Debunking Dog Myths

You think you know your dog? See if your dog has been subject to any of these popular canine myths.

Talk to anyone from your next-door neighbor to your cousin who shows dogs, and you’ll hear a variety of interpretations on dogs and dog behavior. Some of the most common myths I hear regarding our canine friends are debunked below.



Source: Flickr

German Shepherds may have some wolf-like characteristics, but rest assured they are 100 percent domesticated dog.

Myth: Dogs are essentially wolves.

Because science tells us dogs are direct descendants of wolves, animal behaviorists and dog trainers assumed for a long time that dog and wolf behavior are interchangeable. We now know this is not the case. Biologists now hypothesize dogs are not pack animals, but semi-solitary scavengers, and do not form social hierarchies the same way wolves do.

Using “alpha rolls” or other forceful techniques in an attempt to thwart perceived “dominant” behavior is unecessary, and is often seen by dogs as an act of aggression.

The Monks of New Skete, who popularized the wolf-to-dog culture trend in their book, “How to Be A Dog’s Best Friend,” have since omitted such training suggestions in the book’s revised edition.

Top animal behaviorists, including Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell and Karen Pryor, agree solid leadership is best achieved by controlling the dog’s access to resources without resorting to the use of force.

Myth: Dogs want to please.

This is not entirely untrue. Dogs DO want to please – themselves. Dogs are exceedingly selfish. They do what they do because making us happy means they get more of what they want – attention, food and freedom.
Our mistaken belief in dog altruism is why we are so perplexed when the dog uses a behavior we DON’T like — such as jumping up, barking or digging — to get what it wants.

The good news: You can use this ubiquitous doggie trait to your advantage by controlling the dog’s environment and the consequences of its behavior. For example, if the dog is getting in the trash, you can confine the dog or confine the trash. Or if you’d like the dog not tear the door off its hinges as it goes out, you can request a sit from the dog before opening the door.

Myth: Dog training takes lots of time.

Teaching your dog new tricks takes lots of consistency, and a little time. Breaking bad habits takes more consistency, and a little more time. Every interaction you have with your dog is a training situation. When the dog paws at your leg and you absentmindedly reach down to pet it, you are training. When the dog lies quietly at your feet while you watch TV and you absentmindedly reach down to pet it, you are training.

The key to teaching good habits and breaking bad ones is to not be absentminded around your dog! Be consistent and be aware, and the training will take less time than you think. To borrow from top K-9 trainer Steve White: Remember that training is taking place until either you or the dog achieves room temperature.

Myth: An aggressive dog is a protective dog.

Aggressive dogs, simply put, won’t tell friend from foe. Dogs, in most cases, are much less adept at reading human intentions than we’d like to believe. My dogs bark wildly every time I return home, despite repeated admonishments of, “It’s STILL me!”

An aggressive dog is much more likely to threaten or injure you, your family, neighbors or friends than it is to ward off intruders. If you want a dog for protection, go out and get the biggest, happiest dog you can find, then train it exceedingly well in obedience. Would-be bad guys won’t want to find out what else the dog knows, and you won’t have to worry about the dog misfiring on you, your family, friends and other animals.

Myth: Dogs don’t have feelings.

Well, anyone who’s ever looked into those adorable, deep brown eyes knows this isn’t true. But science is finally catching up to the fact that dogs and other animals, while not expressing the emotional range we recognize in humans, are sentient creatures. The Economist in February reported that new scientific research is beginning to shake tradition to allow for the recognition and documentation of animal emotions. Personality aspects distinctive to dogs were labeled “sociability,” “affection,” “emotional stability” and “competence,” in studies by Samuel Gosling at the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Gosling’s conclusions will allow behaviorists to better understand individual animals’ personality differences, while giving dog owners one more reason to refer to their pets as members of the family.

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