With so much information at our fingertips, it can be difficult to determine what is true, what is false and what is simply outrageous! As Trainers, we have heard it all. Some are obvious, others, not so much.
We breakdown the most common myths associated with dog behaviour.
Myth 1 #
“If my dog shows aggression or fear around men, it’s because he has been hit by a man”
This is certainly something we hear from many owners who have adopted or rescued their pet and are uncertain of their history. This theory isn’t just reserved for certain people with unique characteristics. Fearful or anxious behaviour can stem from a multitude of things such as household items including brooms and vacuums.
“My dog is frightened of umbrellas, so he must have been struck by one”
“My dog growls at children, therefore kids must have hurt him”
While we understand that there have been very sad and unfortunate circumstances behind certain behaviours in rescue dogs, the main reason why a dog may cower, show fear or even aggression toward certain people and objects is simply a matter of lack of early exposure. If you come into the care of a dog without knowing his history it can be easy to assume that certain behaviour correlates to negative or abusive situations when, often the dog has not been exposed to certain people, places or objects as a puppy.
“My dog is happy because he is wagging his tail”
This may be one of the greatest misconceptions we see with dog behaviour. A wagging tail does not always indicate a feeling of happiness. A wagging tail is a dogs very own, unique language and can mean a multitude of things including fear, surprise, uncertainty or aggression. While the exaggerated “butt wiggle” will often signify a happy or excited dog, there are many other meanings and it is up to us as the owner to be mindful of body language in certain situations to best prevent a negative outcome.
“My dog feels so guilty when he is destructive”
While we’d like to think that our dogs feel remorse for destructive behaviour, they do not. A flood of Guilty Dog Compilation videos on social media indicate that dogs feel guilt and we are almost certain that you may have experienced the puppy-dog-eyes yourself upon discovering havoc.
The fact is, dogs exist in a world of primary emotions and do not resonate with secondary emotions such as guilt, jealousy or shame. Instead of guilt, your dog is showing appeasement behaviours in response to your body language.
In other words, when you follow your dog around the house saying, “DID YOU DO THIS?”, your dog is reacting and responding to your body language and tone and doing his submissive dance based on this and this alone. He isn’t understanding what you are saying, as dogs do not speak English and he certainly isn’t feeling remorse.
When dogs showcase guilty behaviour without human intervention it is generally because they associate fluff on the floor with another time they have been scolded and quickly make a connection.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
Of course you can teach an old dog new tricks. With time, effort and consistency, any dog no matter how old, big or small can learn obedience. Results may vary from dog to dog with some being more eager to please than others or driven by treats and rewards but that’s not to say that certain dogs based on age can’t learn during their golden years.
What IS difficult to rectify in older dogs is bad habits and learned behaviour. The older the dog, the more time he may have spent rehearsing undesirable behaviours and the longer this is left without training, the harder it will be to undo.
“Digging means the dog is bored”
Dogs dig for many reasons and boredom is simply not the sole reason. You can walk your dog, day and night and still find holes in your backyard. The fact is there are many contributing factors as to why dogs may dig.
“Perhaps he doesn’t have enough toys” –
Often even if you place toys around the yard before you leave for work, they will be in the same place when you return. Dogs are more likely to sleep all day, than to play.
“Perhaps he needs more exercise” –
Exercise is certainly important to keeping your dog happy, healthy and well balanced but a dog who is walked every day can still dig.
Digging is also a common way dogs cool down. While the act of digging up your yard may appear tiring to us, your dog is searching for a cooler surface to lay and manage his temperature.
Digging can also be due to the breed of dog. Terriers are often the main culprits as hunting for small game or rodents is instilled. Digging can also be a sign of anxiety, more commonly separation anxiety. It can also be because DOGS ARE DOGS and dogs dig, they hide their valued possessions, they have fun. It’s natural!