In my years of working with clients and their dogs, and at shelters and rescues, I have heard quite a few statements about dog behavior that many people believe to be true. Here are my top six myths and the facts:

1.  “The dog did it out of spite.”

Oh, how many times I’ve heard this when a dog has housetraining issues or have chewed something! In reality, dogs are not spiteful creatures. There are other reasons for the behaviors such as inadequate housetraining, separation anxiety, or other stresses. Dogs seek pleasure and avoid pain, just as we do. More analysis of the situation is necessary to determine exactly why the dog acted that way. Usually, spiteful really equates to “scared” and even “bored” in the dog’s mind.

2. You should always go through the door first to show the dog who is boss.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that the dominance theory is nonsense. Dogs don’t need bosses, they need benevolent leadership and good parenting. When you force yourself through the door before your dog, a power struggle is certain to ensue. Instead, have the dog wait calmly at the door until you give the instruction to go ahead. It’s perfectly fine to allow your dog to go through the dog first as long you tell him to!

3. Feeding human food to dogs makes them beg.

Dogs beg because they have learned that they will get food from you. It doesn’t matter what kind of food you are feeding them! Dogs think in pictures (thank you, Temple Grandin!). If they see you giving them food when you are sitting at the table or somewhere else, they quickly learn that this is where they can get food. They associate that picture with getting good things. My dog, Gizzy, is fed small pieces of vegetables when I am preparing my salad at the counter. So he knows to stand by my side when I’m at that position, regardless if I am making a salad or washing the dishes! A better option is to always feed your dog from his bowl. If you want to give him human food, place it in his bowl and never feed from anywhere else. That way, he knows that his food always comes from that place.

4. When dogs hump, it’s a sexual behavior.

Let’s hope that your dog is spayed and neutered! With the huge problem of pet overpopulation and the killings in shelters, there is very little reason for any pet to be unaltered. Most humping behavior stops once the dog is altered. 

An altered pet may hump another dog or a person due to anxiety or an attempt to establish social ranking. You’ll often see an insecure dog try to hump another dog. Anxiety is usually at the root of humping behavior. Yelling at the dog to stop only increases the anxiety. Instead, divert the dog’s attention to something else – play and exercise is best to eliminate the anxiety hormones streaming through the dog’s body.

5. A dog who acts scared or tries to bite was abused.

I hear this constantly!  People assume that a dog who acts scared or flinches when someone tries to pet him has been hit by a person. While in some cases that may be true, many times it is because the dog has not been socialized with people. Our society likes to pamper and spoil our dogs. Many people get dogs as puppies and never allow the dogs outside of the house. Some dogs have never been exposed to children, dogs who live with only women may be fearful of men, etc. Get your puppies out and expose them to the world!

6. A dog who leans up against you is being dominant.

Eek, dominant, there’s that word again.  A dog’s behavior should not be assessed based on one action. Other behaviors and body language need to be considered. Many dogs like the affections of humans and love to be close to us. That does not make them “dominant.” They may be attention seekers.  I’ve met so many Pit Bulls who are “leaners” and are not at all aggressive or “dominant.”  They’re sweet and affectionate. If you are looking to see if a dog has a strong personality, assess other factors too. Does he look away when you look him directly in the eye? Are his ears and tail perked up? Will he allow you to stroke him down the back or hug him?  Dominance is not a character trait but an action within the context of situations.

How about you? Do you hear people say things about dog behavior that you know are just wrong?

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