Get your wolf off the couch and other dog myths

Myths such as puppies don’t need pre-school, garlic prevents ticks and that dogs will dominate you if they sit on the furniture with you are busted in this second installment of the Modern Pet Dog workshop by Northern Beaches dog trainers who are united by positive philosophy.

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital

As a veterinary nurse and a dog trainer, Louise dispelled some myths about our canine companions that many people believe or grew up learning.

  1. Dogs have an innate desire to please

Busted: They aren’t born with a desire to please us but are motivated by attention, food, praise, toys and games etc. They work out what’s beneficial for them and how to get out of the environment. Some are more motivated than others so experiment what they’ll work for.

  1. Playing tug makes dogs aggressive

Busted: This is great way to mentally and physically exercise the dog. Is also a great form or positive reinforcement. You should teach a ‘release’ or ‘drop it’ cue – which also makes it a great training activity. Teach them to grab toy with permission and only pull side to side to avoid neck injuries. The game temporarily ends when play gets too rough.

  1. My puppy doesn’t need puppy school

Busted: The benefits are huge. Socialisation is from 4-16 weeks of age. Common excuses that Louise has heard from people includie they include they can’t afford it / but they’ve owned dogs for years / have another dog at home that will teach this one / did puppy school 10 years ago.

  1. Happy dogs wag their tails

Busted: Yes but for lots of other reasons as well. Use their tail as part of the overall communication process. Position of the wag is important. Low slung signifies fear or anxiety. Mid-set is calm or neutral. High set or straight up means the dogs is alert or threatening.

  1. If you use treats to train a dog they’ll always be needed to obey your commands

Busted: Dog has a choice that if they act on the cue given, their behaviour has a consequence. Treats are a primary resource as we control the food. So we use it to get them to do things. Different types of food have different levels of reinforcement. Not a bribe (present food to do the behaviours) but a reward (after they perform the behaviour = pay). When behaviour is reliable can phase it out with others such as pats or praise. Fade out, not completely and replace with other reinforcers. A dog that will only perform for food has not been trained properly. Take the rewards out of their food allocation of the calories. Make sure it’s the right food / do they like toys more and they won’t eat if they are stressed.

  1. A warm / dry nose means your dog is sick

Busted: False belief that dogs noses have to be wet. Their temperatures fluctuate. Not a reliable sign. Check with your vet if not sure about their health.

  1. Adding garlic to their diet prevents fleas and ticks

Bused: When ingested in large amounts garlic can lead to the breakdown of red blood cells, anemia and death. Belongs to the alium family (includes chives, leeks) – same compound. Not necessarily an outward appearance of toxicity but has an effect on the red blood cell.

  1. My dog is scooting their backside on the ground – they must have worms

Busted: They have anal glands in their bottom. Gives information to other dogs about them. Scooting means they have an itchy bottom which may be due to impacted anal glands, not worms. Can also be a skin irritation, wound or abscess. So get it checked by your vet.

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten

Studies done in the past made the false link between dog and wolf behaviour. The wolves studied to make this conclusion were held in captivity in artificial family groups, forced to remain together in a more rigid hierarchy that impacted the behaviours they’d show in the wild. This has fuelled a decades-long, inaccurate perception that there has to be an ‘alpha’ leader, rather than the more true view that it’s actually a parental relationship between the different animals that guides the different activities of the group.

Humans have misinterpreted this inaccurate theory to mean that to maintain rank they must be dominant with their dogs, leading to aversive training which can lead to aggression, fear and anxiety that destroys their relationship with their dog. Common ways this myth is asserted includes:

  • The Alpha Roll – asserting dominance by forcing dog physically onto their back and pinning them down until they stop struggling, shake them by the scruff of neck. However, dogs don’t do that to other dogs and when they lie on their backs it’s always voluntary. You are likely create a fearful dog that mistrusts you if you use this technique.
  • Believing you shouldn’t allow your dogs on the furniture as if they are on the same height they are equal to you. But wolves don’t have couches in the wild!
  • You have to eat before your dog as the most dominant dog eats first. This is not the case as in times of scarcity the wolf puppies eat first, of if there is enough food they eat together.
  • Other misperceptions include: playing tug games promotes dominant play; a dog that mounts you or another dog is trying to dominate; dogs who pull on the lead or jump up on people are trying to be dominant; dogs who growl are trying to assert a dominant rank over you and never let your dog go through the door before you.

Also read about the first Modern Pet Dog workshop installment (is that a guilty look or is your dog scared of you?) if you missed it.

 

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