For the thousands of years we humans have spent with dogs, it is not surprising that lots of nuggets of wisdom have popped up. Many are taken as gospel, but what is really true?
We look at some of the most commonly believed ‘truths’ relating to dogs and ask which are fact and which are fiction. Can you spot the dog myths?
Sick dogs have a warm, dry nose
One of the biggest dog myths going is that healthy dogs have cold wet noses and unwell dogs have dry warm noses. This was maybe based on some common sense, possibly from the noted signs of distemper or of course a general fever, but a dog’s nose it is not a sole indication of health. If you want to know if your dog has a fever, take their temperature.
One dog year equals seven human years
This myths persists to this day with people working out their dog’s human age by multiplying it by seven. It is quick and easy to work out but not all that accurate. Firstly it doesn’t take into account the fact that smaller dogs can live into their teens while bigger dogs typically have shorter lives. Secondly, different sized dogs develop at different rates. Small dogs actually reach adulthood faster than big dogs, despite their longer lifespans.
Dogs are as intelligent as children
Yep, dogs are much more than just cute, loyal companions. There is a lot going on in those furry little heads. Many studies have shown that dogs are as intelligent as a child of about 2 years old. Dogs have been shown to understand a great many of our words and gestures, they have highly developed social and spacial skills and can even count. Wow.
Only male dogs hump or lift a leg to pee
Mostly it is the males who do the humping but don’t be surprised if the girls also perform this activity, especially if they are entire. Females can hump for pretty similar reasons that males do and it is not always sexual. Excitement, frustration, playfulness and even dominance can lead to humping behaviour. A territorial and/or dominant female or a female wishing to advertise her breeding presence may even lift her leg to pee, to get her mark up as high as she can. Similarly, a male dog at home with little reason to mark or who feels they have nothing to prove may simply squat to pee.
Dogs can eat anything
Luckily word is getting around that this is simply not true. There are a surprising amount of human foods that dogs should never be given. Some will upset their tummies while others can be fatal, so it is important to know what foods are bad for dogs. Please check out and share these links:
This is a classic case of anthropomorphism; attaching human motives and characteristics to other animals. Dogs don’t do things to be naughty. Dogs do dog things. If they chew your slippers or pee on your best rug, they are not trying to aggravate you or earn themselves a place on the naughty step. Dogs simply don’t think that way.
Similarly, dogs looking crouched and sad are not suffering from guilt. They don’t feel guilty and, as mentioned, they weren’t being ‘naughty’ in the first place. A ‘guilty’ looking dog is responding to your anger and negative body language.
Dog poo can make children go blind
This is true. Toxocariasis can severely damage a child’s eyesight. It is caused by the larvae of Toxocara canis roundworm, the eggs of which can be found in a non-wormed dog’s poop. The eggs in the poop may be touched by children and ingested. When the eggs hatch into larvae they can migrate to other parts of the human body, including the eyes. It is therefore important to worm your dogs and clean up poop properly. It is also why dogs are often prohibited from children’s playing areas, so respect those ‘no dogs allowed’ notices.
Tail wagging always means happiness
This is a widely held and very dangerous misconception. A wagging tail is not always a sign of a happy dog. Tail wagging can also indicate that the dog is feeling nervous or aggressive. It is important to look at the whole range of body language being displayed.
As a side note, recent research discovered that the tail wag is much more complex than previously thought. While a right sided tail wag is more likely to indicate happiness, a tail wag to the left is more often an indication of something less friendly. Not only that, but dogs understand the difference. Interesting.
Dogs eat grass in order to induce vomiting
This one is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. This myth probably came about because dog owners saw their dog eat grass and then sometimes vomit as a result. As humans we assume that was the dog’s intention but possibly they just like eating grass and they ate too much, which made them sick.
Dog's mouths are cleaner than ours
There is no reason at all why this should be true. We all have bacteria in our mouths, dogs included and just think of all the places your dog's tongue has been. I’m not fussy about dog kisses at all but I wouldn’t go as far as saying they were clean
Rescue dogs are problem dogs
There is a misconception that rescue dogs have behavioural problems but if you look at why most dogs are in rescue it is often the owner that is at fault or situations have changed at home that are nothing to do with the dog. Rescue centres are full of perfectly adjusted and well behaved dogs who are lacking nothing but a good home.
Scooting is a sign of worms
When a dog is seen scooting his or her bottom across the floor, the automatic assessment has always been “they have worms”, but this is not necessarily so. The most common reason for scooting is actually full or inflamed anal sacs/glands. It can be painful so needs to be checked out by your vet if the scooting behaviour persists. Find out more When and How to Empty Your Dog's Anal Glands
All dogs have smelly breath
A dog’s breath should not really smell any more than ours should. If their general health and oral health is tip top, their breath should not be offensive. If your dog has bad breath it is best to get it checked out.
Dogs can never be left alone with children
Absolutely true. No matter how well you know your dog, no matter how small, cute, gentle or loving they are… never leave a dog, any dog, alone with a child. Even when they are together and you are watching over the situation, make sure the child either leaves the dog alone or treats it with respect.
Choke chains stop your dog pulling on the lead
Not only is the answer “no”, you could do your dog serious damage. Choke chains were not invented for this purpose.
Dogs are colour blind
This was a widely held misconception but as science has progresses it is now believed that dogs can see in colour, but not necessarily the same wide range of colours that we can see. Humans can distinguish red, blue, green and yellow while dogs can distinguish blue and yellow but not red and green. However, dogs are better than us humans when it comes to spotting movements and they can also see better than us in low light conditions.
Dogs should have a season or litter before being spayed
With breast cancer awareness at an all time high, it is important to know that breast cancer doesn’t just affect humans. Dogs can also get mammary cancer. In fact it is even more common in dogs than in humans. Why am I talking about mammary tumours here? The presence of female hormones in the mammary glands seems to contribute to mammary tumours. Studies suggest that unspayed bitches are at an increased risk of developing mammary tumours, and it seems the earlier you spay the better. Many vets recommend a bitch be spayed before her first season, which will reduce the risk of developing mammary tumours to less than 1%.
Rub your dog’s nose in it
This is a real blast from the past that sadly still persists today. Rubbing your dog’s nose in their mess was supposed to somehow house-train them. It’s disgusting, barbaric and teaches the dog nothing but fear and confusion. Never rub your dog’s nose in accidents. House training should always be done calmly and with kindness, like any dog training.
Cross breeds are healthier
Yes, just ask the insurance companies. Obviously there are always exceptions but as a general rule this is true. Cross breeds generally live longer, healthier lives than the average pure breed.
Growling is bad
No, growling is communication. If you punish the growl you eliminate a major warning your dog can give and increase your chances of getting snapped at instead. With a growl a dog is trying to tell you something. Listen, see it as communication and ask yourself “what is your dog telling you and why?”
Dogs are essentially wolves
This is old hat. Dogs are domesticated and far removed from their wolf ancestors. Any dog training or behavioural advice and even feeding advice that is based on wolves and their needs is best ignored when dealing with the domestic dog.
Using food in training is bribery and to be avoided
All of us, humans and dogs alike, need encouragement and something to signal we did it right. Food is a great for motivation and reward. Using a favourite toy, praise etc... is motivating and rewarding too.
Cleaning a dog’s teeth is optional
No more than cleaning our own teeth. It depends whether you or your dog want tooth decay and gum disease. All dogs need their teeth cleaned. Some people say that they feed their dog dry or hard foods so they don't need to clean their dog’s teeth. Not true. You still need to. Buy a dog toothbrush and some dog toothpaste (never human toothpaste) and get brushing.
Ticks can be burnt off
This is not a good idea at all. Ticks should always be removed as soon as possible from your dog, promptly and completely to avoid potential illness, but it must be done correctly. You must never burn a tick off or apply alcohol, surgical spirit or anything else to it. The application of any solution or anything hot or cold can cause the tick to regurgitate the contents of its stomach, which may contain infective organisms.
Surgical spirit, alcohol, or general antiseptic should only be applied to the bite site after the tick has been removed with the correct tool.
Old dogs are much like human OAPs. They can learn but they may seem less responsive to learning new things and more set in their ways. Don’t be too quick to write them off. They may not have ceaseless enthusiasm and bounce about with excitement but that doesn’t mean they aren’t having fun. Don't leave old dogs to rot physically and mentally away. All dogs of any age love to learn and find it fun and stimulating. Think up some fun things to play that are within their physical capabilities and have fun
Dogs can be left in parked cars for 10 minutes
Leaving your dog in a parked car even for a short period of time on even only a mild day can prove fatal. The temperature inside the car might not seem excessive when you first stop but the temperature can rapidly increase. Never risk it. Even on a cool day, don’t leave your dog alone in your car. The risk of theft is another reason why this is a bad idea. You wouldn’t leave your handbag, laptop or other valuables alone and in full view so don’t put your dog in that situation either. Similarly, don’t tie your dog up outside shops, even just to pop in.
It is always best to adopt a puppy
Sadly older dogs are often overlooked by potential rehomers and are left in rescue, while pups and younger dogs get all the attention and forever homes. This is a real pity. An older dog would be much more suitable for so many people.
Adult dogs and oldies are great for people who want to bypass those crazy puppy years. The benefits of rehoming an adult dog are numerous.
The sense of smell aspect is absolutely true. Dogs are master smellers. Their noses are packed full of scent receptors (many more than us) and even their brains are better at identifying scents. Their noses are specially shaped to smell as they breathe both in and out (rather than just on the in-breath like humans). When dogs smell something they are getting loads of useful information from who has been where, what their health is like and even their mood. Amazing.
If we believed the dog food adverts we would think that dogs also had a great sense of taste but this is not so. Dogs have less taste buds than humans and their tongues have evolved to decipher different tastes to us. An amazing fact I learnt while researching this article is that dogs can actually taste water. They have taste buds that are tuned especially to tasting water, which we don’t have. Wow. No wonder they love lapping up that H2O.
Just a bit of fun trivia for you. Did you know that dogs don’t actually lap ‘up’ water. Watch this fascinating video to see how they really drink. This amazing slow motion footage is from ITV’s Secret Life of Dogs.