21 Dog Behaviour Myths Explained

As promised, today I am writing about some of the common (and not so common) myths that we hear about problem Dog Behaviour and Dog Training, and whether they are true or not. This blog is written with an understanding of canine instinct learnt from Jan Fennell. I am a Highly Recommended Associate of Jan Fennell, and regularly help dog owners to learn to understand their dogs and overcome and problem dog behaviour they’ve been struggling with…

1. You can’t have 2 bitches living together, they’ll kill each other. FALSE – yes if there is no clear leadership in place then they may fight between them for the Alpha Female spot, to find out who is reponsible for looking after everyone. If you show them clear leadership yourself then they won’t need to fight, as the survival of the pack is being taken care of.

2. All Border Collies are hyperactive – FALSE. Any dog can be hyperactive, irrespective of breed. The most common cause of hyperactivity is the dog thinking that it is the leader of your pack and therefore spending its time running around trying to look after everyone. If you dog knows that it is not the leader, it will be able to relax, irrespective of it’s breed. Hyperactivity is not helped by unnatural diet, so be sure to avoid foods with E numbers.

3. If a Collie nips, that’s its herding instinct – FALSE. The herding instinct is a canine instinct and not exclusive to collies (we only have to watch the YouTube clip of Fenton the labrador herding deer to see that). Nipping is usually either attention seeking behaviour, where the dog has not learnt that is unacceptable yet, or it is the dogs way of giving a little warning, perhaps to other dogs out on the walk it perceives as in its territory, or to you if it thinks you’re stepping out of line and need to be told off. Either way, it’s a sign of a dog thinking it’s a leader. Remove the leadership role and you remove the need for nipping.

4. All Huskies have to pull on the lead – FALSE. Huskies in Alaska have been bred and taught to pull sledges. However it is not an instinct that is passed down. Huskies are physically extremely close to wolves and you do not see wolves pulling. You do see the Alpha in the wolf pack leading the way on the hunt. This is what pulling is. If your Husky (or any other breed) pulls on the lead it thinks it needs to be the leader. Show it otherwise, don’t be led and it won’t have the need to pull anymore.

5. All staffies are dangerous – FALSE. Staffies which have been taught to fight are dangerous, because they are strong dogs with locking jaws. As I’ve blog about previously, any dog can bite. In my years as a Dog Listener the dogs that have meant me the most harm have been a Yorkie, a toy Poodle, a Schnauzer, a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Chihuahua – but that’s not because of breed. It is because of the dog’s personality and its desire to protect its owners, thinking that it is the leader and therefore has to keep them safe. Change their mind by proving your leadership and they won’t feel the need to protect you anymore. I have seen numerous staffies that are dopey, loving and affectionate!

6. Dogs that are wagging their tails are friendly/happy – FALSE. A dog which is wagging its tail is in a heighten state, which usually means it is concerned. A dog can bite whilst wagging its tail! Dogs that wag their tails to other dogs or people that they don’t know are often doing it to display “I am friendly please don’t hurt me” just as humans we may smile widely at those we feel unsure of.

7. All Labradors chew. FALSE – I have met numerous labradors that have never chewed. Chewing can be put down to teething when a pup, and also chewing is a good way of releasing endorphins which help to calm a dog down, so a dog that is chewing is likely to be trying to relieve stress, e.g. linked to Separation Anxiety. In the wild it has been proven that the Alpha pair have the highest stress hormone levels, so take the Alpha role from your dog and it won’t need to chew to relieve stress – and again this is regardless of breed.

8. You should be able to train your dog not to steal food. GOOD LUCK! Some dogs are less food orientated than others, but dog are all predatory animals by nature, which makes them opportunist eaters. Leave food about and there’s always a chance they may take it. Plus being able to access food confuses a dog, as they believe the food should be provided by the leader, if they can just help themselves, they are able to provide themselves with food…

9. You have to show your dog who is boss. TRUE – however how you go about doing this is where most people fall down. A firm voice (and hand) are not the way to go. Dogs are looking for a certain set of signals, which our default human behaviour does not show them, so to show your dog who is boss you have to do it with the dogs needs in mind, rather than using human methods.

10. Rub your dog’s nose in their toilet to train them not to go indoors – FALSE. This does not work and is just cruel. If you want to train them to go outside, give them lots of praise and make it positive when they toilet outside.

11. Bassett Hounds bark for no reason. FALSE – dogs usually bark because they think there is a danger present and they are trying to warn it away. Try thanking your dog and having a look out the window. The other reasons are usually for attention, so if you give it attention directly “Shhh! Stop it!” it works; and because of separation anxiety, so while you are missing they are barking/howling to call you back to them. Again, this applies to all breeds.

12. When dogs play stupid they know what they are doing. PROBABLY!!! Depends what they are doing and the character of the dog, but there is usually a method to their madness. They are much more clever than they’d have us believe.

13. You can’t train a Saluki/Boxer/Chocolate Lab etc. FALSE. All dogs are canine. Work with the canine instinct, you can work with the dog. If a dog can’t be trained it’s because you are using the wrong methods! Choose a better method!

14. Dogs must be taken for 2 long walks a day. FALSE. Dogs see the walk as the hunt. If they have food at home, they don’t need to go out. Walking dogs is a human concept that has been drilled into us over the last century or so. If you are happy and in control on the walk, then you can walk as much as you like. If you and/or your dog is stressed it’s time to try something different.

15. Dogs don’t like being patted on the head. DEPENDS. Some dogs don’t like being patted on the head, others do. It depends a lot on circumstance as well. If you see a dog tied up outside a shop and it looks a bit nervous, then that dog will not appreciate being patted on the head. If you were stressed sitting on a train and someone came into your personal space and patted your head would you like it?! If you want to pat a dog, call it to you first.

16. You should use a harness rather than a collar. FALSE. People use harnesses because a dog is pulling on the lead, thinking that it needs to lead the way. If your dog doesn’t think it is the leader, it won’t need to pull, so it won’t matter what equipment you have. Self control is the best form of control.

17. Don’t go near a dog while it is eating its dinner. TRUE. Dogs eat in hierarchy order until they are full. If you approach a dog while it is eating it will see you as not having eaten yet, challenging it for the dinner it needs to survive and below it in the pack, therefore the dog will be in its right if it decides to tell you off!

18. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are territorial and protective. DEPENDS. Any dog of any breed which thinks it is the leader could feel inclined to guard its territory and its owner if it perceives external threats. Show your dog that it does not have to be the leader, and it will be less concerned.

19. Certain breeds are more dominant than others. FALSE. It’s all about personality of the individual dog as to whether they will be a dominant character or not.

20. Dogs should be allowed to bark as they are only doing their job. TRUE TO AN EXTENT. If a dog is barking at the doorbell/post etc, that is normal because it will perceive these things as a danger. We know better so can calmly let our dog know that there isn’t a problem, and the dog should learn that the Alpha has made their decision about the danger, so they’ve done their job by letting you know.

21. Neutering your dog will calm it down. FALSE. In some cases it may do, but generally the resulting change in hormones will actually make it feel more vulnerable so more inclined to stick up for itself. Read my blog on neutering for more information.

Phew! I hope this blog has helped to open minds a little and answer questions. Due to the range of myths, I’ve only really been able to scratch the surface of each one. I’ll work through more detailed blogs on separate issues in the future. If you have any questions about your dog’s behaviour, or other myths/facts you’ve heard, please comment, or contact me directly. I’m based in Southend, cover Essex and also work in East London, Kent and parts of Hertfordshire.

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