13 Common “Facts” About Dogs That Are Totally False
You may think you know everything there is to know about pups, but it’s entirely possible that you’ve fallen for at least a few common dog “facts” that are actually completely untrue. With help from vets, dog trainers, and behaviorists, we’re busting the most egregious dog myths.
A wagging tail always means a happy dog
Though a wagging tail often does denote an excited or happy dog, that’s not always the case. A 2013 study that appeared in the journal, Current Biology, found that different types of wag speeds and placements mean different things. “For example, a vigorous tail wag to the right means happiness at seeing their owner, but slow wags of a tail held half-way down can mean fear or insecurity,” explains Jess Trimble, DVM, chief veterinary officer for Fuzzy Pet Health. “Additionally, a tail held very high and wagged extremely fast can mean fear or aggression for some dogs.” Tail wagging is just one way that your dog communicates with you—find out the other secrets your dog wishes they could tell you.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
“It is true that puppies are little sponges, making it so easy to teach them new things with gentle, positive reinforcement methods. But make no mistake, old dogs can learn, too,” says Trish McMillan, a certified animal behaviorist based in Mars Hill, North Carolina. “For example, the nine-year-old Doberman I adopted a few years ago earned her Canine Good Citizen title within a few months.” She notes that while extremely geriatric dogs may be a little trickier to train if they have vision, hearing, or mobility issues, as long as their brain is in good shape and are nurtured, they can absolutely be trained.
Dogs only see in black and white
This dog “fact” is arguably one of the most perpetuated myths out there, but it’s not completely true. “Dogs can see some color, but the spectrum is limited,” says Adam Christman, DVM, and co-chief of staff at New Jersey’s Brick Town Veterinary Hospital. “Humans and most other primates have three kinds of cones in our eyes, making us trichromatic, whereas dogs are bichromatic.” Because dogs are bichromatic, they do have a tendency to mix up greens and reds.
You should let dogs you’ve just met sniff your hand
This is a well-intentioned line of thinking, but a perpetuated myth nonetheless. In actually, you should not stick your hand out toward any dog you’ve just met. “In our human interactions, it’s second nature to offer a handshake or a fist bump, but we must remember that dogs aren’t humans,” says Guillermo Roa, a credentialed dog trainer and founder of GR Pet Services in Long Island, New York. “Sticking out your hand can be misinterpreted as a sign of aggression and a dog may bite you. It’s better to just calmly wait for the dog to approach you if it is interested in doing so. If you must approach a new dog, do it from the side and avoid staring.”
One dog year is equivalent to seven human years
Though dogs do age more quickly compared to us, the seven-to-one ratio isn’t quite accurate. “Their comparative age depends entirely on breed, size, and genetic makeup,” says Dr. Trimble. “The bigger your dog is, the faster he ages. I have patients that are 10-pound terriers that still act like puppies at 16 years and would be considered around 75 to 80 in human years. In contrast, a Great Dane at 16 would be a record and considered to be over 130 years of age.”
When a dog’s nose is warm and dry it means she’s sick
There’s a perpetuated dog myth out there that implies a healthy dog’s nose is always cold and wet. Warm and dry noses are completely normal, though, so don’t worry if this is the usual state of your dog’s snout. Dr. Christman says, “Everything from dry air to allergies to simply taking a nap can affect the wetness of your dog’s nose. However, while nose health isn’t normally concerning, if you notice your pet’s nose is constantly dry, cracking or running—not simply wet—then you should make an appointment with the veterinarian.” On the other hand, if you notice any of these signs, your pup could be sick.
Spaying or neutering at a young age will prevent future behavioral issues
“Spaying and neutering dogs at a young age was happening at an alarming rate several years ago, and many veterinarians took the stance of ‘the younger the better,’” says Adam Gibson, a dog trainer and director of Top Dog Texas. The idea is that early neutering or spaying will curb behavior issues as the pet gets older, but Gibson points out that several studies have shown this to be untrue. He adds, “There are also added health benefits to allowing dogs to keep their reproductive organs intact into adulthood.” The community is responding to this new data, and more vets and owners are holding off six months to a year to remove reproductive organs.
A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s
If a dog’s saliva was antibacterial as the myth states, they’d basically be walking medical superheroes. Though they are superheroes in their own right, this is one myth we’ve got to put to rest. “While dog saliva has a slightly more alkaline pH, which can discourage some bacteria from reproducing, it’s not truly antibacterial. In fact, it can cause illness in humans,” says Dr. Trimble. “As a vet, one of the most common causes of canine skin infections we see is from a dog licking a wound or itchy spot too much” To further the point, this 2012 study on the Canine Oral Microbiome identified 353 different types of bacteria living in dog’s mouths. It’s not just your dog’s mouth you need to be cautious of—these are other ways your pet could be making you sick.
Dogs are actually wolves and should eat like them
Helen E. Grose/Shutterstock
Dogs and wolves may come from the same lineage but treating them as an interchangeable species is wrong and can lead to poor health consequences. Dr. Trimble explains that dogs evolved from wolves more than 11,000 years ago, and over that evolution, they’ve become two entirely different creatures. “Dogs should not eat a wild-wolf type diet that’s becoming so popular by boutique pet food manufacturers,” she says. Notably, studies have determined they’re far superior at digesting starches (such as wheat and rice), which are a key part of a nutritional diet. Find out what dog food brands vets feed their own dogs.
You have to show your dog “who’s alpha”
McMillan explains that the alpha wolf theory became super popular in the dog training world after wolves were first studied in captivity. However, with time we’ve learned dominance isn’t the best approach. “Later studies of wild wolves showed that packs are just families, with the older wolves caring for and teaching the younger ones until they’re old enough to leave,” says McMillan. “Modern dog trainers use behavioral principles to look at the antecedents and consequences of behavior, managing the environment, meeting dogs’ needs for social time, enrichment, and exercise, and teaching dogs what we want them to do rather than solely punishing them when they misbehave.” Find out 15 more dog training secrets dog trainers won’t tell you for free.