Cry wolf: a major misunderstanding about dog behaviour

Tamsin Durston
Friday, September 2, 2022

The notion that dogs are naturally ‘status driven’ and will use aggressive behaviour to gain recognition as ‘top dog’ within the human families they live in is based on outdated research, which has been shown to be significantly flawed. However, the concept has been historically so well-received by society that it continues to drive human—dog interactions that involve using aversive, punishing ways to control pet dog behaviour, with damaging consequences on welfare. Veterinary nurses play an important role in client education, particularly around the alternative approach of reward-based training, however client communications might be jeopardised should they feel neither acknowledged nor connected to the clinic team, and do not believe the veterinary nurse credible. Simply refuting another's long-held belief risks alienating them, as well as them perceiving veterinary professionals to be ‘crying wolf’, presenting oppositional information for their own purpose. Understanding dog behaviour and how human beliefs are formed and strengthened can positively impact welfare, while establishing positive, ongoing client-clinic relationships.

Figure 1. Rather than being status-driven, dogs simply do what might work out well for them.
Figure 1. Rather than being status-driven, dogs simply do what might work out well for them.

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