You probably hear different stories and theories about your faithful furry companions all the time, but how do you know which ones to believe? A lot of the most commonly given advice about dogs is actually not true. These myths have been passed down by generations of dog owners, and it's time that we debunk them and start spreading the truth.
Why does your dog eat so much grass? Can he see what color the ball is? Is it okay to let him continue to lick his wound? The list of the most common myths about dogs goes on and on, so I decided to do some research on this and debunk some of the legends.
I've also consulted with experts to debunk the most well-known and very common doggy myths and beliefs that are out there about our canine companions. Read the myths and see if you've fallen for any of these untruths. If there are other canine myths you'd like us to look into, be sure to leave a comment after reading.
15 Most Common Myths about Dogs Debunked
1 Dominant vs. submissive dogs:
Are they always one or the other?
“My dog’s dominant and the leader of the pack!” You’ve probably heard this from many dog owners, when introducing your dog. Maybe you noticed that sometimes your dog accepts another dog’s posturing and submits to being lower in that social dynamic, but other times he decides to be in charge.
Is the dog simply confused?
When researching the idea of dominant vs. submissive behavior in dogs, it can be equally confusing because trainers have several theories. But, the studies by top behaviorists and scientists all agree in one aspect: these traits are specific to the current environment or situation.
Just as our behavior changes depending on who is in the room with us (you defer to your boss or parent, while directing your employees or children), the same works for dogs’ social structures. A dog may have the tendency to be more dominant or submissive, but if he’s assessed through posturing that he can’t win, he’ll very likely submit to avoid further conflict.
2 Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy
The image of a dog wagging his tail usually will make us think of a happy day, but it’s a very common myth that all waggy tails are positive in nature. Dogs communicate both vocally and through body language (like humans!) and this includes the signals they send out with their tails.
Scientists have been studying dog body language for decades, and have figured out some aspects of canine behavior that do not necessarily agree with the common knowledge of pet owners. When it comes to tail wags, depending on the tail position and waggy speed, they can display many different emotions that reflect the current situation.
For example, a slight and slow wag can be considering an initial greeting, and based on the response from the other dog, it can quickly change to a broader “let’s be friends” wag, slow down to a high-held tail with almost no wag “I am challenging you” or down to between the legs with a quick wag “I submit, we’re cool”.
3 A dry nose means a sick dog
There are several reasons this can happen, the most common being that the nose naturally gets dry when he’s sleeping.
An older dog who sleeps a lot will consistently have a dryer nose than younger pups. It’s also possible he has allergies or has been out in the sun and got a bit sunburned. Yup, dogs can get sunburned too.
4 Dogs heal themselves by licking wounds
It was discovered years ago that the saliva of dogs contains a small amount of antibacterial properties, and this knowledge has escalated the myth among dog owners that it’s beneficial to let their pets lick their wounds or incision areas after surgeries.
First of all, dogs aren't the only ones with saliva that has wound-healing properties. Human saliva also has that, and it's even been studied how to extract those compounds from human saliva for the healing of other health issues in humans.
However, the saliva itself is not directly the main issue – there are two ways to look at it when it comes to dogs. Both human and dog saliva contain an incredible amount of bacteria which poses a risk of infection. Furthermore, while a small amount of licking isn’t necessarily harmful, the problem with continued licking is that can further damage the area by inhibiting healing cells from forming properly.
These cells create a scab that allows new skin cells to form underneath and heal the wound, but they can only form if the wound is both clean and dry. Constant licking creates a moist environment and also makes wounds susceptible to bacterial complications.
5 Dogs eat grass when they are sick
Though research shows that only a small percentage (less than 25%) will vomit after eating grass. Some dogs just love the taste, especially loving new spring growth, and will graze like cows if allowed!
Your dog might also be prone to a condition called Pica, where he might eat things like stones and soil, and this can be caused by a nutritional deficiency, stomach sensitivities or boredom. If your dog tends towards the latter, or consistently eats grass to vomit, it’s worth getting a check up at the vet to assess for any digestive issues or underlying illness.
6 Big dogs can’t live in apartments
When you have any breed of dog, you have to consider the type of environment or housing you can provide for him. Some large breed dogs are pretty active, clumsy and drool a lot, which does not mesh will with a small apartment where he could cause damage.
But the assumption that the larger the breed the worse it will be for the dog to live in an apartment is incorrect. Whether the dog is a good fit for apartment living depends on the dog's physical and mental stimulation requirements. Some medium dogs cannot live in apartments while plenty of large breeds are perfectly fine in apartments and condos.
In general, a large number of breeds do very well living in a smaller space as long as they get enough exercise during the day. If a certain breed has captured your heart but you’re stuck in a city apartment or condo and they can't fit there well, a great option these days is taking advantage of doggy daycares or dog walking services.
7 Dogs are color blind
There’s been a lot of speculation about the dog’s ability to see colors, be it specific hues or various spectrums. A well known dog fancier in the 1930’s, Will Judy (who also founded National Dog Week) first remarked that dogs only see in “varying highlights of black and grey”.
This hypothesis was widely accepted, with very little research being done until the last few decades when scientists really began to examine the eye structures of different animals, including the dog. It’s since been proven in studies that dogs can see specific spectrum of color, and they do not see in black and white.
8 All large dogs make good guard dogs
Most dog breeds can fulfill the role in a family household of Watch Dog, giving warning when strangers approach or he perceives a threat to his territory. But, a guard dog is one who is specially trained to both warn and protect, and not all large dogs are suitable for this type of training.
A large dog certainly makes a bigger impact and usually have a more intense bark, but it takes more than those traits to be considered an effective and well trained guard dog. The combination of skills and innate ability that marks a breed capable of this job are very specific, and includes dogs of all sizes.
Large dogs who have a dominant chase/prey aggression instinct aren’t suitable for guarding because it’s more difficult to for them to learn both recall and bite inhibition. If you’re considering training your dog in professional guarding skills, please use an experienced and reputable training agency who uses safe and non-abusive techniques to train their dogs.
9 You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
This proverbial saying has surprisingly been around since the 1500’s, and perpetuated ever since, being used not only in actual context relating to dogs but also perhaps when describing each others’ habits!
Although a catchy phrase, it’s certainly not true, as various studies as well as dog owners who have adopted older pets will tell you. There's a number of regular dog training methods and psychological tricks you can use to train a puppy, adult dog and senior dog the exact same way with similar results.
While there are differences in terms of how you approach dog training (older dogs get tired quicker, or may have arthritis), it’s entirely possible to train older dogs, the same way as you would puppies – with consistency, repetition and rewards. Just a couple of 10-15 minute training sessions a day, and you can teach your older dog many new commands and tricks, like shaking their paws or fetching toys. Working with your older pet also helps to keep him healthy and in good shape.
MORE MYTHS: 5 Most Common Dog Breed Stereotypes DEBUNKED
10 One year of a dog’s life is equal to 7 human years
Dogs do age quickly compared to humans, with being considered and adult at one year of age. However, the aging process is different between breeds, especially related to size, and cannot be generalized as a 1:7 ratio. Small breeds of dogs usually live longer than large breeds, with their average lifespans being around 14yrs vs. 9 yrs.
Toy dog breeds can live even longer, like Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, who have been known to live as long as 18-20 years. However, the giant breeds like Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds have a life expectancy of 6-8 years.
This difference in how dog breeds age means that larger breeds technically mature faster and a 6 yr old Great Dane can be compared to 50-60 yr old human, whereas a 6 yr old Chihuahua would be more like a 30 yr old.
11 Dogs from the same breed have the same type of personality
The combination of nature and nurture is essential for the development of behaviour, personality and survival of all species. In dogs, a majority of their personality traits do come from genetics. This includes traits such as loyalty, temperament (more friendly or distrusting of people), and excitability.
This is why testing dog's genetics with dog DNA tests has become so popular; many pet owners want to know what type of dog they've adopted. But what remains ignored is that the way dogs are raised from puppyhood will also help to shape a dog's individual personality, as all dogs are unique like people.
The genetics of personality traits and how they are affected by breeding is especially relevant to new “designer breeds”, as the above article shows that their genetic personalities can become unpredictable with each new generation. Studies have also explained how this impacts why some dogs are more independent than others. Overall, nurture and proper training become very important to raising a dog to be a good family member and loyal friend.
12 All dogs hate mail carriers
Most dogs are generally going to protect their home and territory from anyone they distrust or perceive as an intruder. The reason they continue to bark everyday, even if having the same mail carrier for years, is simply a behavioral “cause and effect” scenario that rewards the dog through his action. Intruder comes to the door, dog barks (sometimes quite ferociously!), and intruder leaves.
This consistent action leads your dog to believe it’s his bark that is making the mail carrier leave, so he continues to do so every day. He would do the same if you had daily food delivery or courier service, so it’s not specifically targeted to the post office workers. However, it’s still recommended that mail carriers or any other home delivery service be wary of dogs who are guarding their territories!
13 Female dogs need to have at least one litter of puppies
Unfortunately, this myth has led to countless unwanted and abandoned litters of puppies throughout the years, dogs that ended up in animal shelters or on the streets. Whelping can be a difficult and stressful process for the dog and pet owners, so if there's no reason for your female pup to get pregnant, then do not force it.
All studies by veterinarians and scientists have proven that this idea is false, and female dogs do not “miss anything in life” by not having the chance to give birth to puppies. Spaying your female dog at the appropriate age, depending on breed and maturity, will not only help control the overpopulation of dogs on our planet, but also save her from potential diseases like pyometra and cancer of the reproductive system.
14 Dogs in cars are fine if a window is cracked
Less and less people are inclined to believe this myth anymore, which is wonderful, considering the many recent press stories about dogs suffering and even dying of heatstroke because they were left alone in a car during hot days.
Even with a window cracked, the temperature inside a car can rise dramatically in minutes, leaving all beings (human or animal) in a potentially life-threatening situation like overheating and fatal heatstrokes.
15 A well trained dog will never bite anyone
A common situation for a lot of people is going to pet a strange dog and looking at the owner for permission, and they say “oh don’t worry, my dog never bites”. Although it may be the case that his dog has never been in a situation that would cause this behavior, it’s impossible to say that a dog would never bite.
Aggression in dogs has been extensively studied and it's a complex issue caused by a large number of factors. There are a few scenarios that would cause even the best trained dog to react in this way, the number one case being a dog in pain. Dogs in pain are unpredictable and may bite or lash out even to those trying to help him.
Also, dogs who are in a position of fear or distrust can bite, for instance if they are backed into a corner or being forced to do something they are afraid of doing – like swimming or even getting into a vehicle. So, always be aware of the situation and the dog’s body language!
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