IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Woof! The truth behind common dog myths

Are Labradors really the best breed for kids? Dog behaviorist Tamar Geller debunks some misconceptions about caring for pooches.
/ Source: TODAY

When dealing with dogs, failing to separate fact from fiction can leave you barking up the wrong tree. Here are a few common myths about dogs that, gone unchecked, could inhibit your ability to have a fun, rewarding relationship with your dog. Dog behaviorist Tamar Geller sets the record straight.

You must have a yard for your dog. Absolutely not true! Dogs are pack animals, so they ultimately want to be with you. Ninety-nine percent of the time that a dog’s in the yard, he’s hanging out at the back door waiting to come back inside with you. And you’ll notice that even inside a 10,000 square foot house, the dog will tend to be right by your feet. 

He’s simply not going to exercise himself alone in the yard as if he’s at the gym or on a treadmill. You need to exercise him — on walks, on hikes, at the beach or at the dog park. And doing so will only help to make your dog (and you!) healthier and make your relationship better — with or without a yard. 

Tug-of-war is a game to be avoided. The biggest misconception people have about playing games with their dog is that tug-of-war will make their dog aggressive. On the contrary, playing tug-of-war, as long as you have rules and boundaries, gives the wolf side of your dog a proper outlet. Think about it — football without rules would just be mean and nasty! 

This game represents the final stage of the hunt. Once wolves in nature catch their prey, the member of the pack who ends up with the prized food is then established as the leader. Playing tug-of-war with your dog is — as long as you end up with the toy — a really fun way to establish yourself as the leader in the family. 

Never disturb a dog when he’s eating. One of the highest incidence rates of dog bites is when a dog’s food is disturbed. So it sounds like it makes sense to not disturb your dog when he’s eating. But what it actually means is that you haven’t done your work because your dog sees you and/or your kids as a threat, rather than the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Every dog should learn not to simply tolerate being disturbed when eating, but to look forward to it because he’s going to get a surprise yummy treat. To do this, each time you feed your dog, disturb his bowl or food in some way — starting from above and working your way down to actually sticking your hand in his bowl. That way, when someone inadvertently knocks his bowl over or a child reaches for his food, he won’t respond as though his meal is being threatened.

A wagging tail means a dog is friendly. Wrong!  Not all tail wagging is a friendly wag.There are three heights for a tail wag: in between the leg (low), in the middle and very high on top.  Generally speaking, if the tail is about 90 degrees high, with small wags — avoid the dog, as this is a dominant, threatening position. And if the tail is very low between the legs, this is a fearful, defensive position and the dog should be avoided. If the dog’s tail is in the middle wagging very loosely, with a “smile” on his face, that’s an inviting dog.

Dogs communicate with each other through complex body language. A tail wag is only one of the signs to look for when meeting a dog. There is also ear position, hackles, head position, eyes, expression, etc. Since it’s not always easy to tell, be sure to ask the owner if their dog is friendly before approaching any dog!

Labradors are the best breed for kids ... and German Shepherds, Dobermans and Rottweilers are the worst. I believe that making generalized, blanket, breed-specific statements about any dog can be dangerous and also promotes stereotypes. Just as with people, there are good and bad dogs of every breed. There are wonderful Shepherds, Dobermans and Rottweilers that are great with kids, just as there are Labradors that are not. And when it comes to Labs, one thing people should consider is that their tail is usually eye level to a child — so a happy dog can result in an unhappy kid, because he’s being smacked in the face with a wagging tail!