©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
There are many frequently repeated falsehoods about dog behavior that most people assume are true. Below are 10 of those myths I hear regularly.
10) Dogs protect their owners. While dogs’ behavior may look like they are protecting their owners in some instances - they aren’t. They’re simply afraid of what’s getting near to them (e.g., people, other dogs, etc.) and trying to scare these things away with aggression. This looks like protective behavior, but it’s not. For more information, see this short video: Do Dogs Instinctively Protect Their Owners?
“Where do all of these “dominance” ideas come from in human/dog relationships?”
9) Dogs bring dead animals home for their owners. They actually are just bringing back their prey to their owners’ homes for nothing more than safe storage. Predators commonly move their prey to a safe place to avoid having it stolen by another predator. They are not thinking of sharing (and quite frankly, aren’t you glad?).
8) Dogs alert their owners to fire and other dangers. Since Bella knows the only way for her to get out of a house on fire is for her owner to let her out, she is therefore quite motivated to wake her owner in the middle of the night. Yes, the owner is alerted to the fire, but that is not the dog’s motivation for waking the owner.
7) Dogs defecate/urinate inside because they are mad at their owner. Dogs, unlike a lot of humans, are not vindictive. They are eliminating inside for a host of reasons, but getting back at their owner is definitely not one of them.
6) When dogs lean on their owners they are trying to dominate them. Actually this behavior is an affiliative, or friendly, behavior. Dogs lean on people they like. Where do all of these “dominance” ideas come from in human/dog relationships? For more information see 3 Words I Wish Dog Owners and Dog Trainers Wouldn’t Use.
5) A dog bite that doesn’t pierce the skin is not a bite. According to the Ian Dunbar Dog Bite Scale (the recognized standard for measuring dog bites) there are six types of dog bites; two of them do not involve teeth penetrating the skin. The intention of the aggressive behavior is at least as important as the actual injury inflicted. A bite that doesn’t penetrate the skin cannot be dismissed. See 6 Types of Dog Bites for more information.
4) Dogs enjoy being hugged. We love hugging dogs, but they don’t like it too much. Most dogs just tolerate it. The only species that engage in and enjoy hugging are primates, and dogs are not primates.
3) Dogs are basically wolves. Repeat after me: My dog is not a wolf; my dog doesn’t see me as a wolf; my dog doesn’t think he or she is a wolf; I am not a wolf and, finally, my family is not a wolf pack. Domesticated dogs are radically different from wolves in the wild. And human owners are really different than wolves in the wild.
2) A wagging tail means a happy dog. A wagging tail in a dog simply means the dog is aroused and is paying attention. It does not imply happy, sad, angry, excited, aggressive, etc. In my seminars on canine body language I show videos of extremely aggressive dogs that are, surprise, all wagging their tails.
1) Dogs that walk in front of their owners are trying to dominate them. This silliness will not die. Actually, they are just trying to get somewhere faster than their owners. Please see number 6 above for more information.
Sadly, this is not an exhaustive list of dog myths. There are many more myths circulating about dogs that I will tackle in future articles.