Top 6 Dog Behavior Myths

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You interpret the dog as acting “guilty” when he actually doesn’t have the faintest idea of what is wrong. (By: votebrian)

1. My dog would rather be outside all day than cooped up inside.

False. Dogs are strongly pack-oriented animals. They prefer best to be with their pack whenever possible. If you are inside, they will want to be inside with you. If you are outside, again, they will want to be with you.

If you are at work, although they would still like to be with you, this is not usually possible. In this case, does it matter whether you keep the dog inside or out? It turns out that many dogs behave well when kept inside but bark, dig, and whine while kept out in the yard. Why is this? Your home is the “den.” Dogs prefer to be closer to the center of the den — the place where the pack’s smells are most acute.

Although some dogs are happy to stay outdoors during the day while the rest of the pack is gone to work, a great many dogs develop behavioral problems as a result of daily “expulsion” from the den.

In addition, a dog with access to a large territory may feel compelled to “defend” all of it, resulting in other types of problems: frantic barking at “intruders” and so on. Restricting the amount of territory the dog has to protect may reduce this type of behavior.

A good compromise for many dogs is access both to a restricted part of the house and a restricted part of the yard. The inside-outside access keeps them from feeling ejected from the “den” without having too much territory to defend.

A dog who can’t be trusted inside and is destructive outside will probably benefit the most from being crated during the day. With most dogs, if you crate them through puppyhood (which also helps with house-training), by the time they are mostly adult (from 8 months to 24 months of age, depending on the breed) you can start weaning them off the crate.

Because they are used to spending the time in the crate quietly, they will form the habit of spending that same time quietly whether in the crate or not as adults.

2. Well, OK, but it’s different out here in the country, isn’t it?

It is a myth that living in the country confers greater latitude in the dictum “Thou shalt keep thy dog constrained to the immediate environs of the pack.”

  • Country dogs allowed to run free get shot by hunters or farmers protecting their livestock.
  • They get into fights with other dogs over territory.
  • They can kill livestock, fight and tussle and get disease from wild animals, and be hit by cars on the highway.
  • They become increasingly aggressive as they vie for larger and larger perimeter boundaries to their territory, and they no longer relate to you as the leader of their pack.
  • Also, don’t forget that intact animals will breed and add to the overpopulation problem.

This same misconception leads people to dump unwanted dogs “in the countryside.” Most such dogs die a painful death, whether that is by slow starvation, from injuries after being hit by a car or fighting with another animal, or they are shot by farmers protecting their livestock.

The countryside is not some sort of romantic haven for stray dogs.

3. When dogs are mad at people, they do all kinds of spiteful things.

First remember that “undesirable behavior” is in the eye of the beholder. To the dog, it’s perfectly all right to dig, to bark, to chase after other dogs, etc.

This doesn’t mean you can’t control these behaviors, of course, but it does mean that the dog isn’t doing them “to spite you.” Dogs don’t have a clue that they’re not to do these things unless you train them not to do them. They must understand what you want from them.

When dogs start undesirable (to humans) behavior, it’s best to try to understand the source of this behavior. Often it stems from the frustration of being left alone. Dogs are very social animals.

One positive solution is to make sure your dog is properly exercised. Exercise is a wonderful cure to many behavioral problems, and dogs just love it. Check with your veterinarian for the proper amount of exercise for both the age and breed of any dog.

Another solution is obedience training. The point is, dogs need your attention, whether that is by taking them out on a walk, training them, or both.

4. Ah, but my dog always looks GUILTY after he’s done something like this!

No. He’s reacting to your body language and emotions.

When you come in and see the toilet paper all over the floor, you get mad. The dog can tell that you are upset and the only thing he knows how to do is to try and placate you, as the alpha. So he tries to get you out of your bad mood by crouching, crawling, rolling over on his back, or avoiding eye contact. You interpret the dog as acting “guilty” when in fact the dog hasn’t the faintest idea of what is wrong and is simply hoping you will return to a better mood.

The important thing to remember is that if your dog finds that he cannot consistently predict your anger or the reasons for it, he will begin to distrust you — just as you would someone who unpredictably flew into rages.

This is why it’s so important to catch dogs “in the act.” That way you can communicate clearly just what it is they shouldn’t do. Screaming and yelling at dogs, or punishing them well after the fact does not tell them what is wrong. You may wind up teaching them to fear you, or to consider you unreliable. You must get your dog to understand you, and you have to work on the communication gap because you are more intelligent than your dog.

Preventing your dog from unwanted behaviors coupled with properly timed corrections will go much further in eliminating the behavior from your pet than yelling.

In fact, you should not yell at, scream at, or hit your dog, ever. There are much more effective ways to get your point across. Try instead to understand the situation from your dog’s point of view and act accordingly.

5. Crating dogs is an awful thing to do, and they hate it.

Again untrue. Dogs are by nature den animals. When properly introduced to a crate, most dogs love it, and they will often go into their crates on their own to sleep.

Of course, no dog should be left in the crate so long that it must soil the crate.

It’s a wonderful tool to use for house-training, but puppies are not physically equipped to go for more than 3-4 hours without going to the bathroom. And all use of a crate should be done with an eye toward eventually weaning the dog off of it. There are only a few dogs that must always use a crate while you are gone. Afterward, it is a useful thing to have — for example, if at all possible your dog should always ride in the car in his crate.

  • Crating a dog works to prevent the dog from doing many of the behaviors you don’t want it to. What your dog does not do does not develop into a habit and thus requires no correction.
  • Second, when your dog does have an opportunity to engage in the unwanted behavior, you are around (because you’re home to let them out) to give a proper and timely correction.

As we learned above, reducing the amount of territory to protect and keeping your dog in the den are also positive things from the dog’s point of view, reducing the animal’s overall stress.

6. Ya gotta show a dog who is boss.

To some extent, this is true. But what many people think this means is usually quite wrong.

You don’t show dogs “who’s boss” by hitting them, yelling at them, or through other methods of punishment. You show dogs who is boss by being their leader. Show them what to do, how to behave.

Most dogs are waiting for you to take the lead. There are actually only a few dogs who will actively challenge you for “top dog” position. Rather, most dogs take the “top dog” position because their humans have made no effort to do so. Not only that, but their humans don’t recognize what is happening — until the dog starts correcting them for their misbehavior!

Interestingly, many forms of behavior that have been touted as showing dominance over a dog backfire badly. This is because in many cases dogs really aren’t contending for the “top dog” position: Applying techniques to “show them who is boss” in these instances results in the dogs being alienated from you and distrusting you because you corrected them for no good reason.

The alpha roll, long touted as the “best” of these methods, is in reality a last-ditch, all-out correction. It’s what you do to your teenager after he has taken a joyride in your car and totaled it, not when he first asks you for the keys. Being unfair to your dog in this way can create a fear biter, one who has lost all hope of being treated fairly and defends himself the only way he knows how.

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