Pet Behavior Myths Debunked: Part Two

By March 26, 2018 January 2nd, 2019 Uncategorized

Why is my dog or cat doing this?

You already know that it’s easy to misinterpret what an animal is trying to tell you (they use non-verbal cues and poses).

Our Markham veterinary clinic also told you that it’s not possible to be the alpha dog, no matter what you do. One species can’t control the hierarchy of another.

But, like any pet owner, you’ve probably fallen victim to a few other myths. These myths are so established, widespread, and potentially harmful, we decided to debunk them.

Myth #3: Training beliefs

A few things we’ve heard at our veterinary clinic include:

  • “I don’t want to use treats to train my dog. She’ll just crave treats all the time, and I don’t want to keep buying them.”
  • “Somebody on YouTube said you can’t punish your dog or cat. They pointed out that it won’t work and that it’ll just scare my pet.”
  • “People who let their puppy play with other dogs before they’re fully vaccinated are crazy. Don’t they know they’re putting their pet at risk?”

Believe it or not, you don’t have to train with treats – not forever, anyway. We strongly recommend starting with treats though. Any desirable action from your pet should be rewarded and the first reward a pet recognizes is food. However always introduce alternative rewards. Say “Good job!” or “What a good boy!” (verbal reward)  and  pet her (touch reward). Your pet will associate this with the positive food reward and eventually you don’t need to do all three rewards all the time.

One more word on treats. Many people give treats because they like to give them, or because your pooch just deserves it. Remember, your pooch will associate the last action before the treat is given with the treat and then “learn” that if this action is repeated, there will be a treat. Your veterinarian knows very well that this is how to train a dog to beg. They sit there and stare at you because they learned they are supposed to do this… as it gets rewarded with a treat.

Punishment is effective as long as you’re consistent and quick to act, but we strongly discourage trying it. Why? You risk increased nervousness, fear, or hostile behavior from your dog. Punishment is often seen as physical (spanking, pulling the leash), or even worse: locking them up. This type of punishment is useless, can be cruel and certainly never works. Your vet will rather recommend that you use an adverse stimulus to correct undesirable behaviour. What’s that? Say your cat jumps up on the kitchen counter to steal your lunch, you need to stop her. Food reward is most likely not working. Your chicken on the counter is a bigger temptation than the treat or kibble on the floor. You have to do something that is unpleasant for her. A startling sound for instance. Clapping your hands and hissing or saying OFFFFFFF! will work. But remember you get the best results if you introduce the adverse stimulus at the exact moment the behaviour starts. In our example, this would be the moment your cat’s paws touch the counter top. If your signal and your timing is right, it will work like a charm. For more insights about this,  reach out to a trusted veterinarian in Markham.

As for puppy socialization, exposing your pet to other animals is crucial to his development. The best time to start is at 6 weeks of age. After 18 weeks of age,  socialization learning changes and your dog won’t find it easy to accept other dogs or people without fear. If you wait until the vaccination list is complete, he’ll never learn proper behavior. He won’t know how to interact with anyone. Even a veterinarian won’t be able to handle him. He could have fear and aggression issues later in life.

That’s not fair to him or your family.

We completely understand when a pet owner has health concerns. Don’t hesitate to contact our vet if you have any questions about vaccinations.

  Myth #4: Psychotropic medication confusion

Some pets are so frightened to go to the vets that some medication given before the visit is a good recommendation. Owner’s are usually worried about these medications. A few things we’ve heard include:

  • “I don’t want my pup to take any medications. Her personality will change, right? We love her the way she is now.”
  • “Trainers have the skills to fix anything – we don’t need to look into other options.”


While it’s true that experienced trainers can tackle common habits and behaviors, there are limitations. You need a veterinarian to pinpoint hidden medical problems and prescribe what will help. For example, if your dog poops all over the house, it might be kidney failure (also known as renal failure).

Some pets go on medication to deal with anxiety. The medication helps them relax. They might sleep more because of this, causing owners to fear a change in personality. Dr. Marsig is a Fear Free Certified Practitioner (click here for more about this certification) and is using occasional therapeutic medication for stressed dogs and cats with great results. With the right medication your pet will be as cuddly or as goofy as they ever were. They just won’t we panicking about harmless things.

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Dr. Ernst Marsig, veterinarian in Markham

Fear Free Certified Practitioner

Practicing Veterinary Medicine in Markham for a Long and Happy Life of ALL Your Pets.

Animal Hospital of Unionville, a veterinary clinic on the north side of  Hwy 7, serving all pets in Markham, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Stouffville, and North York since 1966. We are your family vets for dogs, cats, pocket pets (rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, skinny pigs, etc.), ferrets, and birds (budgies, cockatiel, parrots, amazon, cockatoo, love birds, conures, African greys, finches, canaries, etc.). We pride ourselves to provide cost effective veterinary medicine and give you options for treatments. Some may think our services as cheap, but our goal is to give good value.

Disclaimer: No part of this website constitutes medical advice. Readers are advised to consult with their veterinarian.

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