Busting Dog Myths 101

Written by: Marie Collett and Erin Wigginton, CPDT-KA
We’ve all heard at least one kind of popular dog myth at some time or other, haven’t we?  Since Helping Hounds is focused on education, we thought it was time to debunk some of the popular myths floating around about our beloved fur-friends.  Don’t see the myth you were thinking of?  Let us know by commenting below!  We would be happy to answer any questions about popular doggy myths in future posts!

Myth #1: Dogs don’t see in color. 

Dog Sight

Dogs actually see in shades of bluish-gray and yellow.  Studies performed demonstrated that dogs tend to discriminate real color rather than brightness cues, according to an article posted by Ethology Institute Cambridge. To read their entire article, click here.

Myth #2: A warm, dry nose means the dog is sick.

The way a dog’s nose feels at any given time has less to do with general health and is more impacted by whatever activity the dog was recently engaged in.  For example, if a dog was playing outside in the heat, his nose will probably be warm and dry.  But once the dog has come inside and taken a drink, his nose will likely be wet and cooler.  That said, if you feel that your dog could be sick, always listen to your gut feeling.  If you are concerned at any time about your dog’s health, it is always best to bring him to a vet. 

Myth #3: Dogs’ mouths are cleaner than human mouths.


Let’s take a moment to consider the types of things dogs put in their mouths.  They may eat from a floor, play with a favored but tattered toy, wash their bodies, groom other pets, and some even have a preference for litter box “treasures”.  In addition to this, about 15-20% of dog bites become infected.  The Center for Disease Control recommends thoroughly washing up with soap and water after being in contact with dogs or dog saliva, in order to avoid becoming sick.  Whether their mouths are cleaner than human mouths or not, they are not clean in general.

Myth #4: Female dogs should always experience at least one heat cycle before being spayed.


Some people believe this may allow the dog to mature faster, but unfortunately there is no scientific proof of this claim.  There is proof, however, that each time a dog goes through another heat cycle, it increases her risk of mammary or uterine cancer.  These heat cycles also put the dog at risk of pregnancy.  With the current problem of overpopulation, each of those pregnancies only adds to an already large-scale problem.  It is best t have your dog spayed (or neutered) as soon as they are old enough according to your veterinarian. 

Myth #5: Puppies should be at least 6 months old before they begin training.

Benny Puppy 1

Actually, puppies may respond to stimulus as son as their eyes and ears are open.  3-4 weeks is the earliest age to get a possible response.  For training, the earlier you begin, the better.  And since the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life is so crucial to their development, here is a helpful list of proper puppy socialization from veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Sophia Yin. 

Myth #6: A wagging tail means a happy dog.


Dogs use their eyes, mouths, ears, bodies, and tails to communicate with those around them, human and canine both.  And while a wagging tail can sometimes mean he is happy, it could also indicate hyper arousal, excitement, or even potential aggression.  Because dogs use so much of their bodies to communicate, it’s best to take the movement of the tail in conjunction with the other cues he is giving and consider the context of the situation as well.  To learn more about the signals dogs are sending, Helping Hounds periodically offers a seminar on canine body language.  If you would like to be notified when we schedule our next seminar, you can be added to our future class mailing list by e-mailing us at info@helpinghoundstraining.com.  

Myth #7: Cowering means a dog has been abused in the past.


While this may be sadly true in some instances, it is not always the case.  Cowering is simply part of canine body language.  It can mean the dog is uncomfortable with a situation but that discomfort could be for a variety of reasons, not necessarily that she was previously abused.  To learn more about canine body language, here are some helpful books on the subject.  On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas and Canine Body Language:  Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog by Brenda Aloff.  

Myth #8: Dogs enjoy hugs.


Some dogs don’t mind being hugged or tolerate it better, but generally most dogs find it very uncomfortable or even threatening.  In fact, hugging can often result in children being bitten on the face by the dog after his more subtle clues of discomfort have been ignored.  Many people will claim the dog “just bit out of nowhere” when in fact the clues were there, they just weren’t understood.  To learn more, check out this wonderful blog (complete with video!) from Doggone Safe about safe and appropriate ways to interact with dogs.  Doggone Safe is a wonderful organization that focuses on bite prevention through education.

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