Companion Animal Myths

Did you know?

1) That dogs do not try and dominate you to become leader of the pack?

2) That rabbits are not happy being held upside down and “hypnotised”?

3) That horses do not “join up” out of respect for their trainer?

If you didn’t then read on.


Dominating dogs.

The theory that a dog will dominate their owner to become ‘leader of the pack” has been around now for many years. It states that you have to make sure your dog knows that you are the boss or they may become badly behaved. But do they? Do they lie on the fireside mat secretly plotting ways to take over the household?

Well of course they don’t! I can assure you that your lovely family pet is not trying to take over your life. This “dominance theory” approach is a myth and has been well documented scientifically as such even by the researchers who unintentionally helped to create the myth in the first place.

So why is this theory so prevalent in today’s culture? Why do we continue to believe that a dog strives to be the “leader of the pack” when the scientific evidence says otherwise? Well it all began many years ago when scientists were studying wolves in captivity. They noticed that the stronger and fiercer wolves used aggressive behaviour to gain access to food, mates and sleeping areas and that this formed a hierarchy within the pack. However, when more studies were carried out on wolves in the wild it was clear that this hierarchy was a product of captive living and they didn’t behave like this at all. In fact wild wolves show very little aggression towards each other, are much more co-operative and live in close-knit family groups. But this revelation came too late for our domestic dogs. The belief that dogs evolved directly from wolves and constantly strive to become dominant spread rapidly and is still being circulated by the misinformed even today.

You see dogs didn’t evolve directly from wolves at all. They evolved from a common wolf like ancestor and have changed drastically since becoming domesticated thousands of years ago. For one thing dogs really enjoy being with humans and wolves will do anything they can to stay away. It is also very unlikely that dogs have the ability to plot such complicated behaviour unlike us with our large brains that can think forwards and backwards in time and enables us to read and write, discus philosophy and play Candy Crush saga.

Dogs can, of course, learn very quickly what works for them and display some very resourceful behaviour when trying to gain the things they want. But they are competing for resources and not some mythical job position as a pack leader. So you can breathe a huge sigh of relief and enjoy your dog as a family member safe in the knowledge that your dog is not laying on the mat plotting your downfall.

For some really interesting further information on this click on this link


 Trancing Rabbits.

Rabbits can be put into a trance like hypnotic state when they are placed onto their backs. This method is commonly used when clipping nails and checking teeth. But is the rabbit really being hypnotised and is it in a relaxed state? Scientific studies suggest that it is not. Rabbit trancing or to give the correct term “tonic immobility” is a fear-driven state that has evolved as a defence against predators. The rabbit fools the predator into thinking it is dead by stating perfectly still. As it is lying there its heart rate increases and hormones are released to prepare the rabbit for a flight or fight response. As soon as the predator releases its grip the rabbit will spring into life in an attempt to escape. Studies have also shown that after release from this “trance” rabbits will groom excessively and show more hiding behaviour which are all signs of a stressed state suggesting that trancing may not be a very pleasant experience for your pet bunny.

There are much kinder ways to train a rabbit into happily having its nails clipped or its teeth looked at. By taking time to train your rabbit with tasty treats it will soon be happily allowing you to touch its feet and look into its mouth. For more rabbit welfare information and how to clicker train your bunny follow these links.


 Horse whispering.

Just how does horse whispering work? Why does a horse turn and follow you after you have actively chased and shooed it away using a technique known as “join up” that was popularised worldwide by Monty Roberts the famous horse whisperer? Well it used to be thought that this technique allowed the “whisperer” to mimic the natural behaviour of horses by appealing to their natural instincts and herd mentality and by developing a rapport between horse and trainer. However, new studies have cast doubt on these claims by cleverly using remote control cars to achieve exactly the same response. So what’s really going on? Well it’s all to do with pressure release otherwise known as negative reinforcement (removing an unpleasant experience to encourage wanted behaviour). The join up technique involves the trainer using aggressive movement and noise to drive the horse around the perimeter of a pen. The trainer gradually reduces the noise and movement as the horse begins to approach. The trainer, therefore, reinforces (rewards) the horse by discontinuing the aggressive approach and the horse sticks by the trainer because this is the safest place to be. It learns that by following the trainer it is no longer subjected to fear and stress. So not really whispering at all as it has a scientific explanation and is simply down to how animals learn. Now you know how it works you can choose whether to use this technique or a kinder approach such as positively reinforcing the behaviours you do want to see by rewarding them.

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