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Five Outdated Things We Used To Believe About Dog Care

The UK is reputed to be a nation of dog lovers, and for many people, the dog is an integral part of the family. How we care for dogs today and how we view them in terms of their importance and role in our lives is very different now to how it was a few decades ago; and some of the things we used to believe about dog care, and the ways in which we used to care for dogs as standard, would come as quite a shock to many younger dog lovers today.

This article will share five outdated things we used to do and believe about dog care that are virtually unheard of now. Read on to learn more.

Fear or punishment-based dog training was the only or most effective way

If you’ve trained your own dog or simply have any concept of dog training and how it works, you probably know that it involves a lot of patience, consistency, encouragement, praise, reward – oh, and plenty of treats!

We all know that dogs will work really hard if food might be on offer, and that dogs respond really positively to praise and attention, being keen to earn it. However, this has only been received wisdom and the normal training approach now for a few decades – and well into the late 20th century, this would have been seen as a very weird way to train a dog.

Up until at least the 1980s, the idea of positive reinforcement dog training (basically the type of training I just outlined) was non-existent, or people who did train their dogs like this were not the norm and there wasn’t really a term used to describe this training ethos.

Instead, the usual process of training a dog was based on chastisement or physical correction and punishment for mistakes or bad behaviour – a sharp tug on the lead, a smack on the nose, being told off, and being physically made to fear, or “respect” the human handler. This is known as negative reinforcement training, and this is virtually unheard of today – but used to be not just fully accepted, but was also pretty much the only way most people would know of when it came to training a dog.

Did it work? Well, sort of. A dog that learns it will be punished for doing a certain thing wouldn’t do that thing deliberately, but when you hurt or scare a dog, they don’t automatically associate the effect with the cause; all they know is the pain or fear. 

This means that not only is negative reinforcement stressful and upsetting for dogs, but it also takes far longer for any message or command to stick, compared to positive reinforcement training.

Fortunately, negative reinforcement dog training is virtually unheard of today.

Dogs needed to be made hardy by exposure to cold

If you walk your dog in winter, you no doubt see lots of dog out in supplementary winter coats to keep them warm, and perhaps your own dog has a coat too. This didn’t used to be common though, and dogs that felt the cold excessively in winter would rarely have a coat.

Dogs used to live outdoors in outbuildings or kennels far more commonly than they do now too, and it used to be more or less received wisdom that keeping a dog outside made them cold-hardy, and that any dog would toughen up and be able to deal with the cold if they had to.

This is patently not true; while some dogs with the right natural coat type can live in unheated outbuildings in winter because they hail from colder climates, a dog that doesn’t have the right coat or conformation for this won’t magically develop it simply through cold exposure.

Dogs that are too cold, either on walks or in their kennel or housing, will lose weight and condition, be more prone to illness, and simply won’t thrive. They certainly won’t turn into a cold-hardy dog.

Flea treatments were only for summer

Most dog owners used to only flea treat their dogs in summer, if at all – because dogs were kept in colder environments as a rule than today’s pets, and homes were not generally centrally heated, flea populations used to become largely dormant in the winter.

This is not the case these days, as we heat our homes to keep them at a comfortable temperature for ourselves, our dog – and their fleas – year-round!

Dogs could live on scraps

Most dog owners today pay quite a lot of attention to what they feed their dogs, and some diets can be very costly too. Some dog owners give their dogs table scraps as well of course, which isn’t really a good idea for a large number of reasons – but it used to be the norm that dogs actually lived wholly or mainly on scraps, and were not fed actual dog food at all!

In fact, dog food as we know it today has only been a thing at all for a few decades. It certainly wasn’t something you’d be able to buy from more or less any grocery store. People who bought food specifically for their dogs would usually buy this in the form of meat and bones from butchers – and many dogs were fed only food waste and scraps full stop.

Dogs should have a litter before neutering (if neutered at all)

Spay and neuter is the norm for dogs in the UK today, but this didn’t used to be the case; and it took several decades for dog owners as a whole to fully accept the idea of spay and neuter as the default norm.

A lot of myths and misconceptions about spay and neuter got in the way of this, with one of the most prevalent being that it was unnatural to deny a dog the chance to have a litter, and that she would somehow miss or lack something by being neutered without having had at least one litter.

While some people today do still make a decision to have a litter from their dog before they neuter her, this is no longer considered to be something that should be done as standard, or that is somehow denying the dog a natural urge if not done!


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