Common misconceptions


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 they try and get you out of your bad mood by crouching, crawling, rolling over on their backs, 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 it cannot consistently predict your anger or the reasons for it, it 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 the dog, or punishing it well after the fact does not tell your dog what is wrong. You may in fact wind up teaching it to fear you, or consider you unreliable. You must get your dog to understand you, and you have to work on the communication gap, as you are more intelligent than your dog.

Preventing your dog from unwanted behaviours coupled with properly timed corrections will go much further in eliminating the behaviour from your pet than yelling at it.

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.

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

First remember that “undesirable behaviour” is in the eye of the beholder. To the dog, it’s perfectly alright to dig, to bark, to chase after other dogs, etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t control these behaviours, of course, but it does mean that the dog isn’t doing them “to spite you.” The dog hasn’t a clue that it’s not to do these things unless you train it not to. And it has to understand what you want from it!

We tend to think that dogs have the same emotions as humans – they don’t! Dogs live in the ‘here and now’ and are opportunists! Even the best well trained dog will very likely help himself to that joint of meat that you left tantalisingly on the worktop!

When dogs start undesirable (to humans) behaviour, its best to try to understand the source of this behaviour. 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 behavioural problems and dogs just love it. Do check with your vet for the proper amount of exercise for both the age and breed of any dog. Another solution is obedience training. The point is, your dog needs your attention, whether it is by taking it out on a walk, training it, or both.

Hey, Rover 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, while they would still like to be with you, this is not usually possible. In this case, does it matter whether the dog is kept inside or outside? It turns out that many dogs behave well when kept inside; 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 centre of the den — the place where the pack’s smells are most acute. While 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 behavioural 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 it has to protect may reduce this type of behaviour.

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 him from feeling ejected from the “den” without having too much territory to defend. A dog that 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 puppy hood (which also helps with housebreaking), 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 adult.

Well, OK, but it’s different in the country, isn’t it?

It is an absolute myth that living in the country confers greater latitude in the dictum “thou shall 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 tassle 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, either by slow starvation, injuries from being hit by a car or in a fight with another animal, or they are shot by farmers protecting their livestock. The countryside is not some sort of romantic haven for stray dogs.