Misconceptions About Common Dog Behaviors

by Sundays

Ever wish you could understand your pup better?

Sometimes, dog behavior seems baffling, like why do dogs sniff each other’s rear ends? 

Or maybe you feel like you have such a close relationship with your dog, that you understand every tilt of their head and blink of their eye.

No matter how well you think you know your pup, you may find out that you were totally wrong about what they were trying to tell you. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about dog behaviors and the cold, hard truths behind them. 

Dog Behavior Misconception 1: A wagging tail is always a happy tail. 

Wait… a wagging tail is supposed to mean your dog is happy, right? Sorry for the cheap shot, but we have to call this a misconception. It’s true, most of the time, when your dog wags their tail, it’s probably a sign of happiness, especially because they are around you. 

But this isn’t always the case, especially for dogs you don’t know. Depending on the situation, and the dog’s body language, a wagging tail could mean anything from being unsure or scared about something to getting ready to play. Basically, you have to read the room… or the dog.

Dog Behavior Misconception 2: A dog that shows their belly wants a belly rub. 

It’s so cute when your dog rolls over and looks at you longingly, just begging for a belly rub. But what if they’re not? So, why else would a dog give you their belly?

Again, you do know your dog best, so it can be totally possible that your dog enjoys a nice belly rub from their favorite person. But you should know that showing your belly, in the doggy world, is pretty much the biggest display of vulnerability. Dogs can expose their belly and leave it unprotected when they are trying to say, “I know you’re the dominant one; I’m not a threat.” So it’s an act of submission. Keep this in mind when you meet a new dog. They may actually be scared and not want a belly rub!

Dog Behavior Misconception 3: Dogs sleep so much because they’re being lazy.

You’ve probably watched your dog sleep in, day in and day out, sprawled across their cushy, huge, orthopedic doggy bed, or snuggled up in the covers of your bed, and thought, yeah, that’s the life I want. Who wouldn’t be jealous–an adult dog sleeps 12-14 hours a day!
Of course, this is our definition of laziness. Who gets that much time to sleep? Why do dogs sleep so much?

It turns out, they actually need that time. They just have different sleep patterns than us, so they keep taking naps on and off, day and night, and not all at once like we do. On top of that, they don’t get as much REM sleep as us, so that means they are easily woken up from their naps, so then they need more naps to make up for it!

Dog Behavior Misconception 4: If your dog yawns, it means they’re tired or bored.

A yawn isn’t hard to figure out in the human world. Someone’s either completely bored and not afraid to show it, or they are pretty tired and trying to stay awake. It’s not really a thing we do consciously–they just sort of happen. 

For dogs, yawns can mean something totally different. It can also be a sign of stress, and even a way for dogs to signal to other dogs or to you that they are stressed out. Again, it’s all about the situation. Your dog may just be yawning after a long nap, but if you’re at the vet’s office and they’re yawning, it’s most likely a sign of anxiety.

Dog Behavior Misconception 5: If a dog chews up your stuff, it’s because they’re mad at you.

It’s hard to understand why your sweet dog would want to destroy your stuff. The only thing that makes sense is that maybe they’re mad at you for something. Was it because you took them to the vet and they did a fecal exam? Or maybe it was because of that bath you gave them that washed off all the smells they worked so hard to roll around in.

You’re probably looking at this all wrong. If it happens right after you leave, it could be separation anxiety. It could also be boredom, if it happens a good while after you leave the house. And if it’s just plain chewing, that’s an instinctive dog activity, so it may be that they need some good chew toys to focus their teeth on.

Dog Behavior Misconception 6: Dogs need an alpha to lead them.

Most people still believe this idea because it kind of makes sense. The only problem is, the research that was done that led to this belief was based on wolves in captivity at a zoo way back in the 1940s. Wolves in the wild do not behave the same; they are more like pack animals that work together in family units. And domesticated dogs that sleep in our beds are not anything like wild wolves. 

Sure, there are times where dogs kind of work out amongst themselves who gets to eat first or who gets first pick of spots on the bed. And because humans control all their resources and when they get to go potty, most dogs will see you as the one that’s in control. But the whole idea of dominance-based training based on the alpha dog theory is dangerous, unproductive, and can break your dog’s spirit. Stick to positive, rewards-based training to keep your bond with your pup strong and loving

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