Posted by: Linda Trunell | May 19, 2013

Top Ten Dog Behavior Myths

This is a post made by Jean Donaldson (see link below).  I have added the pictures of Max and Sophia just because I like them.

http://community.thenest.com/cs/ks/forums/thread/45905042.aspx?MsdVisit=1

Jean Donaldson’s “Top 10 Dog Behavior Myths”

Jean Donaldson is the founder of the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers. Her books include The Culture Clash, Dogs Are From Neptune and MINE! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs.

1) Dogs are naturally pack animals with a clear social order.
This one busts coming out of the gate as free-ranging dogs (pariahs, semi-feral populations, dingoes, etc.) don’t form packs. As someone who spent years solemnly repeating that dogs were pack animals, it was sobering to find out that dogs form loose, amorphous, transitory associations with other dogs.
Max & Sophia
2) If you let dogs exit doorways ahead of you, you’re letting them be dominant.
There is not only no evidence for this, there is no evidence that the behaviour of going through a doorway has any social significance whatsoever. In order to lend this idea any plausibility, it would need to be ruled out that rapid doorway exit is not simply a function of their motivation to get to whatever is on the other side combined with their higher ambulation speed.
3) In multi-dog households, “support the hierarchy” by giving presumed dominant animals patting, treats, etc., first, before giving the same attention to presumed subordinate animals.
There is no evidence that this has any impact on inter-dog relations, or any type of aggression. In fact, if one dog were roughing up another, the laws governing Pavlovian conditioning would dictate an opposite tack: Teach aggressive dogs that other dogs receiving scarce resources predicts that they are about to receive some. If so practised, the tough dog develops a happy emotional response to other dogs getting stuff – a helpful piece of training, indeed. No valuable conditioning effects are achieved by giving the presumed higher-ranking dog goodies first.
Max & Sophia 2
4) Dogs have an innate desire to please.
This concept has never been operationally defined, let alone tested. A vast preponderance of evidence, however, suggests that dogs, like all properly functioning animals, are motivated by food, water, sex, and like many animals, by play and access to bonded relationships, especially after an absence. They’re also, like all animals, motivated by fear and pain, and these are the inevitable tools of those who eschew the use of food, play, etc., however much they cloak their coercion and collar-tightening in desire to please rhetoric.
5) Rewards are bribes and thus compromise relationships.
Related to 4), the idea that behaviour should just, in the words of Susan Friedman, Ph.D., “flow like a fountain” without need of consequences, is opposed by more than 60 years of unequivocal evidence that behaviour is, again to quote Friedman, “a tool to produce consequences.” Another problem is that bribes are given before behaviour, and rewards are given after. And, a mountain of evidence from decades of research in pure and applied settings has demonstrated over and over that positive reinforcement – i.e., rewards – make relationships better, never worse.

6) If you pat your dog when he’s afraid, you’re rewarding the fear.           Fear is an emotional state – a reaction to the presence or anticipation of something highly aversive. It is not an attempt at manipulation. If terrorists enter a bank and order everybody down on the floor, the people will exhibit fearful behaviour. If I then give a bank customer on the floor a compliment, 20 bucks or chocolates, is this going to make them more afraid of terrorists next time? It’s stunningly narcissistic to imagine that a dog’s fearful behaviour is somehow directed at us (along with his enthusiastic door-dashing).

Max & Sophia 4
7) Punish dogs for growling or else they’ll become aggressive.
Ian Dunbar calls this “removing the ticker from the time bomb.” Dogs growl because something upsetting them is too close. If you punish them for informing us of this, they are still upset but now not letting us know, thus allowing scary things to get closer and possibly end up bitten. Much better to make the dog comfortable around what he’s growling at so he’s not motivated to make it go away.
8) Playing tug makes dogs aggressive.
There is no evidence that this is so. The only study ever done, by Borchelt and Goodloe, found no correlation between playing tug and the incidence of aggression directed at either family members or strangers. Tug is, in fact, a cooperative behaviour directed at simulated prey: the toy.
9) If you give dogs chew toys, they’ll learn to chew everything.
This is a Pandora’s box type of argument that, once again, has zero evidence to support it. Dogs are excellent discriminators and readily learn with minimal training to distinguish their toys from forbidden items. The argument is also logically flawed as chewing is a ‘hydraulic’ behaviour that waxes and wanes, depending on satiation/deprivation, as does drinking, eating and sex. Dogs without chew objects are like zoo animals in barren cages. Unless there is good compensation with other enrichment activities, there is a welfare issue here.
10) You can’t modify “genetic” behaviour.
All behaviour – and I mean all – is a product of a complex interplay between genes and the environment. And while some behaviours require less learning than others, or no learning at all, their modifiability varies as much as does the modifiability of behaviours that are primarily learned.
Max & Sophia 3

What do you believe?  I would like to hear your thoughts on this list!

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,

Linda


Responses

  1. Relieved to hear that the doorway thing is a myth. I have double doors to get outside, so there’s no way I could go first! (It doesn’t seem to have affected our relationship 🙂

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    • I think a lot of myths have grown out of the dominance theory which has been proven wrong. According to trainers who believe your dog is trying to dominate you, they should always walk behind you, never put their paws on you, always eat after you and never sleep on your bed. If that were true, most dogs I know would be ruling the world!

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    • While it’s a myth for the reasons stated, I think it can still be a good behavior to teach. For me, I don’t want them going out the door before me because I live in a city, and don’t want them running out toward the street without knowing that it is safe. It also teaches them not to dart out when you open the door for deliveries or whatnot.

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      • I agree, Jeff. Teaching them to wait at the door is good management and keeping them safe. The reason they want to go out first is not to be dominant over you but just because they want to go out! 🙂

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      • Theres a difference between making a dog wait for you to go out first so that you can be the dominant one, and teaching a dog impulse control. I want my dogs to wait until released so that I can go out and make sure the coast is clear and that the damn cat isnt under the car! : )

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      • So true, Sarah! lol 🙂

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  2. Do I believe in these myths… no! I have 4 dogs and treat them all the same, will only tell them in a playfull way that the oldest is the boss. My newfie is afraid of the thunderstorm, first I always tell him he’s very clever because he know’s the storm is coming before we do, second I always cuddle him and tell him it’s ok. In our house I’m often the latest to leave the door and I can’t see a problem with that. If one of them has a reason to growl, maybe they are right and if it’s something that they are uncomfortable with better to make them more comfortable so there’s no reason anymore. My dogs are my friends so I like to treat them with a more possitive attitude. Like I would do with my human friends !

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    • Thank you for your comment, Marja. I completely agree with you! I do not believe these myths either but unfortunately many people do.

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  3. Thanks a lot for this post, Linda! Very enlightening! Although I am actually starting to teach Copo and Lilly to let me out the door first, and they are actually respecting it. I find It is easier this way since they are so strong and eager to walk out pulling the leash 🙂

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    • Thank you for reading and for your comment, Victor. I teach the “wait” cue for exiting doorways, crossing the street, getting out of the car, etc. Sometimes I let Max go out the door first and sometimes I tell him to wait – depends on the situation. But I know that if I let him go first he doesn’t think he is dominating me, lol.

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      • I agree, I do not think they are dominating. However, when I ask them to wait, I feel that it is me the one dominating them… It seems to me that domination is a very human concept and it is easy for us to put the blame on it in moments in which the dog´s behaviour make us feel out of control.

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      • So true, Victor. It’s natural for humans to want to feel in control. Unfortunately many trainers think you should control by fear or pain. We can train force-free with positive reinforcement and manage our dogs for their sake and ours..

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  4. I think that the desire to please is in some breeds, the ones that appear on lists as the most intelligent because they generally cooperate! A Pyrenees puppy has no innate desire to please, that grows when trust and respect have been earned.

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    • Perhaps the “people pleasers” are the ones who find the human attention and affection most rewarding. I think it still comes down to what the dog values and wants. I am a fan of the big dogs. My last dog was a St. Bernard and Max is St. Bernard/Lab cross. I love the Pyrenees and am excited to have one starting in my puppy class this week.

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      • I used to do my best to liven up puppy class!

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  5. Great training tips! Will keep these in mind 😀

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  6. I see going through doorways first as a safety issue. My dog has been taught to wait for me to go first. I don’t have to worry about him bolting out the door as soon as it’s opened and I get to scan the area outside for any hazards before my dog gets to it. So for whatever reason anyone does this I see it as a good thing!

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    • I agree, Mari! It is a good thing 🙂

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  7. This is a very good article. I breed dogs for service dog training so I am very concerned with behavior. What I have discovered, living with many dogs in my home (not a kennel) is that each dog is an individual, the same way that each human within the species is individual.
    Even within the same biological families, the dogs are very unique and true to their individual personalities.
    Not all dogs are motivated by the same things, they do not uniformly react the same way to random events.
    I am so glad to see these myths being exploded; believing in myths does not help us to progress; such beliefs keep us within unnatural bounds and create a false sense of human superiority.
    Until we notice, study, and respect our dogs as individuals, we cannot truly move forward to understanding them and communicating with them.

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    • Thank you for your comments, Jacue. I agree with you that every dog is an individual just like every person! The more we learn about why dogs do what they do and how they learn, the better our lives together will be. 🙂

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  8. Interesting article to say the least. What are your sources for the non pack animal theory. Seems to be a fun fact spread around the training community as trendy new theory. The fact that Dogs for the majority of the population, are naturally and inherently pack animals with a distinct order is a fact. The domestication process has breed the need for a pack out of the species but they still are inherently pack animals with greater social needs than other species of domesticated pets. Whenever there is more than one dog there is going to be a dominant dog. Whether that dog knows or takes on that role is not guaranteed but it does still exist. We have accommodated and breed the need for alot of the dogs natural behavior and instinctual behavior out of the gene pool and their lives… but that does not mean it isnt still in there.
    Dogs have an innate sense to work and by coincidence that will please the owners. but you are right, what they do is because it makes them happy or because they know it will bring them a reward.
    Petting your dog when their afraid is totally fine..Probably somewhat comforting if anything at all.. its petting them when they are showing aggressive behavior is when it is not a good idea. Any type of positive reinforcement of negative behaviors is a bad idea.

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    • Thank you for your comment. Here are some sources pertaining to dogs not being “pack” animals –
      Hierarchy of Dogs With Dogs From http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-Are-Dogs-Pack-Animals
      After seeing how dogs relate to humans and how humans should relate to dogs, it helps to take a peek on how dogs relate to one another. The term “pack” to depict a group of dogs is not ideal; it is best to refer to them as a “social group”. There are different theories among how dogs related to each other in social groups. Let’s take a look at what the pros have to say about this.

      According to Pat Miller, “social hierarchies do exist in groups of domesticated dogs and hierarchy can be fluid. One dog may be more assertive in one encounter, and more deferent in the next, depending on what’s at stake, and how strongly each dog feels about the outcome.” This brings back to the contextual theory talked about previously.

      Dr. Sophia Yin appears to confirm this theory, in her article “Dominance VS. Unruly Behavior she claims “With many of our household pets, including dogs and cats, dominance-submissive relationships between individuals may exist. But hierarchies are not necessarily linear, individuals can share similar ranks and clear hierarchies may not always exist.”

      With free ranging dogs, it appears that they occasionally form social groups when there is a female in heat or a food source, but once the female has mated or the food source exhausted, the dogs go back to their own lives. In Romania, when dogs where involuntarily turned off to the streets during the tenure of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, they did not form packs, rather they interacted with each other briefly and hung out temporarily. Other free-ranging population of dogs in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, India, Mexico,Hawaii and Bangkok followed similar associations. None formed pack structures as observed in wolves, according to dog trainer Jean Donaldson.

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  9. #5 hits home for me. After 3 yrs of struggling with an aggressive dog I finally learned through a trainer the wonders of rewarding my dog through clicker training. The amazing part is – he’s never picked up on being naughty just to get a reward. He’s not built that way. He wants to be happy.

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    • I’m so happy you found a positive reinforcement trainer to help with your aggressive dog. Using “dominance” or force-based training most llkely would have made his aggression worse. 🙂

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  10. Social Groups = Packs….. and Hierarchies= Pack order ….. most of the sources admitted these things exist, yet they are unsure of their importance or consistency…. so to say that “myth” is busted would be a very inaccurate and misleading statement… Maybe more accurately described as now seen as less important but not something that doesnt exist. We have plenty of loaners in human cultures but we also have tightly and loosely associated social groups. doesnt mean we arent social creatures in need of social interaction. I have been in many 3rd world countries where numerous strays had formed packs. Seems the way of he dog training world has gone the way of the child raising world….soft….

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    • I think you are saying that you believe in the “pack leader” mentality or “dominance” theory in dog training. Yes, the dog training world has gone the way of the child rearing world in that physical punishment has been proven to cause anxiety, fear and aggression. The educated trainers and teachers today know that positive reinforcement and not force is the way animals and people learn best.

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      • Im saying I dont refute it. and to be honest if the dog world is going the way of the child rearing world we are in a world of trouble. In todays world, kid have very little sense of responsibility and parents are afraid to provide appropriate structure. Parents treating children like equals and reasoning with them like they are other adults…. Now people are trying to relate to dogs like they relate to children/people….Hilarious. Your facts are no more well founded than my facts…. but yet you are passing them off as truths……Put two non neutered males in one room and tell me there is no dominance order….. one will submit eventually to the dominant, stronger male. 100% of the time…

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  11. 7 dogs live in my house I am a rescue. ALL 7 have some sort of issue . I was asked by a shelter yesterday my training technique and when I replied positive reinforcement I was politely told that while it may work with some breeds they did not think it was a suitable way to train APBTs. I just sort of chuckeled to myself as I have 3 of them, 1 lab, 1 lab/dane mix and 2 husky mixes that all are being trained in the positive reinforcement way and it does work. Not everyone gets along but everyone has at least 1 yard buddy – besides my newest intake but after 2 week period of getting used to the place and routine she will be introduced to at least 1 of the other dogs.

    My lead dog is an female APBT and yes while one would assume her to be the head of the pack there are times she will defer to my male lab depending upon how bad she truly “wants” what is at issue.

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    • Bless you for your rescue work and using positive reinforcement. Unfortunately many people still perpetrate the myth that it does not work for certain breeds because they are too aggressive/strong/high-energy/dominant/whatever. Many advocates for the bully breeds do more harm than good by saying they are different from other breeds. Every dog is an individual. Positive reinforcement training works with many different animals in zoos to teach them to cooperate with vets for exams and care. If a tiger can be trained with positive reinforcement surely an APBT can and people like you are doing it every day! 🙂

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  12. I tell students that there is no please gene in the dog. In fact, there are people looking for it because they will get a Nobel prize if they can insert it in a cat.

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  13. My cat squeezes through the door first because she’s thinner than the dog and perhaps because she’s in charge!

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    • Hahaha – cats always think they are in charge!

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  14. Love every single one of these (wish I could clone Jean Donaldson and hand her out as a door prize to every single dog owner that walks through our training school doors…… :). All 10 of these are excellent, but I especially was happy to see # 6, and the “reinforcing fear” issue seems to be one that will just NOT die, and SO needs to…… Thanks for reposting this Linda (and also many thanks to Jean for writing it!)

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    • Thank you for commenting! I love Jean Donaldson – one of my favs!

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  15. […] training. Myths take on semblances of “fact” when they persist for so long.  See Top Ten Dog Behavior Myths Many of these long-held myths contribute to the belief that we should be the pack leader and that […]

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  16. I am one on the bandwagon of not petting a dog when it is exhibiting fearful behaviors, particularly if they are fear-aggression behaviors. I don’t feel it causes them to be MORE fearful, but I do lean towards believing it reinforces it. ‘Stranger walks up, I bark, mom pets me and talks to me sweetly, she must like what I’m doing!’. Obviously I don’t know whether or not this is absolutely true as my dog won’t tell me, but I think redirecting the dog to a new behavior (playing with a toy, focusing on you, sitting for a treat) has a better chance to lessen the fear behaviors more than coddling.

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