Call them legends or even “old wives tales,” but don’t call them facts. Some of these dog myths have been around for centuries, but in reality many are simply myths that amount to bad advice. Here we debunk some of the biggest misconceptions about dogs.
Dog Myth 1: A Warm or Dry Nose Means a Dog is Sick
This one is probably the biggest dog health myth around. Somewhere along the line, people came to the conclusion that a cold, wet nose is a sign of a healthy dog and a warm or dry nose is a sign of illness.
How it Began
Like many myths, the origins of this are not definitively known but are likely rooted in fact. Canine distemper is a deadly virus that was once quite prevalent. One symptom of advanced distemper is hyperkeratosis (thickening) of the nose and footpads. Basically, the nose and pads of the feet become hard and dry. Back when distemper was more widespread, a cool, wet nose was considered a good sign that the dog did not have distemper. While canine distemper still occurs, thanks to vaccinations it is far less common today.
The temperature and moisture of your dog’s nose are not miracle measurements of his health. For instance, a dog’s nose is often dry and/or warm if he has just woken up, and this is perfectly normal. However, a nose that is persistently dry and crusted might be a sign of a health problem. If you notice an abnormal appearance to your dog’s nose or any other signs of illness, contact your vet right away.
Dog Myth 2: Dog Mouths Are Cleaner Than Human Mouths
Some of us may recall hearing this as kids, particularly if a dog licked your face or sampled whatever you were currently eating. “Don’t worry about it! Didn’t you know that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than yours?”
How it Began
The idea that dogs’ mouths are clean was probably surmised by the fact that dogs lick their wounds and sometimes heal faster because of it. In reality, if a wound heals faster after a dog licks it, that’s because his rough tongue has been removing dead tissue and stimulating circulation, much like a surgeon would debride a wound. On the other hand, licking wounds can sometimes cause more harm than good by introducing bacteria and/or irritating the wound. Guess the people who came up with this myth did not think about the dog wounds that did not heal properly.
A dog’s mouth contains plenty of germs, not to mention other “icky” things. Think about the stuff your dog eats off the ground and out of the trash, or the things he licks off of himself. Plus, many dogs do not get their teeth brushed as regularly as people, so there is the dental tartar and bacteria to consider (as if doggie breath didn’t give this away). Overall, a dog’s mouth contains more germs than anyone wants to think about. But the good news is that these germs are usually dog-specific and unlikely to cause any harm to humans. Basically, if you keep your dog healthy, dewormed and up-to-date on vaccines, there is little to worry over. Better yet, take care of your dog’s teeth and there’s even less going on in that mouth. So, a little “kiss” from your dog is nothing to fret about, but I wouldn’t go sharing water bowls or letting your dog lick your wounds.
Dog Myth 3: Dogs See in Black and White
It was once believed that dogs could see only in black and white (and shades of gray). Many people still think this is the case.
How it Began
There is no evidence behind the origins of this myth, but it may have to do with old science. It could be that scientists came to the conclusion that dogs see in black and white before they fully understood the canine eye (or even the human eye for that matter) and the functions of cones.
Dogs can see color, but not the way most humans do. Based of the types of cones in the canine retina, dogs probably see colors best on the blue side of the spectrum. Canine color vision is thought to be similar to red-green colorblindness in humans, though not exactly the same. It is believed that dogs see primarily in blue, greenish-yellow, yellow and various shades of gray.
Dog Myth 4: Dogs Age Seven Years for Every Human Year
Saying that a one-year-old dog is seven in dog years does not really make sense when you consider that dogs can reproduce well before one year of age. That would make 15-year-old dog 105 in dog years, which is not the case. Plenty of dogs live to 15 and are still healthy, far more than the humans who live past 100.
How it Began
Someone probably looked at the average lifespan of people versus the average lifespan of dogs and made the estimate of seven dog years for every human year. It’s really just an over-simplified way of describing the rate at which a dog ages.
Obviously, dogs age at a faster rate than humans. However, that rate is faster early in life and seems to get slower with age. For instance, a one-year-old dog is basically like a human teenager, but an eight-year-old dog is like a middle-aged human (the latter matches up more closely with the seven-year theory). Most importantly, the size and breed of the dog has a lot to do with its aging rate and lifespan. Many small breeds are known to live 15-20 years while a lot of giant breeds only live 7-10 years. In a strange twist, young giant breed dogs tend to reach adulthood more slowly than the average dog, despite their shorter lifespans.
Dog Myth 5: A Wagging Tail Means a Happy Dog
This common misconception could lead to an unfortunate dog bite. Yes, dogs tend to wag their tails when happy and excited. However, they are known to wag their tails for other reasons.
How it Began
The image of the happy, bright-eyed dog jumping for joy with a wagging tail is the way we all love to see our dogs. Tail wagging has been associated with happy dogs for so long it’s hard to say how this generalization began, but it is rooted in truth.
Canine body language can get pretty complex. Tail wagging is just one of the many ways dogs communicate. While it is true that tail wagging is often an indication of happiness, it can sometimes be a sign of fear, anxiety or other potential precursor to aggression. Rather than looking just at the tail, it is best to pay attention to a dog’s overall body language to determine its mood.
Dog Myth 6: Tug of War Can Cause Aggression
There has been much debate over playing tug-of-war with dogs. Some feel the game causes aggression or dominant behavior, warning people to never play tug-of-war with their dogs. Actually, the truth is just the opposite.
How it Began
People probably noticed they way some dogs got so into the game – growling and snarling. Naturally, it would seem that playing the game simply reinforces those aggressive behaviors.
Many dogs truly enjoy playing tug-of-war, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a healthy display of their predatory nature and an excellent mental and physical workout. Tug-of-war is also a great way to reinforce the human-canine bond. Over the years, many professional dog trainers have noticed that the game actually decreases aggressive and dominant behaviors in dogs, kind of like an outlet for these emotions. Some experts say the human should always win the game, while others say the dog should always win. In reality, it probably depends on the dog. Winning tug-of-war boosts your dog’s confidence, while losing might humble him. If you dog has no behavior problems, you can probably switch up the winning and losing. If you are in doubt, find a dog trainer and ask for advice. The most important thing to remember: if your dog’s teeth ever touch your flesh, the game is over for the time being.