so much with playing tug-of-war as it is with how the game is played. Puppy games are a kind of role-playing game, a dress rehearsal for adulthood. Letting a puppy initiate the game, run off with the toy when he is done, and in general behave like a brat, can result in the puppy thinking he can get away with anything.

On the flip side, the game of tug-of-war can be useful for training your dog and teaching your puppy who is in charge. And it really is not very difficult. Simply make sure you begin and end the game on your own terms. You control the toy, the length of play, and where the toy goes when the game is over. Do not let the dog win by wrestling the toy away and running off to chew it.

4.Letting your dog on the furniture or bed will make him think he is the boss.

This one is kind of a half-truth. If you let your dog on the furniture or bed and let him control the place, he will, indeed, think he is the boss. However, it is not the fact that he is allowed there, but rather that you let him control it that is the problem. For example, your dog develops a habit of sitting in one spot on the couch and growls when someone tries to move him. This is a big no-no and should never be allowed, not from a 5 pound Yorkie, 25 pound cockapoo, or 150 pound Great Dane!

If you want to let your pets on your furniture or bed, that is fine, but work on training your dog to move in favor of people. If you climb into bed and he is in your way, move him to another spot! Don’t arrange yourself to suit him! If your dog grumbles when someone sits down in “his” spot, remove his privilege of sitting in that spot. Do not let him call the shots!

Common Dog Training Mistakes

1. Letting him get away with unacceptable behavior because “he’s just a puppy”.

Whatever you do, don’t let your puppy do things you will not want him to do as an adult. If a 150 pound mastiff will not fit on your bed, don’t let him there when he is little. If you do not want a 75 pound German Shepherd Dog chewing on your fingers, don’t let her do it when she is 9 weeks old! If you think it may be a problem for an adult corgi to nip at the heels of your pre-schooler, nip the behavior in the bud while she is still a puppy! Training your dog in the puppy stage will simplify things considerably when he is grown.

2. Not socializing your puppy outside of your home, because he is just going to be a house dog.

So you don’t want a dog to go hiking with on the weekend or visiting outdoor cafes. You are not interested in training your dog to be a service or therapy dog. That is fine, but your puppy still needs to be socialized to the outside world for a number of reasons.

First of all, your dog will need to go out for things like trips to the veterinarian’s office. Or you may have an emergency or vacation that necessitates boarding your dog. These situations will mean interacting with other dogs, as well as other creatures such as cats. If you do not socialize your puppy when he is young, you can end up with a several problems when these situations arise. Your dog may react by barking like mad at every other dog, driving everyone crazy. He or she may even lunge their direction, which can threaten the other dog. Or your dog may react timidly, shying away and hiding in terror of the new environment and strange dogs. I made this mistake with my first dog, and ended up dreading every trip to the vet’s office. Socializing a dog as an adult, while not impossible, is much more difficult!

3. Using the “shove them into position” method for training your dog to do things like “Sit”.

If you say, “Sit” and then shove the dog’s bottom onto the floor and give him a treat, you are teaching your dog that when mom or dad shoves his bottom onto the floor, he gets a treat! Eventually, he may put two and two together and start sitting on command, but it will take considerably longer than necessary.

The more effective technique in training your dog is to get the dog to do what you want on his own and then treat. For sitting, simply hold the treat in front of the dog and lift slowly above his head. He will follow the treat with his nose, and naturally end up in a sitting position. Give him the treat, and it won’t be long before he sits as soon as you lift the treat. For teaching him to lay down, have him sit, and then lower the treat in front of his nose down between his front legs. It may take a bit of maneuvering, but pretty soon, he will be laying on his own. Over time, he will learn to lay down with just the hand gesture downward.

Training your dog is something that you can learn to do on your own, with a bit of research and tips from people who know what they are doing. Just remember to be patient and consistent. And have fun teaching your dog!


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    • daxamite profile image

      James Livingood 

      4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Good article! I like the part where even though they are a cute puppy, they still are disciplined.

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 

      4 years ago from Miami Florida

      Thank you for the article miss. Eve Ross. You did a hub on Training Your Dog. Myths and Mistakes to avoid.

    • bames24 profile image


      7 years ago from India

      great hub... I have had dogs for quite some time and I have never really had the need to train them except when we got a labrador three years ago... my Dad wanted me to see if I could get him to sit and lie down... I managed the "sit" part... I have never had to punish them for anything except once I had to spank one of our dogs because he was being mean to a stray puppy.

    • k9charlee profile image


      7 years ago

      Very good tips.....thanks for pulling all of this together. And I love the picture of Max...I'm a sucker for German Shepherds.


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