1. Puppies have puppy protection

 

Many dog owners assume that their little puppiess, enjoy a degree of protection from other adult dogs throughout puppyhood (their first four months of life), called puppy protection. Unfortunately, this is a misconception! Presumably, this idea is based on the relationship to wolfs, because within a wolf pack, their own puppies are well taken care of. Both the parents and their older siblings take on this role. However, infanticide (the intentional killing of children) is a widespread method even among canines, meaning dogs and dog-like species such as wolves, jackals, and foxes, try with this method to reduce the number of food competitors. It is not uncommon for wolves to kill the young from neighbouring packs, especially those whose refuge is close to the territorial boundary. But infanticide can also occur within a pack. Depending on the food and resources available (and high or low prey density), the highest-ranking female may kill the pups of other females in the pack.  

So, what does this mean for us dog owners?

 Adult dogs can show unfriendly behaviour towards puppies, especially if they do not come from the same household. This behaviour is quite normal. Puppies first have to learn social rules and boundaries and, especially at a young age, they tend to show distant, pushy behaviour, which is often not tolerated among dogs. In short, at some point, the little daredevils can start to get on your nerves. Of course, puppies learn social behaviour best from other dogs. Therefore, a puppy must have contact with other young dogs, but also adult dogs. Nevertheless, as a human being I am responsible for my puppy's social contacts and should think carefully about the encounters I allow, also to avoid a bad experience for them at a young age.  

 

2. Dogs only learn until the 16th week of life 

 

Puppies go through certain developmental stages in their first weeks and months of life, in which they are particularly receptive. Many dog owners (and trainers) focus on the socialisation aspect, which takes place from the 3rd - 16th week. This so-called first social learning phase significantly shapes a puppy for the rest of his life. During this phase, the puppy should get to know and explore its living and non-living environment (of course within a safe space and not all at once!). 

 

But what do I do if, for example, I adopt an already older dog from the shelter whose history I don't know at all?  

 

What if this dog has lived on the streets all his life and has never seen or heard a vacuum cleaner, a lift, or anything like it? 

Will I be faced with an unsolvable problem according to the quote "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"? Of course not! Even at a more mature age, dogs can process new stimuli and remain capable of learning throughout their lives. They are probably a little slower than a young dog, but that's the way it is with humans too. Just because it takes more time it doesn't mean we should stop working with senior dogs or taking on new challenges with them. On the contrary, keeping busy keeps our canines fit, much like a good crossword puzzle on the weekend or learning to play a new instrument.  

 

3. My dog feels ashamed and guilty  

 

Who hasn’t experienced this? We come home after a nice visit to a restaurant and find the rubbish bin thrown somewhere in the middle of the room and its contents scattered everywhere on the pretty carpet. When we then look for the offender, he sits in his basket, supposedly ashamed, and turns his head away from us with big sad eyes. Probably, our first thought is: "He knows exactly what he has done wrong and now he feels guilty". 

But is it really the case?

Do our dogs know that the bin is off-limits and feel ashamed of their terrible behaviour? Honestly, I doubt it.  

Of course, I can enforce certain house rules and maintain them in my presence. However, if dogs are given the opportunity, unsupervised, to go through the rubbish or find the best place to lie down, for example on the comfortable couch, most of them would do so. From a biological standpoint, this also makes sense, because in canines the so-called "resource guarding" applies (Gansloßer & Kitchenham 2015). Regardless of their social position in the group, a valuable resource belongs to the one who has it "under his paws or in his mouth" at the time. Humans or primates are a little different. As leaders, we think that we have the right (or even the duty) to take valuable resources from others to demonstrate our powerful position in the group. This means, of course, that our dogs have learned that they are not allowed to go on the sofa when we are present and that they should also leave the rubbish untouched. 

 

But when we leave the house, the rules change. 

 

Our dog doesn’t know that he has done anything wrong. On the contrary, in his eyes, he has waited dutifully until we have released the resource by leaving the house. The dog can no longer link his apparently bad behaviour to our shocked reaction.  A maximum of two seconds (!) should go by between the "misbehaviour" and our reaction to it, otherwise we have a bad chance of influencing behaviour in the long term. And the feeling guilty part? Nobody knows us as well as our dogs. They observe us closely and can even predict our behaviour and adapt to it if they have experienced it repeatedly in comparable situations (Bräuer 2014). So, if we get angry because the carpet is decorated with old yoghurt pots, my dog notices my changed mood and acts accordingly, by avoiding eye contact or temporarily retreating into his basket. Sometimes they also come crawling towards us wagging their tales. We tend to interpret this behaviour as feeling guilty or an apology. But our beloved pets know all too well how to soften our anger.  

 

4. Tail wagging means they are happy

 

I hear this statement particularly often in my work as an animal trainer: 

"The wolf/dog wags his tail. How nice, that means he is happy". 

But is this always the case? 

Tail wagging can be an expression of joy, but the expressive behaviour of dogs is much more multifaceted and is mainly composed of the entire body posture. Facial expressions, gestures, and sounds must be considered if I want to know my dog's behavior. For example, you can teach yours how to laugh so as to know when he’s happy. Tail wagging is primarily an expression of excitement. The motivation behind it depends on the context. 

Have you ever observed your dog digging for a mouse? 

You’ll see their tail wagging really fast, and in this case, it is the excitement for hunting. Or watch a male dog flirting. If he meets an attractive female, he will probably flick the tip of his tail in small and quick movements. This is sexual arousal. There are many more examples of this kind, but one thing should be noted: Regardless of whether it is a friendly or even aggressive arousal – tail wagging happens in both cases!  

 

5. They have to sort it out amongst themselves 

 

To be honest, I used to think that too. 

I didn't want to restrict my dog, Zazu, in his communication with other dogs and was firmly convinced that as many dog contacts as possible would be good for him and his social development. So, as a puppy and young dog, I often let him go to other dogs and didn’t interfere.  I was still insecure and thought he could do better on his own. Unfortunately, I overlooked the fact that Zazu often didn't want to interact with certain dogs at all or would always ask for support from me. Especially when other dogs made him feel insecure.   

 

The result of my carelessness: 

 

Zazu developed leash aggression, which I am still dealing with today. Now I have a different view on things. Dogs and wolves are highly social creatures. But only within their social group. Other individuals are competitors, meaning for their territory and thus food. As a dog owner, you can feel this at most garden fences. If both my dogs have a conflict with each other, because Haida wants to lick out Zazu's food bowl, they are allowed to settle it "amongst themselves". Small arguments are a part of living together. But they would never really hurt each other. The same happens with humans. Just think of two siblings fighting over the remote control. If I, as a mother, solve all conflicts for my children, they will probably have difficulties dealing with them on their own later on. In addition, dogs living in a household know each other well and can judge each other, and so can I as their owner. 

However, it is a different story when dogs who are strangers to each other meet on a walk.All of the factors mentioned above do not apply. 

And why should dogs that don’t know each other have to regulate anything? 

What is there to regulate in the first place? 

Dogs that simply meet but do not live together in a social structure, do not have to establish a hierarchy or clarify in any way who is "in charge". My dogs are allowed to come into contact with other dogs if I have a good feeling about it. And if my dogs need my support in certain situations, I am there immediately. It can always happen that dogs who are complete strangers get on well straight away. But it is important that I do not leave them alone. 

One example is my dog Haida. 

She likes other dogs but gets a bit overwhelmed by her old age and deafness. As soon as I notice that a strange dog is getting too pushy for her, I block it and give her space again. She doesn't have to handle this situation alone with the other dogs, and she simply can't anymore. So, I try to act in my dogs' best interests and protect them from unpleasant situations. In this way, they can also learn to rely on me without having to "handle it themselves".  After all, I want my dogs to accept me as the decision-maker. However, this only works if I make good decisions.   

 

6. My dog is dominant 

 

This myth is one of my absolute favourites.

I’ve been told so many times: "What?! Your dog sleeps in your bed? Make sure they don't become too dominant!". 

Apparently, our dogs have nothing else to do than taking over the world and kicking us off our sofas? 

 

I would like to explain what is meant by dominance in a behavioural context. 

 

Dominance primarily clarifies access to resources (food or reproductive partners) as well as the desire to fulfill our own interests. It is important that the lower-ranking animal voluntarily withdraws. Animal A can restrict the freedom and rights of animal B without aggressive action and animal B willingly accepts this. Dominance is therefore not a characteristic, but a relationship and has nothing to do with aggression! Because how animal A and animal B behave towards each other only says something about their relationship to each other, but little about what happens as soon as animal C appears on the scene. The statement "My dog is dominant" is therefore not true.  

What does it mean if my dog jumps on the sofa without being asked or constantly tries to be the first to squeeze through all the doors? 

I have to think ahead about what is important to me in living with my dog and communicate this decision clearly and behave accordingly. So, this is first and foremost about education. However, my dog does not show any dominant behaviour towards me when he makes this decision for himself, he has either not yet understood the rule or I have not yet expressed myself well enough. Bloch & Radinger (2010) describe it in their book " Wölfisch für Hundehalter” (‘Wolfish for Dog Owners’) in the following way: 

 

"First of all, we emphasize once again that there is no strict hierarchical social ranking (which serves the right of reproduction) between humans and dogs. That is why you do not have to constantly try to dominate your dog, which would give him a completely wrong image". 

 

Being assertive and considerate are the keywords here.