Conventional Wisdom is not always Wise!
When it comes to dogs, there is an enormous amount of “conventional wisdom”. However, much of this is based on outdated ideas which are now refuted by strong evidence (research). Some of the conventional wisdom in the dog world is as follows:
1. Don’t comfort a scared dog as this will make them more afraid or will reinforce their fear. 2. Don’t say goodbye or pat your dog before you leave home, because this will make them feel worse about you leaving. 3. Don’t allow your dog to become too attached to you, as a strong bond will cause them to develop separation related issues. 4. If your male dog shows any aggression or is a hyperactive, castration will calm him down. 5. If dogs fight, it is because they are trying to sort out who is dominant.
These are just a few of many ideas that many people take for granted, because we just “know” this stuff to be true – don’t we? Well, actually, we don’t. Every single one of those statements is incorrect.
1. We know that emotions such as anxiety, fear, frustration and anger are just that: emotions NOT behaviours. You cannot increase an emotion with reinforcement. In fact, by adding something pleasant to the situation you are likely to change the emotion for the better and improve how the dog feels. There is nothing wrong with comforting a scared dog: https://www.tarynblyth.co.za/single-post/2018/12/10/You-Cannot-Reinforce-an-Emotion
2. Studies have been done that show that saying goodbye to a dog and even patting them before you leave, does NOT make them feel worse when you are gone – in fact it makes them feel better! https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/animal-emotions/201809/should-you-say-goodbye-your-dog-you-leave
3. There is in fact no correlation between dogs having a strong attachment to their owners and developing separation related distress: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S155878780600116X
4. Testosterone does not cause aggression. Most aggression that we encounter in dogs is as a result of fear and defensive behaviour. Castration is not a cure all and when or if to sterilize can be a complex issue from a health and behaviour point of view. https://www.tarynblyth.co.za/single-post/2018/11/27/Sterilisation-–-Is-it-always-a-matter-of-course
5. Dogs fight for many reasons and very little of it has to do with dominance in the sense that people think of this concept. Most dogs fight because they have been put in a situation where they do not know how to avoid conflict any longer and feel the need to defend themselves or some resource: https://www.tarynblyth.co.za/it-s-not-dominance Dogs are more likely to fight when they are bored and frustrated or they are under stress (not enough resources in the home, too many dogs in the home, poor social skills of one or more dogs in the home).
So how do we tell if something we believe is correct? Just “knowing” something is not evidence. Anecdotes are not evidence. The test is always to see where the idea comes from i.e. is the source reliable? In this internet age we have easy access to a lot of good and useful information, but also a HUGE amount of misinformation. We need to really use our brains when we assess a source. It is no good believing a book or website with the name “Dog Expert” or a person who claims to be “Number One Dog Trainer” without digging deeper to see whether this person actually has any credentials to back up what they are saying. If there are no qualifications listed and there is no affiliation to any professional body, you can pretty much guarantee that the information should not be trusted.
Before you believe something, always make sure you find out who is saying it and where they got their information from. And don’t take “what we have always known” for granted – every day a new study is done to dispel something we thought we knew!