Dispelling Common Dog Myths
Dogs have been domesticated for hundreds of years, and still, there exist some common myths about dog behaviours and their abilities. From being able to predict earthquakes and natural disasters to the “dominance” theory, we have seen multiple arguments as to what dogs can and can’t do.
In this article, we will be discussing, debunking and bringing forward the origins of some quite common myths about dogs. Whether you are an expert on dogs or you are a new dog owner, this article will help you unlearn some mythical views about our furry four-legged friends!
Dog Myth 1: Dog Mouth Cleaner Than Human Mouth?
First up, the most common and weirdly disturbing dog myth: a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. I have had a friend’s mother directly tell me this and I decided to look this up. Our consensus? It is a complete fabrication and nonsense!
Let’s go back in time and see where this dog myth comes from. An old wives’ tale is that dogs’ saliva has healing properties and when they lick their wounds, they can heal them. While technically that is correct, studies have shown that dog and human saliva, both have antibacterial properties to some extent. However, when it comes to dogs, scientists believe that it is probably due to the licking off debris and cleaning the wound that aids in healing faster.
Flash forward and see how this dog myth escalated. You ever consider where your dog’s mouth has been? Dogs may lick their genitals, paws, wounds and pick stuff off the ground (toys, treats, dropped food). But do note that this applies to a variety of other animals as well! Generally, most animals do not have very good dental hygiene. That being said, mouths (human or canine) are generally a host for different types of bacteria and viruses and are generally dirty no matter what people claim.
With this argument, it might not be the best idea to let your dog lick your face and mouth. While there’s nothing we love more, you should consider the health benefits (or the lack thereof) of such habits. Especially for older people and very young children, with weaker or compromised immune systems, doggie kisses should be a big no. That being said, you don’t need to shun your dog! A kiss from your favourite cuddle monster is alright sometimes.
Dog Myth 2: Dogs Have Supernatural Abilities?
This one may not be that far off from the truth but it’s still extrapolating to an unhealthy extent. Dog myth number two is that dogs and other animals can predict earthquakes. Now I know most of you are shaking your heads and thinking I’m being too critical because there have been reports of such incidences worldwide, but hear me out.
Everybody has heard of a few famous incidences where various animals vacated locations right before a big natural disaster hit. For example, before the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, eyewitnesses claim that a herd of elephants broke free and climbed higher ground. Another interesting recurring story is that of tagged sharks in Florida when they went to deeper waters right before a big hurricane hits the land.
Researchers have spent years in earthquake prone areas to see whether or not animals can predict these disasters. Sadly, they have concluded that there is no reproducible link between the two variables. What this means is that while animals that can hear and see beyond human abilities might be able to detect or ‘sense’ natural disasters, their odd behaviour can be attributed to other changes in the environment as well.
So it is hard to say whether your dog acting strange is due to some other environmental cue or impending disaster. Chances are, it’s the former. While elephants may actually be able to hear infrared sound waves which can travel through ground, air or water and produced by natural disasters, dogs do not have the capacity to hear these waves, even though they can hear sounds that humans cannot.
Dogs, however, have a pretty keen sense of smell. Our best guess could be that dogs can smell changes in the air produced by natural phenomena but even that link remains to be proven scientifically. Our final verdict? Please don’t use your dogs to predict earthquakes or any other natural disasters.
Dog Myth 3: Dogs Are Colour Blind… Right?
This one has be to be the most famous and longstanding one. So much so that even many dog owners don’t know the truth behind this. Word on the street (through time and memorial) is that dogs only see in shades of black, white and grey. While this makes us sympathise with these fur balls even more, you must know that there actually isn’t any science behind this. The truth (thankfully!) is far less grim.
Now time for a quick biology/anatomy lesson. What helps human beings see colour? At the back of our eyes, we have specialised cells called photoreceptors. There are two types of photoreceptors: rods and cones. Cones help us see colour while rods have to do more with visual acuity and motion.
While human beings have three types of cones (red, green and blue), dogs only have two types (blue and yellow). Humans also have a higher number of cones than dogs while dogs have a higher number of rods than humans. The result? Human beings (the ones with normal vision) can see the full range of colours while dogs see browns, yellows, grays and blues. This also means dogs can see better in low light conditions (at nighttime) as compared to humans and they also detect motion better.
Thanks to science (once again!) we have figured out the case of the colourblind dogs. The take-away from this dog myth is that your dog isn’t colour blind in the way that you think he’s colour blind. Much like colour blind human beings, dogs have fewer photopigments, but the important part is that they DO have photopigments. There is definitely a reason why he follows a yellow ball more closely than the red ball!
Dog Myth 4: My Dog Is Eating Grass; He Must Be Sick!
Everyone knows that dogs like to eat grass. This preference, however, might have nothing to do with how they’re feeling. Dogs are descendants of wolves, which were better known for eating animals whole, including their gut. One theory even mentions that eating herbivores could have predisposed dogs to the taste of grass! There are many other theory’s like this floating around, so lets find out more!
Some people claim that dogs may eat grass if they’re feeling nauseous or unwell, but it is not a sure sign of illness. There is some debate on this dog myth, though. There are some vets that firmly believe that if your dog has ingested something toxic or unhealthy, he/she may have consumed grass to induce vomiting to feel better. However, this should not be the hallmark symptom of dogs being sick since there is so much more to consider.
Another reason why your dog might eat grass is explained in studies that show that wild dogs do eat grass as well. This is often termed as Pica (Disorder characterised by dogs that eat something which is not proper food) which may reflect that a dog is lacking certain nutritional values. However that this is often recognised as being caused by boredom and often seem affecting puppies and younger dogs. It’s worth mentioning that this sort of Pica is relatively harmless.
Lastly, another reason pertaining to why your dogs might be eating grass is to help improve digestion or to increase the fiber in their diet. One known study involves a poodle which had a habit of consuming grass and throwing up for many years. Once a high-fiber diet was introduced, the poodle stopped eating grass after 3 days.
Our final word? If your dog is eating grass, you can let him but keep a few things in mind. If your grass is treated with chemicals, it may not be the best idea to let your dog munch on it. Even if it is untreated, too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing.
The next time you see your dog eating grass, don’t let him eat too much of it and keep an eye out for other fishy symptoms. However, it is entirely possible that your dog is eating grass for no other reason than that: to just eat grass because he/she likes it!
Dog Myth 5: One Dog Year = Seven Human Years
There is no doubt about the fact that animals age faster than us and have shorter lifespans but if you are under the impression that there is a specific animal age like a dog age or a cat age, then you are sorely mistaken. This is a very common misconception, even amongst seasoned dog owners. Most of us might say that one human year is equal to seven dog years. Our verdict on this idea? Completely false. The truth is far less absolute; actual dog lifespans are based on their breeds, lifestyles and sizes.
But where does this dog myth come from? Researchers first guess refers to the 1268 inscription on the floors of Westminster Abbey; the inscription calculates the lifespans of different living creatures on Earth to calculate the Day of Judgment. This included a lifespan for dogs.
The second guess, which makes a lot more sense, is the common belief that people in the 1950s observed dogs and concluded that a medium sized dog lives for about one seventh of his owner’s life. While this may make sense, it is not scientific. Not all dogs are medium-sized, and neither are they all of the same breed.
So, what is a better approach to understand how old your dog is? Quantifying developmental stages, just as we do in human beings. These life stages are puppy, junior, adult, mature, senior and geriatric. The way to think about is that dogs phase in and out of these life stages, rather than suddenly being at a certain life stage when they are a certain number of years in age.
Dog Myth 6: Guilty Dogs Look Guilty
Let’s look at some behaviour related myths related to dogs now. One of the most debatable dog myths is that we believe dogs give you the ‘guilty’ look when they know they’ve done something they weren’t supposed to do.
Research shows that this may partially be a figment of our imagination, or so to speak. While we treat dogs as our own kind, we must also understand that they are a different species. While they may not naturally know what is guilt in the wild, the reason why they look so ‘guilty’ when they have done bad things could be explained by looking at dog’s interaction with humans.
It is more likely, and research also proves this, that dogs learned to display this particular look based on their owners’ reactions. For example, they remember that chewing your shoes would result with you being upset and angry with them – even though they did it for a variety of reasons such as impulse, boredom, playfullness, etc… However, When you catch them at the scene of the crime, their reaction which often is associated with the look of ‘guilt’ could actually be a conditioned response of fear of being scolded or punished!
As complicated as it sounds, dogs may not know whether what they do could be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ the same ways we humans understand those terms. What they do know is that if they do something ‘wrong’, it simply means they did something that makes up upset or angry.
So, the truth may be that when you dog looks worried or nervous or ‘guilty’ as you may presume, he/she may really just be reacting to your body language and anticipating your next action.
Dog Myth 7: Puppies Cannot Be Trained Before They Are 6 Months Old
Another one of these myths and quite a popular one as well is that a puppy cannot be trained before 6 months and real training only begins after this time. This is an old dog myth and it has sound origins too. Back in the day, when dogs were harshly trained using heavy collar corrections, it was preferred that this type of training begin only after the dog was big enough to handle the strain of the collar.
Thankfully that is not the only method of training that we know of now. Using positive reinforcement techniques, puppies can be trained from a very young age. True, younger puppies are harder to train since they have shorter attention spans, but it is ultimately better for your dog if you start training it when it is still a puppy.
As soon as the puppy comes in to contact with his environment, he has already started learning from and associating with it. Also, it is better to start socialising your puppy at a younger age for him/her to develop a healthy personality and behaviour.
Dog Myth 8: Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
This is a much bigger problem than just tricks. People also believe that if you get an older dog or adopt one, he/she won’t be able to associate with the new family and won’t be as loving or attached as a puppy. And similarly, because that dog has already learned his behaviours and tricks, he/she will not want to learn new things or simply do not have the capacity for it.
This is utterly false; older dogs can learn to love and appreciate their new families if they are happy with them and are well taken care of. Similarly, older dogs also learn new tricks if they are taught well. Just as with human beings, once you have developed or lived with a habit for all your life, it takes time to build new habits. Also, as dogs age, their motivation for learning newer tricks decreases along with other issues such as hearing or vision loss, weaker joints, etc.
While you can train an animal at any age, an older dog may require different training techniques and more patience to train than a younger pup. However, this should not deter anyone who is thinking of adopting an older dog as it is not an issue that cannot be overcome.
Dog Myth 9: Training With Food Is Bribery
The term bribery implies that you give someone something in order for them to do something they already know how to do. That is how bribery works with humans as well as dogs. You can certainly ‘bribe’ your dog with food to get him to do something you really want but remember this will always be an already learned behaviour.
Now, an insight into general animal behaviour, including human beings. All animals function on motivation as their basic instinct. We need the motivation (a certain reward or outcome) in order for us to display a certain behaviour. For example, you get up in the morning and go to work because your motivation is survival and the reward you get is your salary.
Similarly, in order for you to perform better, you may sometimes receive verbal praise from your boss or a bonus. Additionally, you need this reward to know that you have done something right or that you need to keep displaying this behaviour.
Similarly, when you want a dog to learn something new, you have to motivate him with something he wants. Food might be the thing that your dog feels is worth working for, but you can always use other rewards such as toys, petting, playing, etc. Rewarding/reinforcing is very important for dogs to learn and comprehend that they have done something right.