Top 5 Myths

May 30, 2014 at 5:12 am
Herald Sun. Alex Coppel

1. My dog knows what he’s done wrong, even hours later.

Even if a dog ‘looks guilty’ for chewing that shoe when you were at work, they do not have a conscience. Dogs are however so receptive to our feelings that they are simply picking up on our frustration and anger, and responding accordingly. Saying in a loud voice with the shoe in your hand; ‘what did you do!’ is scary to a dog. They don’t know what the problem is, but they understand there is a problem and so they react in a submissive way.

To stop an unwanted behaviour, it needs to be caught in the act, or better, valuables items should be kept out of reach. Give your dog an opportunity to behave in a positive way, where they have plenty of exciting things to chew, or a sand pit where they can dig up their favorite treats. Increasing your exercise routine each day can also reduce destructive behaviours significantly.

2. Taking the food bowl away from your puppy makes them less aggressive around food when they’re older.

Imagine how you would feel if someone repeatedly took your food away and gave it back every mealtime, wouldn’t you start to see mealtime as an anxious time? What if you never knew when your food was going to be taken away and someone stood there hovering over you whilst you ate? Dogs find this stressful too. Instead of being able to take the food away, try adding food to the bowl. Your hand approaching the dog and food bowl then begins to mean something completely different over time. When your dog grows to an adult, mealtime is a cooperative time between you both, which is exactly how dogs want it to be.

3. Dogs don’t need to be rewarded with food, it’s like bribing them to behave for you.

Imagine if you worked nine to five, seven days a week for the occasional pat on the back, or verbal praise here and there, but no pay slip. Would it motivate you to enjoy your work, to work harder or even come back? Most (not all) would say no. If you’re a dog and you’re learning how to cooperate with your leader but you never get what you want in return, the motivation is quickly lost. If your dog likes food (which I’m sure all living dogs do), then giving them something they want in exchange for something you want is not bribing. It is called cooperation. The relationship with your dog is not a dictatorship. It is a symbiotic relationship in which both benefit and enjoy their lives together.

4. I always have to eat first and walk through a door first, or my dog will think they’re the boss.

Being the boss of your dog is already a part of your role. You feed your dog, provide water, shelter and affection. You don’t need to fit through a doorway first to prove that. Although you are the boss, you may not be a trusted leader. The difference is that dogs who follow a boss do so because they have to, but dogs who follow leaders do so because they want to.

To have the best relationship with your dog there must be mutual trust and respect. Try to think more often from your dog’s point of view and implement a strategy I call dog CPR. Be Consistent, Patient, and Repeat what the dog’s learning every day. Have fair boundaries and follow through with them. Set your dog up to win in life, not to fail. A relationship with your dog that is cooperative, trusting and respectful will be far more powerful and rewarding for both of you.

5. Consoling a dog when they’re anxious makes them feel safer.

Consoling dogs when they are anxious does not prove to make them feel any better. If we become part of that state of mind with our dogs, it confirms to the dog there is a good reason for their anxiety. Although it seems counter-intuitive, dog anxiety should not be indulged. If there is a perceived danger, remove the dog from the stressful situation instead of consoling them. Once you’ve identified what is causing the stress, help your dog out by exposing them to the object or sound with gradual positive experiences. Always ensure the dog’s limits are not pushed. By providing this leadership, you are showing your dog they can trust your guidance and that you will always keep them safe.