Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pet Myths

Pet Myths
Author, Jan Casey
Denver the Guilty Dog” has received over seven millions views on Youtube. The video became so popular, dog and owner were quickly signed to appear on Good
Morning America. Denver the Labrador was filmed “acting guilty” as his
owner berated him for allegedly pilfering cat treats from a mangled bag. Unfortunately, Denver was not acting guilty, he was responding with appeasement behaviors.
Uncomfortable with the camera eye “staring” at him (stares are considered aggressive behavior by dogs) and aware his owner was angry, Denver was trying to calm
down his owner using the tool dogs use best – body language. Every person who understands dog body language was cringing at the misinformation being given to the public. They felt for Denver, too, as he is stuck with an owner who does not understand what the dog is so clearly trying to tell him. (for more on guilt, see:

Animals are a central component of many myths and urban legends. Ever heard of the cactus which exploded a short time after being brought in from the desert, releasing thousands of baby tarantulas? Not true. While it is probably
not good for cactus sales, the story doesn't harm spiders. Other animal folklore taken as fact: ostriches bury their heads in the sand when frightened, penguins fall over
backwards when looking at airplanes, and toads cause warts. Again, all are popular
tales, none are true, and they have little-to-no effect on the well-being of
ostriches, penguins, or toads.

When it comes to our pets, however, folklore is abundant and often does
negatively affect their welfare. The very thing we use to help us connect with them – shared behaviors and emotions – can work to their detriment when we try to explain unique animal behaviors in human terms.

How many feline lifespans have been shortened by tales based on fiction
rather than fact? New parents are warned that a cat, jealous that he must
now share attention, may suck the breath out of a baby. A cat may be accused of mistaking the cries of a baby for the cries of another cat, provoking the cat to smother its competition. Hearing such tales, frightened parents re-home, abandon, or relinquish the cat to a shelter. Do cats have nine lives? Do they always
land on their feet? The answer to both questions is no, and cats will live
safer, more peaceful lives if people will learn the facts.

For man's best friend, the scenario is no better. Dog folklore includes both breed and behavior myths. Breed myths are interesting. “You have to watch out for Dobermans. They'll turn on you.” Normal, healthy dogs of any breed do not just go crazy, they give warning signals well in advance. People just don't recognize them. “Pit
Bulls have locking jaws.” Studies have found no locking jaw mechanism in any dog.
More breed myths: “all labs (or goldens) love people, especially children”; “Jack Russells make great lap dogs”; “border collies are easy to train”; “huskies are more closely related to wolves than other dogs.” People who accept
these breed myths as true may be in for a surprise.

Canine behavior myths are insidious. “Once a dog tastes blood, it will become a killer.” Did you become Charles Manson after you last ate rare roast beef? Dogs may bite (taste blood) more often if they learn that biting works to get them away from something they don't like. If small animals were injured or killed, the dog's fixed action pattern (prey drive) may have kicked in, making them oblivious to your recall. You may wish
to muzzle a dog who will be near small animals in the future, but there is no
reason to believe the dog will now attack people. In either case, it has nothing to do with developing a taste for blood. More training is called for, but not the destruction of the dog.

“A barking dog will not bite.” “Dogs who are wagging their tails are friendly.”
Believe these myths and chances are good you will get bitten. Barks have a lot of different meanings, one of which is to warn you to stay back or else be bitten. The same is true of tail wags – they have different meanings and not all are invitations to be friends. “Dogs are pack animals. A dog needs to have another dog in the house to be happy.” Sometimes dogs are forced to share their homes with other dogs when they
would be much happier as the only canine in the family. Dogs are loners,
scavengers who only form packs when necessary. “Dogs destroy your belongings because they are spiteful.” Dogs really don't understand the concept of
prized possessions or how hard you had to work in order to buy them. Objects are often chewed and mangled as a way for dogs to relieve anxiety or because they are bored.

Urban legends, myths, folklore can be harmless or they can cause misunderstandings which are detrimental to the well-being of pets.  If you've heard something repeated as fact, take a moment to research it. You'll enjoy your pets much more if
you truly understand why they do what they do.

Jan Casey is a reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc. and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs. Casey is a member of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Mrs. Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet Pages and Kid's Korner . This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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