I’m all about myth busting, so I’ve compiled my Top 10 Dog Behaviour Myths.
I’m hoping you’ll share with any dog owners you know, so we can learn and share with each other!
“Aggressive/hand-shy/fearful dogs must have been abused at some point in their lives.” (Fails the scientific test.)
This is a very widespread myth; I hear it so often it makes my brain hurt. Fortunately, while the behaviors described in this myth are problematic, the myth itself may be the most benign of our top 10.
There are many reasons a dog may be aggressive, hand-shy, or fearful. Lack of proper socialization tops the list, especially for fearfulness. If a pup doesn’t get a wide variety of positive social exposures and experiences during the first 12 to 14 weeks of his life, he’s likely to be neophobic – afraid of new things – for the rest of his life (see Myth #1). This neophobia manifests as fear, and for some dogs, as fear-related aggression.
Widely accepted categories of aggression include:
• Defensive (fear-related) aggression
• Possession aggression (resource-guarding)
• Maternal aggression
• Territorial aggression
• Status-related aggression
• Pain-related aggression
• Protection aggression
• Predatory aggression
• Play aggression
• Idiopathic (we don’t know what causes it) aggression
Note that there’s no category for “abuse-related” aggression. Abuse can be one of several causes of fear-related/defensive aggression, but is much less common than the fear-related aggression that results from under socialization.
Regardless of the cause of a dog’s fearful or aggressive behavior, a myth-corollary to our Myth #10 is that love alone will be enough to “fix” the problem. While love is a vital ingredient for the most successful dog-human relationships, it takes far more than that to help a fearful dog become confident, or an aggressive one become friendly. For more about rehabilitating a chronically fearful dog, see “Fear Itself,”.