Dog Behavior Myths: 7 More Debunked

Not long ago, I shared — and busted —  six common dog behavior myths. But I'm not done debunking canine misconceptions just yet!

I know that pet owners want to do the best they can for their dogs, so understanding what's true — and what's not — when it comes to dog behavior is crucial. Knowing why your dog does what she does isn't just helpful in terms of knowing how to train her, but it can also be key to strengthening the bond you share.

Whether you're considering adopting a new dog or getting serious about obedience training, check out these seven dog behavior myths that no pet owner should take at face value.

7 Common Dog Behavior Myths

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Myth No. 1: Adult shelter dogs come with too much baggage to overcome, so you should always adopt a puppy.

Wrong! There's a nearly endless list of reasons why adult shelter pets end up in that situation; many are sweet, well-behaved dogs who just need homes. In fact, the shelter can be a great place to find an older dog who's beyond the puppy stages of chewing, potty training and mouthing.

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Myth No. 2: If your dog cowers when people approach, she was probably abused before you got her.

There are loads of possible reasons for a dog to cower beyond a history of abuse. For example, she may not have been properly socialized, or genetics may be a factor. She could have learned to duck away from people trying to grab her collar, or she may simply dislike having her head or ears handled. Work with your veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist or certified trainer to try to identify the cause of the cowering, especially if your dog shows any signs of aggression, such as growling or baring her teeth. Depending on the cause, you may try changing the way you (and other humans in her life) approach her for petting by getting into a kneeling position with your body turned to the side. Then invite her to approach you — and reward her when she does.

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Myth No. 3: If your dog doesn't enjoy being around other dogs, there's something wrong with her.

Invalid. Like humans, some dogs are social butterflies while others prefer solitude or just a few friendly, familiar faces — and there's nothing wrong with that. The reasons for a dog preferring to avoid other canines are myriad, but the breed can play a big role, as can a lack of socialization during her early months or just personal preference.

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Myth No. 4: Your dog doesn't listen, because she's trying to show you that she's in charge.

Smart as they are, dogs just don't have the same complex emotions as we do. It's more likely that your dog's not doing what you're asking, because she doesn't understand what you want or because you're not providing the proper motivation. If the payoff isn't worth it, she's likely to hold off on doing the behavior until you make it worth her while.

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Myth No. 5: Your dog is punishing you when she chews up things like shoes and furniture.

Nope. Chewing is a natural behavior that feels good on the dog's gums, plus it alleviates anxiety and lack of stimulation while releasing energy — that's more likely her motivation for mauling your Manolos. In some cases, destructive chewing can also indicate separation anxiety, though, so if it happens frequently, talk to your vet. Chewing inappropriate items can also lead to gastrointestinal obstructions, so it's better to give your dog more appropriate chew toys and lock up your shoes if you can't be there to supervise.

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Myth No. 6: Your dog feels guilty when she misbehaves — you can tell by looking at her face.

No, you can't. Sure, her face looks guilty, but it's probably not because she feels any actual guilt. Instead, it's because she is showing appeasement behaviors in response to your body language, according to a 2009 study by researcher Alexandra Horowitz at Barnard College in New York.

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Myth No. 7: When your dog misbehaves, it's always your fault.

Untrue. A dog might misbehave for any number of reasons, like a lack of proper socialization or preventive training, or the dog's genetic tendencies. Dog owners are often well-meaning but misinformed, so it's important for owners of misbehaving dogs to set aside any feelings of guilt or shame, and work with a pet professional to learn proper positive reinforcement methods and focus on getting the good dog behaviors they want.

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