Five Canine Myths Busted By An Expert
Zoologist and animal behaviorist, Muriel Brasseur, PhD in Behavior and Genetics, has debunked some of the most common canine myths for Mirror UK. These are some of the most popular misconceptions about dogs we all have a tendency to believe in. However, they won’t make your dog a happy pet.
Dogs are wolves and should be treated like wolves
“The assumption that because domestic dogs are descended from wolves, they should be treated like wolves is now well and truly outdated. Comparing dogs to wolves is similar to comparing humans with chimpanzees as the genetic distance separating them is roughly about the same. While humans and chimpanzees share many behaviors, humans are clearly distinct and the same applies to dogs and wolves. Dogs, while sharing genes with and retaining many juvenile features of the ancestral wolves, have evolved and greatly specialized.”
Dogs are pack animals
“Following on from the misguided belief that dogs were wolves, it was further assumed that they must also be pack animals. However, research in the field of animal behavior in the last ten years has shown this not to be the case. Studies of free-ranging remnant and stray populations in Europe, India and South America have found that domestic dogs do not form cohesive packs, but transient groups with a loose structure where individuals come and go, a trait not found in wolf packs. Unlike wolves, most dogs are predominantly scavengers as opposed to active predators. There is therefore no benefit for them in hunting together and sharing their food.”
Some dogs only want to please
“This myth is firmly rooted in anthropomorphism – explained simply, we like to attribute human characteristics to non-human creatures and in particular to our pets. Dogs are not born with an innate desire to please humans, but instead are motivated by attention, food, praise, toys and games or any pleasurable reward. Ultimately, dogs work out what’s beneficial for them and how to get the best from their environment. Some dogs are more motivated than others and will work harder to get rewards, and therefore are often labeled as dogs that ‘really want to please’.”
Dogs that growl are aggressive
“Growling used to respond to a perceived threat, signifying that there is likely to be an escalation in aggression should the threat continue. Growling can be used in a variety of contexts and does not mean a dog should necessarily be labeled as aggressive. A dog may growl because he is in pain and is trying to avoid being handled. A timid or older dog may growl at a boisterous and bouncy puppy’s repeated attempts at boisterous play. A dog on a lead may growl if being charged at by an off-lead dog. A nervous dog or a dog with a lack of early positive experiences around people and dogs may growl if put in a situation where he cannot cope.
Growling is the warning system that comes before snapping and biting – behaviors used as a last resort when a dog has previously tried unsuccessfully to use a non-confrontational strategy. Some dogs, having learnt that avoidance strategies did not previously get them out of trouble, will automatically default to growling and a more aggressive stance when faced with a potential threat. Some dogs growl when they are playing, i.e. play growl. This is fine as long as play does not get out of hand due to increasing arousal levels and the growling does not escalate.”
There is no point in giving dogs toys as they will destroy them
“The reason many dogs rip some toys to pieces and remove the stuffing from others with great enthusiasm is because they are acting on their genes and acting out parts of the canine hunting sequence. Also known as the predatory sequence, the official scientific version has seven steps, which vary slightly between breeds. Simplified, it consists of search, track and find, grab and kill, and dissect and eat.
Dogs have an innate need to do this and are happiest when it can be stimulated and satisfied through play. A good strategy is to provide your dog with good quality chew toys and items, but keep more expensive toys for supervised play. If you have small children, it is a good idea to keep their toys separate or make them inaccessible to your dog. Physical and mental stimulation for pet dogs should be not underestimated. The results of a large scale study published in 2014 strongly suggest that enrichment via toys and games is as important as walking your dog.”