Pet Behavior Myths

Who hasn't heard the term "fake news"? If you have scrolled through any social media feed or seen any news channel, you have likely seen that term used. In this case, I am not talking about all the political stuff that is just vomited all over the internet and social media. I am referring to the never ending behavior myths that surround our furry family members. False behavior beliefs can come from many places: TV "experts", people at the dog park, online forums, and urban legends that have been handed down for years and years. Sifting through what is true and false can be difficult but correcting these myths can go along way when trying to correct unwanted behavior in your pet. Let's dive into a few of these myths.

Dogs Are Little Wolves

This is by far the most common myth I come across in daily practice as a veterinarian. Yes, it is true. Dogs are descendants of the gray wolf. What we need to understand that dogs are thousands of years domesticated from the gray wolf. That domestication has drastically altered the genetic make up of the domestic dog.

Another argument that typically accompanies the "dogs are wolves" mentality is in regards to nutrition. I often come across pet owners who want to feed their dogs raw diets because they are descendants of wolves and wolves are carnivores and did not have starch in their diets. It is correct that wolves are not able to digest starches very well. However, the domestic dog can digest starches. In fact, starches are an important part of their diet.

Another flawed mentality is in regards to dominance and being the alpha dog. Dogs do not form packs like wolves do. Any expert that feels dominance is at the root of dog behavior problems is just wrong. The most common thing I hear pet owners say is someone told them to roll the dog on their back (alpha roll) when the dog is not behaving. This will teach the dog that you are the boss.

This is 100% false and can be very dangerous. This will do nothing but instill fear in the dog and create an unpredictable dog. Yes they may stop the unwanted behavior but they are only suppressing their fear. What happens when the dog loses the ability to suppress that fear, someone gets bit! Be a leader for your dog, not an alpha.

Dogs Are Little People

There are countless situations I have encountered where pets were put into danger by treating them as if they are human. Perhaps the most risky thing we can do as pet owners is assume dogs can take the same medication we can. I understand that trips to the veterinarian can be costly so trying to treat a pet's ailment in the most cost effective way may have a pet owner seeking other avenues. I want to urge to use caution with just giving pets human medications.

Dogs are NOT people and they do metabolize medications the same as humans. If the medication is used both in human medicine and veterinary medicine, a dogs dose is very different than a humans dose. Toxicity from medications being ingested is one of the most common emergencies we see. This can range from just giving an over the counter pain medications (DO NOT DO THIS) to the dog eating an entire bottle of your medications (blood pressure med, etc). Many of these can cause severe problems if the dog were to ingest it. Keep all medications in a closed cabinet out of reach and never give anything over the counter without consulting with your veterinarian first.

Training Solves All Behavior Problems

Many behavior problems result from an animal’s poor emotional state or an association it makes with a person, place or other environmental trigger. Relying on typical “training” completely ignores this emotional basis. The good news is that we can teach simple associative learning techniques to help clients improve many behavior problems.

At the heart of associative learning is classical conditioning. This involves pairing something the dog doesn't like with something that it does.

For example, many dogs are reactive to other dogs while on leash walks, and half of cats show severe aggression when first introduced. If we adopt some common-sense safety protocols (head halters, baby gates, adequate distance) and give treats just before and during the interaction without any stern correction, the pet will start to associate the trigger with the reward. This tactic addresses the core emotional motivation and not just the surface-level behavior.


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