Saturday, May 5, 2012

Common Dog Myths

As a dog lover, I tend to attract other dog lovers. When exchanging pleasantries and talking about our dogs, I've noticed a terrifying pattern. Many people are operating under beliefs without researching them. They are applying this information to their dogs and teaching it to others, who also take it as fact. These beliefs are strong because they usually come from a trusted family member, a news source, and/or are laced with heavy emotion. I know I used to be a victim of the belief that pit bulls were vicious dogs. My dad taught me that, even if you raised them like any other dog, they would one day just "snap," and then you're dead or worse. I'm so glad I took the time to find out for myself.

1. Mixed breeds are always healthier than purebred dogs. 

While it would be wonderful to believe this, it's definitely not always true. If you crossed a Bulldog and a Pug, do you think that dog would be healthy? That aside, it remains true that many mixed breed dogs do not have as many of the genetic diseases common in their purebred cousins.

Mixed breed dogs have the blessing of a larger gene pool than their purebred cousins. This is how they have a greater chance of avoiding genetic diseases like hip dysplasia, cancer, and epilepsy.

2. Dogs are sick when their noses are warm, or vice versa.

The temperature of a dogs nose does not indicate whether a dog has a fever or not. The only way to tell is to take their temperature with a thermometer - and I think you know where that goes! Normal temperature for a dog ranges between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees F. The myth began when canine distemper was more widespread - one of the signs a dog had distemper was thickening of the nose and foot pads, meaning the nose would be dry. A cold, wet nose meant a dog didn't have distemper.

3. Dogs should have a litter before being spayed. 

Dogs that have a litter before being spayed are no better for it. All that you'll succeed in doing is adding to the dog population, which is already incredibly high. Spaying lowers risk for breast cancer and UTIs. Neutering helps prevent testicular cancer. Dogs that have been spayed/neutered typically live longer lives than intact dogs. Many people believe that dogs that haven't had a litter would feel a void - a classic case of anthropomorphism, or giving other things/beings human characteristics. 

4. All dogs like to be petted on their heads, be hugged, etc.

Not all dogs like to be petted on their heads. The same goes for hugging, kissing, etc. Going straight for the top of a dog's head is a sure way to get nipped! The safest way to pet a dog? Let the dog approach you. Hold your hand out, palm down, and allow the dog to sniff your hand. Pet the dog under the chin, on his chest, or on his back. These are non-threatening forms of contact. Watch a dog's body language for signs the dog is uncomfortable/stressed/anxious. A dog yawning, licking its chops, not panting or panting heavily without exertion, half-moon eyes, stiff tail wagging, these are all signs of an anxious dog. 

5. Dogs have cleaner mouths than people.

It's not hard to realize where this myth came from. Dogs often lick their wounds, and it's not hard to imagine people believing their mouths contain some sort of healing wonder. If this was so true, why would vets insist that you don't let your dog lick their incision from spay/neuter operations? That's because a dog's mouth is teeming with bacteria that can cause infection. The only thing that might encourage healing is the rough tongue removing dead tissue and massaging the wound, encouraging blood flow. Long story short, dog mouths are full of germs and other icky things, but the good news is that most of those germs are dog-specific. As long as you keep your dog de-wormed and healthy, you can keep on giving doggy kisses safely!

6. Dogs can't see color.

By examining the types of cones in the dogs retina, scientists determined that dogs can see primarily in blue, greenish-yellow, yellow, and various shades of grey.

7. Dogs will let you know when they're sick.

A dog's survival instinct is to hide any sickness or weakness so that they don't become prey. By the time your dog starts acting sick, the disease is probably well advanced. The best way to avoid this? Preventive care. Keep your dog on heartworm/internal parasite prevention, flea/tick prevention, and take your dog for a yearly exam and booster shots, including rabies.

8. Table scraps are good for dogs.

Table scraps are TERRIBLE for dogs! Bones can be dangerous, breaking teeth and splintering, causing digestive damage. Fat can cause pancreatitis. Most of our food is seasoned - something else dogs don't need. If you want to give your dog some of your food, do it before it's cooked, such as raw pieces of beef, raw meaty bones, etc. Feeding your dog table scraps is a guaranteed health risk - obesity being number one.

9. Dogs don't have to be housebroken - they naturally know where to go.

This myth actually makes me laugh so hard...I cry! When I think about the hours, days, months, I spent housebreaking our dogs, I can't believe anyone would think a dog would just automatically know where to go! In the wild, dogs would house themselves in caves and dens. They wouldn't soil their den or cave, but it's different in a large house with strange textures, like carpet. You have to train your dog that they have to go outside to use the bathroom. As a puppy, crate training is an awesome tool to help teach your dog where to use the bathroom...and where not to.

10. Garlic prevents fleas.

 Garlic is actually on the list of poisonous foods for dogs. Granted, it has to be administered in large amounts, it's still best to avoid. There's no scientific evidence that garlic prevents fleas.

11. Dogs that are mostly indoors don't need heartworm prevention.

Heartworms are spread through mosquitoes, which can come indoors. All dogs, regardless of where they mainly live, should be on heartworm prevention.

12. Dogs age 7 years per 1 human year.

It's not hard to imagine where this myth came from - comparing average human and dog lifespans, creating an oversimplified way to estimate a dogs age. In reality, dogs age faster in the beginning of their lifespan and slower as they grow older. The size and breed of the dog also has a lot to do with the lifespan of a dog. Here's a great chart for estimated age.

13. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Thankfully, this myth is far from true! How else would older shelter dogs adjust to life in a new home? While it might not be easy to teach an old dog new tricks, it can be done. It just takes a little more patience and time, and the results are well worth it! One of the first things to determine is what motivates your dog. Is your dog motivated by smells, like strong-smelling treats? Or maybe more motivated by praise? Use what motivates your dog and get to work!

14. A wagging tail means a happy dog.

Check out this chart of canine body language. It's not foolproof, but it's a great place to start. Just because a dog is wagging its tail doesn't meant that it's happy...or friendly. Rather than just looking at the tail, try to read the rest of the body language. Is the dog in the playful position? Or is the dog stiff, its tail held high in a stiff wag? Misreading body language is a sure way to get bitten!

15. Playing tug of war can increase aggression.

A lot of dogs can get really into this game - snarling, growling, yanking. While it would seem that this would increase aggressive behavior, the truth is the game is innocent. In fact, there is scientific evidence that playing games like tug of war can actually serve as an outlet for aggressive tendencies and decrease anxiety and aggressive behaviors. This game isn't for every dog. Some dogs can easily switch between winning and losing with no long term effects. Other dogs may not take defeat so easily. Before engaging in tug of war, talk with a trusted vet or trainer in regards to your particular dogs needs, and which toys are better for your dogs teeth. Good obedience skills before engaging in games like tug of war include "take it," "leave it," and "drop it."
16. Dogs eat grass when they're sick.

Way back before dogs were domesticated, their ancestors ate all of their kill, including what their kill had eaten, which usually consisted of grasses and leaves. Some dogs actually like grass and eat it on a regular basis. Too much grass can irritate the stomach and induce vomiting.

17. Pit bulls have locking jaws and other myths.

This is a biggie, it seem. Pit bulls do not have locking jaws, nor do any other dogs. There is also no breed of dog that is more aggressive than any other. Pit bull is not a breed - it's a stereotype. No dog will ever turn on a person without reason. (People may cite dogs like our Otto, who was mentally impaired, as a dog that would turn "without reason," but his very impairment was a reason.)

18. There's no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog.

When it comes to dog allergies, there is no dog breed that your allergies are impervious to. The so-called hypoallergenic dogs that are often recommended to allergy-sufferers include Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, and Schnauzers. According to vets, these dogs shed less, therefore producing less dander. Dander is often the main culprit when it comes to dog allergies. There is still not enough evidence to support that any of these dogs are the answer to people who want dogs, yet are allergic to dogs.

19. A dog shouldn't be allowed to sleep with you or on the couch or it will lead to misbehavior.

Like people, dogs like to sleep where they are most comfortable. If comfortable can be combined with being near their human, it's a bonus! For the average dog, behavioral problems will arise from letting your dog sleep where they want, although letting your pooch sleep with you can cause YOU sleeping problems. In rare cases, dogs can become aggressive in regards to their sleeping area(s), and training will be necessary.

20. A dog that cowers likely has an abusive past.

Dogs cower for a multitude of reasons. More often than not, it's because the dog was not properly socialized or had negative experiences as a puppy. Dogs can also be fearful through genetics. Dogs could also shy away because they have learned to dodge people trying to grab her, or is uncomfortable with certain types of petting. With timid dogs, the best approach is to get on their level, your body turned toward the side, and then inviting the dog to approach you. Using this method will increase the dog's confidence.

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