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Impacts of Outdated Advice from Dog Rescues

Dog rescues play a vital role in providing shelter and care for homeless, abandoned or mistreated dogs. However, it is important to recognize that some rescue organizations inadvertently contribute to much bigger issues when it pertains to the welfare of our beloved dogs by giving outdated advice. In this blog, we will explore the consequences of such advice, emphasizing the importance of using accurate and up-to-date information when dealing with our canine companions. Furthermore, we will dispel common misconceptions about dog behavior, emphasizing the need for kindness and understanding towards our furry friends.

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not possess a moral compass. Labeling them as "bad dogs" or their actions as “bad behavior” is simply a fallacy that fails to acknowledge the actual root causes of their behavior. For dogs there simply is no “bad” or “good” and when we use words like “bad” as a descriptor it gives an indication that something is wrong with the dog – and often, that is simply untrue. Instead of blaming the dog or throwing a label on their actions, it is crucial to understand that their behaviors are often a result of their environment, past experiences, genetics and what they’ve learned works throughout their lives. There are only really two types of behavior that our dogs engage in – desirable and undesirable. It is as simple as that. By reframing our perspective, we can approach behavioral issues with empathy and compassion, seeking to address the underlying causes rather than condemning the dog. This also leads to better understanding of our companions. This may help to prevent adopters and owners from passing their dogs off to trainers that will use punitive methodology to punish this so-called bad behavior – or rehoming their dogs.

Another outdated concept that some dog rescues still perpetuate is the idea of alphas and pack theory. Dogs simply are not attempting to dominate humans, but rather just seeking guidance and predictability. The alpha/dominance theory, popularized in the past, has absolutely been debunked by modern research and one must question any professional that still uses these outdated terms to describe behavior. When rescues continue to push this false narrative, it often results in adopters being unnecessarily rough and sometimes even aggressive with their dogs – or taking the dogs to unreputable and uncredentialed trainers to ‘break’ them of their dominance. This is often at the detriment of the dog’s well-being and is tragic to witness. We have been asked in the past if puppies are trying to be alpha or dominate their families all the while some of these pups are infants. Infant dogs are not trying to own us – they are just trying to make sense of a complicated human world. Most people do not realize that domestic dogs aren’t even true pack animals. We’ve learned from more recent studies that they tend to form very loose social groups, with fluid hierarchies that will change depending on each individual situation Instead of asserting dominance or trying to become the “pack leader” in some ridiculous way, it is much more productive to establish a relationship based on trust, respect, and clear communication with your dog. This approach fosters a positive and harmonious bond between humans and their canine companions.

Our words hold tremendous power, especially in the context of dog training and from rescue organizations. People trust that rescuers as well as trainers are knowledgeable professionals in the field but sadly no one is regulating these organizations or businesses. Outdated advice can perpetuate harmful myths, leading to ineffective and sometimes even cruel training techniques that may exacerbate behavioral issues. Rescues should prioritize the dissemination of scientifically backed knowledge and methodologies rooted in positive reinforcement. Aiming to employ more force-free training methods not only enhances the learning experience for dogs but also strengthens the bond between humans and their four-legged companions. This is paramount to good animal welfare. If placing dogs into good permanent homes is the goal, the wrong methods can cause that dog to land in a shelter or be returned to the rescue– and sometimes after an incident has taken place.

Above all, kindness really should be at the heart of every interaction with our dogs. These loving creatures rely on us for their well-being and happiness. No dog needs a heavy hand, to be strung up by their lead by a poor trainer trying to assert power over the dog or harshly punished for their struggles. There is a better way. We are literally everything to our dogs; humans made them so we really owe it to them to provide them with the very best that we can. By practicing patience, understanding, and empathy, we can foster a nurturing environment that promotes their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Dogs lead quite short lives in comparison to ours so why would we make their short lives stressful? Kindness and empathy are not only crucial in building trust but also in addressing any behavioral challenges that may arise. When we look at their behavior as not being intentional, malicious or “bad” and see their struggles as being just that, struggles, we are able to view our companions through a more empathetic lens, allowing for a better understanding of them.

As dog lovers, it is our responsibility to stay informed and challenge outdated advice when we encounter it, especially from those who are viewed as professionals. By emphasizing the importance of accurate information, debunking the ideas of “bad” behavior, alpha, pack leaders and dominance theories and instead promoting kindness in our interactions, we can then contribute to a more compassionate and effective approach to dog rescue and training. Let us remember that our words and actions have a profound impact on these remarkable creatures who bring joy and companionship into our lives. We should all be striving to better understand those who live with us as part of our family.

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