Dog Myths: Don’t Be Fooled by These Common Beliefs

Dog Myths Debunked

In Honor of April Fool’s Day, PugetPets is making April Pet Myth-Busting Month! To find out how we debunked some all-too-common myths about pet fish, visit our March 15th post. This month we’ll take a look at ten surprisingly common misconceptions about dogs and cats. In this post, we’ll examine five dog myths. Don’t be fooled! Read on to increase your Pet IQ by learning about some prevailing dog myths and why they are not true!

Myth #1: Dogs are Colorblind.

This is one of the most common dog myths, but FALSE. Dogs can see some colors. However, unlike humans, who have three different color-sensitive cone cells in their retina, dogs have only two. This makes the color vision of dogs similar to that of a person suffering from deuteranopia (red-green color blindness). Red, yellow and green perceived as one hue. Blue and purple are perceived as a second hue. Cyan and magenta are perceived as a third, neutral hue (shades of gray). This means that dogs can’t distinguish green, yellow or red objects based on their color. They can still distinguish a red ball from a green one, though, if they perceive a difference in brightness between the two. Color vision is just one factor in a dog’s sight. Brightness, movement and contrast also provide visual messages. An additional factor is visual acuity or “sharpness.” A dog’s visual acuity is four to eight times less sharp than that of humans. Check out András Péter’s website dog-vision.com for more information about canine vision. Péter’s site includes a cool online tool that allows you to select an image of your own, process it through filters and see what the same image might look like to your dog. It’s a fun window on the canine world!

Myth #2: One Dog Year is Seven Human Years.

Recent research has shown this method to be outdated. 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 year-old dog is basically like a human teenager, while a seven-year-old dog is more like a middle-aged human. So the older a dog is, the more accurate the seven-year theory becomes. Most importantly, the size and breed of the dog factor strongly in the dog’s rate of aging and lifespan. Many small breed dogs are known to live 15 to 20 years. However, giant breeds typically live around seven to 10 years. Curiously, young giant breed dogs tend to reach adulthood more slowly than the average dog, despite their shorter lifespans. Read this post by Petful to see the new guidelines for determining dog (and cat) age.

Myth #3: A Wagging Tail is a Sign of a Happy Dog.

Some dog myths are only myths part of the time. Tail-wagging can be a sign of happiness, as we all know. But it can also be a sign of anxiety, fear or even impending aggression. According to popular dog specialist Cesar Milan, “it really depends on how the dog is wagging his tail. Studies have shown that when a dog wags his tail to his right—to the left as you’re facing the dog—it means he wants to approach and is friendly. However, when he wags his tail to his left, it’s a warning to back off.” This may not be an absolute rule (we’ve all seen that rotating windmill tail on some happy lab!), but it serves to illustrate the complex nature of canine body language. Wagging speed is another indicator of a dog’s mood. A broad sweep of the tail indicates happiness, but short, rapid motions that may appear vibrating are a warning sign. Position of the tail is also important. Tail down conveys submission and possibly fear or nervousness. If the tail is horizontal and relaxed, then the dog is calm and happy. However, a stiff and/or vertical tail is a serious warning to stay away. Always consider total body language before approaching a dog you don’t know.

dog myths

Myth #4: Banned Breeds are Aggressive by Nature.

This is one of the most controversial dog myths, but studies show that any dog can be aggressive without proper socialization and training. Based on examination of dog-bite statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that no specific breed is inherently dangerous or vicious and that all dogs have the capacity to bite and show aggression. In fact, American Temperament Test Society results show that some of the dogs we tend to think of as “aggressive and dangerous” rank higher up on the friendly end of the spectrum than dogs that we commonly perceive as harmless. While it’s true that a large-breed dog can be more dangerous when acting aggressively, any breed can show aggression toward other dogs or humans. It isn’t the breed that’s the cause, but rather the way a dog is raised and treated by humans. Even if a dog hasn’t been mistreated or “fight-trained,” a dog’s protective instinct has the potential to result in “aggressive” behavior. In the absence of structured training, a dog that wants to protect will try to figure out the “rules” for what, who and how to protect on his or her own. This means it’s up to humans to provide the appropriate guidelines. Dogs need our help to navigate the human world and learn our expectations for their behavior. The Humane Society of the United States provides a fact-sheet with a full list of agencies and organizations that, like the CDC, have opposed breed bans (Breed-Specific Legislation) based on scientific studies.

Myth #5: Playing Tug-of-War Can Cause Aggression.

Playing tug-of-war with dogs has also been a subject of debate. Some feel the game causes aggression or dominant behavior and should not be played. The truth is that tug-o-war is not any different from other types of play that involve a dog’s predatory instinct, such as chasing and fetch. Tug-of-war is a natural game for dogs that they play with one another, and a well-socialized pup knows the difference between play and real aggression. Tug-of-war has many benefits for dogs. The game provides great mental and physical stimulation for your dog, helps reinforce your bond and is something you can do to entertain your dog indoors. Before playing tug-of-war with your dog, it’s important to establish the rules of the game. Make sure your dog knows and obeys a release command, such as “give” or “drop it” beforehand, so you can end the game when necessary. Teach the dog to be mindful of his or her teeth when playing. If you are uncomfortable with the amount of contact your dog’s teeth make with your hand, let out a high-pitched yelp or “Ow!” and take a break from the game. This will let your dog know to be careful not to hurt you. Growling while playing tug-o-war is a totally normal part of play. It’s even okay to growl back! Your dog will understand that you are playing. However, dogs, just like kids, can get carried away with the excitement of a game and go too far. End the game for awhile if you are uncomfortable or think your dog is getting “serious.” You can read more detailed guidelines for a safe and fun game of tug-o-war here and let go of one of the most tenacious dog myths!