Has anyone ever told you
- you should only foster dogs of the opposite sex from your own dog
- dogs who get excited by small animals on a walk can’t be trusted to live with a cat
- if your dog is happy to meet a new dog at the shelter, they’ll get along fine once home
- dogs need to play with other dogs
And I’m not even touching the bogosity spread by television characters who insist that if your dog doesn’t listen to you, you need to flip him onto his back and show him who’s boss.
There’s a lot conventional wisdom about dogs that just isn’t true. Or it might be true for many dogs but not for yours.
Let’s take a closer look.
Pair Dogs of the Opposite Sex
I’ve read this so many times. You should never have two dogs of the same sex if you don’t want them to fight.
Apparently no one told Chick at Love and a Six Foot Leash.
His people fostered pibbles for a local rescue. On the advice of the staff, they brought home mostly female dogs. Chick has very good manners so he didn’t complain about sharing his home with one girl after another. But what he really wanted was a boy to hang out with.
When they finally brought home the male Snickerdoodle to foster, it was love at first sight. Check out the photographic evidence.
I guess the “experts” were wrong. At least in this case.
Dogs Who Chase Cats on Walks
I’ve read description of adoptable dogs at our local shelter: “Should only be adopted to a house without cats since he shows too much interest in the cats at the shelter.” But can a dog’s reaction in one setting tell you if they’re able to live with other animals at home?
Our former foster and forever friend, Mr. Handsome, goes crazy on a walk if he sees a cat. Or a squirrel. Or a bird. Or a small dog.
He pulls. Then he jumps straight up into the air. Then he starts to bark.
If a stranger asked me if I thought he’d be able to live in a house with a cat, I’d guess no. His reaction is so strong that I can only see him chasing a cat around the house.
But you know what? Mr. Handsome has lived with a cat for years. And the cat has been joined by a new kitten. And he’s as gentle and unconcerned as could be.
Shows you what I know.
If you’re adopting a dog and already have one at home, most shelters will insist on a supervised introduction before finalizing an adoption. But does a leashed introduction at a shelter tell you if two dogs are suited to live together?
Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell wonders if shelter introductions predict how dogs will interact at home. And cites her reasons for not wishing to bring her dog to a shelter for an introduction.
More research needs to be done. But the ASPCA has already suggested some reasons mandatory shelter introductions set people (and their pets) up for failure.
I’ve heard stories of dogs who showed no conflict when introduced at a shelter who fought terribly at home. And how many dogs who got “snitty” with each other at an on-leash shelter introduction never got the chance to see if they could live together in a regular home environment?
Maybe the foster-to-adopt method is the best way to adopt shelter dogs if you already have a dog at home.
Dogs Must Play With Other Dogs
A many walked by with his sniffing beagle the other day. Honey gave a slight wag which the beagle ignored. This dog had a nose for nothing but the trail he was following.
His person stopped to chat with us about his dog for a little while. And when the beagle finally looked up, he person started pulling him toward Honey so they could say hello.
It was the last thing he wanted to do and Honey knew it. She allowed him a little sniff and then sat down knowing this friendship was going no further. Lucky for that beagle, Honey and I were able to read that he wasn’t interested in playing. Even if his person was in denial.
How many dogs are dragged to dog parks by their people who insist they’ll love it? Just to have the poor dog hanging out around his people’s ankles waiting until he can go home?
We took our last dog, Shadow, to a supervised play time at the SPCA to help with her leash reactivity. In connection with rewarding her for calm reactions to other dogs on leash, I think it helped her to be near other dogs while having full control of her interactions with them (unlike when she was restrained by a leash).
But in a year of visiting the play group, I only saw her play once or twice. Both times with Sally, the flirty lab mix.
Shadow didn’t need to play with other dogs to be happy. She just needed a scent to track and the freedom to follow it at her own pace.
What We Think Is True About Dogs May Not Be
I’m sure you’ll have dozens of examples of “conventional” wisdom about dogs that just isn’t true. Or at least not true for every dog.
We can learn a lot from conventional wisdom about dogs. Many dogs do find it helpful and secure to be crated. Some dogs really do better with dogs of the opposite sex. Most hound dogs will follow a scent right out the back yard and miles away from home before looking up.
But conventional wisdom is just a starting point. Because the only real expert about your dog is you. If you take the time to observe her reactions to the world around her.
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Your Turn: What conventional wisdom have you heard about dogs that just isn’t true?