Doleful eyes, hunched body, drooping ears: Fido must be feeling sorry about something—right? Not exactly, according to Decoding Your Dog, a new book from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi, experts in the field of veterinary behavior, write about what this look really means, and uncover nine more common canine myths, below.
Myth 1: When my dog looks guilty, it’s because he feels bad for doing something wrong.
When your pooch puts on that doleful look, he must be guilty of something, right? Wrong! Your dog knows you are angry or upset and is using that body posture to try in dog language to get you to calm down and avoid punishment.
Myth 2. My dog understands me when I talk to him.
While dogs can understand about 500 words and a very talented Border Collie named Chaser can understand thousands, when we talk to our dogs they focus in on a few words, our tone of voice, facial expressions, and our body language.
Myth 3: My new dog of the same breed will be just like my last one.
Just like two children from the same family will be alike in some ways, they can be completely different in others. So while Johnny and Susie both have blue eyes, one might be easy going and the other very stubborn. Two dogs from the same breed can be very different too.
Myth 4: My dog should tolerate anything my children do.
The reality is that young children often do not know how to interact with dogs in a caring considerate manner. Allowing children to sit on dogs, pull on their body, hit them with toys, disturb them while they eat may actually teach children the wrong lessons. Dogs are living, breathing, emotional beings that need to be treated kindly and with respect.
Myth 5: A fenced yard should be entertaining enough.
Our canine friends live in a very rich world of smells and visual input. The back yard is the same day in and day out. What dogs long for is the smell of a new scent, the chance to check out that next bush or tree and see the world. And when out in the yard all alone they can make bad decisions, become extremely territorial and threatening to others, or even become destructive or attempt to escape.
Myth 6: All dogs who are afraid of people have been abused.
While it is unfortunate that many dogs are abused, many dogs that show signs of fear or anxiety around people and places suffer from another problem: limited socialization. If a dog lives in a very restricted environment during their sensitive time of emotional growth (from 8 weeks to 9 months) they may not have the tools to process, interact, and enjoy new experiences as they come along.
Myth 7: Dog training works best if we rely on dominance and punishment.
Just like people, dogs learn best by humane treatment and showing them the right things to do. Dogs are at a disadvantage—they don’t know the rules of living in a human world. They are not out to dominate or control us, but rather don’t really know what is the right thing to do. It is up to us to teach them how to behave using positive training and kindness.
Myth 8: Dogs that destroy the house when home alone are being spiteful.
Dogs that go to the bathroom indoors bark and are destructive when home alone are most likely suffering from separation anxiety. They are unable to relax and be calm when separated from their human family. They need a behavior modification plan, treatment and perhaps medication to learn how to be home alone.
Myth 9: Dogs that growl and bite are mean.
Dogs that growl are trying to tell people that they are uncomfortable and afraid. What they really want is for the threatening thing to go away or stop. By understanding and respecting the message we can teach dogs the proper responses and diminish the need for aggressive responses.
Myth 10: Dogs and wolves are the same.
While dogs and wolves share a common genetic connection, that is where it ends. Dogs have evolved over thousands of years to be partners with humans and interact with naturally in ways that wolves do not even with extensive training. Two great examples: dogs can follow a human’s pointing gesture and often “ask” people for help; wolves do not without specific training.