Dog Myths—Debunked!

Should you yelp when your puppy nips you? What does it mean when your dog sits on your foot? If you give your dog table scraps, are you teaching him to beg? And are dogs really wolves? The Dog Trainer debunks 4 popular myths.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #157

2. If a Dog Sits on Your Foot, He’s Dominating You

Really, there is no end to the number of dog behaviors that human beings have decided are signs of a palace coup: barking, sleeping on the sofa, rushing out the door, chewing the remote, licking your face … Don’t these all strike you as kind of, oh, indirect? Like, if the dog wanted to dominate you, why not just go for the throat? But no, instead he sticks with symbolic gestures. “I choose comfortable places to sleep, therefore I rule.” Are your eyes rolling in your head yet? I hope so.

Anyway, a houseguest mentioned the foot-sitting business last week: news to me! My dog was sitting on her foot at the time, grinning his fool head off while she scratched behind his ears. Bless my guest, she didn’t buy the dominance notion for a single second. She knows a lap dog when she sees one, and she knows that when the dog weighs 75 pounds “lap” is defined very broadly, to include any part of the human body he can get next to.

Even dogs who don’t care for petting often seek proximity and contact. They lean on us, they sleep in our laps, they sit or sleep on our feet. There is such a thing as a socially anxious dog who will seek contact and then aggress if you reciprocate, but mainly, our dogs like us and like to be near us. Often they like to be right in amongst us. Relax, and remember to scratch behind the ears.

3. If You Give Your Dog Table Scraps, He’ll Beg at the Table

This one’s only partly a myth, because, yes, if you give your dog table scraps while he’s pawing at your fork hand, he will learn to paw at your fork hand. He will also learn to paw at your hand if you give him dog food when he paws at your hand; your scraps have no magical power, except that they’re probably more appealing than his dry chow.

Of course, you can choose simply to ignore your dog’s attention-seeking and food-getting behavior while you eat. If they never ever work, he’ll give them up. After the meal, you can give him a bit of the leftovers in full confidence that this will not teach him to beg during the meal. Alternatively, you can take the sucker’s way out, which is what I do. I know perfectly well that my dog would like some of my supper ASAP, and I think he’s too adorable for words, so I have taught him a way to get scraps right now without being a pest. If you are also a sucker, see my article on how to teach dogs to beg by lying down quietly.

Nutritional caution: If you feed your dog table scraps at all, give small amounts and choose them wisely. Onions, garlic, and grapes are just a few of the human foods that are toxic to dogs. Don’t load Dogalini up with fatty, salty, heavily processed foods (for that matter, why are you loading yourself up with them?). And you might save the most tempting bits for training lifesaving behaviors such as coming when called.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).