When I first got Frankie, I knew virtually nothing about dogs. Who was I to question the common wisdom that was offered up about how to deal with one? Slowly, after much reading and research, I began to sort out the truth. But, some five years later, I’ve realized how firmly entrenched a great deal of canine misinformation is in the popular culture, how it keeps getting recycled, glamorized — yes, I’m thinking of a certain TV trainer — and legitimized.
It’s not enough to proclaim these ideas incorrect, however. Some facts are required. So I asked Eric Goebelbecker, Certified Pet Dog Trainer, dog behavior expert, science geek, and blogger at Dog Spelled Forward, to explain why some of the most stubbornly persistent myths about canine behavior I’ve encountered are inaccurate.
1) If your dog makes a bathroom-related mess, rub his face in it to teach him not to do it again.
The fact is, dogs just aren’t as freaked out about feces as we are. With noses many, many, times more powerful than ours they actively seek out where other dogs do their business, stick said noses in those places, and then mark over them….except when they decide to eat the mess!
Why would we believe that sticking their faces in poop is a terrible punishment? (Other than because forcibly having your face stuck in anything is aversive…)
Dogs also have a difficult time connecting current events with previous actions. Your best bet for house-training is stopping accidents before they happen.
2) Mixed breeds aren’t as easy to train as purebreds because you don’t know their temperaments.
Despite what the American Kennel Club, puppy stores, and breeders might want you to believe, breed is no guarantee of temperament, personality, or learning ability. (Especially as many breeds approach tragic and epic levels of inbreeding…but I digress.)
Good training adapts to the individual dog. Knowing how the dog “should” react in advance is a marginal advantage, at best.
3) You can’t let your dog sleep in your bed, eat before you do, or rest on an area higher than you are because the dog won’t respect you as a pack leader.
These ideas are primarily based on a misunderstanding of wolf behavior that is being misapplied to dogs.
First and foremost, dogs are not wolves. They may or may not be a sub-species of wolves — some institutions think they’re not and even changed the etymology to reflect this, but others still use the older designation — but this is really just semantics. Dogs and wolves have many important differences, not the least of which are behavioral.
If you hand raise a wolf, you have a wolf that is not afraid of people. If you hand raise a dog, you have a very nice dog.
Which would you let your child play with?
As Dr. Ian Dunbar once said, looking to wolves for dog training guidance is like looking to chimpanzees for child-rearing advice.
But the real kicker is this: the people advocating these ideas don’t even understand wolves. A wolf pack is a family unit. There is no struggle for power and no constant affirmation or dispute over who is in charge. “Lower ranked” wolves that wish to run a pack simply leave and start their own.
Part 2, the last 3 myths, appears on Eric Goebelbecker’s site, Dog Spelled Forward.