How well do you know your canine cutie?
Perhaps you feel that your dog is the sweetest, most adorable canine on the planet – likely true, but you may be surprised to find that there’s a lot to learn about your beloved furry friend.
Humans took a keen interest in dogs (wolves) a very long time ago – enough time to develop some considerable, era-spanning myths about our canine companions. A startling amount of misinformation and half-truths have been repeated enough times about dogs to make it appear like conventional wisdom.
As pet lovers, we assume the responsibility to provide our furry friends with the best care possible. To do that, we need to understand our dogs’ needs and debunk misconceptions – we need to know how to keep them healthy and happy.
We don’t plan to address ALL dog myths, but our Top 7 seems like a good place to start.
QUICK LINKS: 7 Dog Myths Debunked
1. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
2. When my dog eats grass, it signals an upset stomach.
3. Garlic is an excellent remedy for fleas and ticks.
4. Rescue dogs are damaged – that’s why they’re rescue dogs.
5. I’m the pack leader – I need to show my dog who’s boss.
6. Dogs are colour blind – they only see the world in black and white.
7. Rubbing a dog’s nose in his “mess” prevents indoor “accidents”.
Myth #1: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
One of the oldest – and most recognizable – myths in the book!
This well-known saying has existed for hundreds of years, being used not only in relation to dogs, but also when describing human habits! This common phrase is used to explain why older humans may feel stuck in their ways and find it more difficult to learn than younger folk. There is a modicum of truth in this or it wouldn’t have prevailed for as long as it has. However, this myth is a not true when it comes to dogs.
It’s true that puppies’ brains absorb information like a sponge and acquire good habits (or bad!) quickly. This doesn’t mean that adult dogs can’t be trained – it just takes a bit more time.
Our canine pals are highly food-motivated, especially for savoury, protein-rich treats like chicken or beef – food that a dog’s scent can pick up immediately. This is a great way to reward good work.
All dogs crave mental stimulation, regardless of their age. Teaching your senior dog a new talent is a gratifying experience for them, as it strengthens their bond with you and provides their brain with much-needed exercise. However, you do need to take other factors into consideration that generally don’t apply to puppies. These factors may include less energy, degraded physical health and/or mental health issues.
Adult dogs may require a bit more patience, but they are more than capable of learning new skills – from housebreaking to advanced directives. Make training sessions fun and keep them positive – just be aware of their physical needs and limitations.
Myth #2: When my dog eats grass, it means they are sick.
She’s just been fed…so why is my dog eating grass?
It’s true that some dogs have a tendency to eat grass and then vomit shortly thereafter. It’s a common concern of pet parents, as some believe that dogs eat grass to make themselves vomit in an attempt to get rid of something nasty they’ve consumed. Some dogs will eat poop!
Others believe grass eating is a sign that they’re lacking of important nutrients from their diet, but studies have shown this is not the case and incidentally, grass isn’t particularly nutrient-rich anyway.
However, research shows that only a small percentage of dogs will vomit after eating grass. Some dogs simply enjoy the taste and texture of grass, especially in the springtime when it’s green and fresh. Chances are, they’re much more likely to eat grass because it tastes good.
If your dog is ingesting soil and/or stones with their grazing habits, this may be a behaviour to take more seriously. This disorder may be associated with Pica – this condition can be caused by a nutritional deficiency, stomach sensitivities or even boredom. If your dog constantly eats grass to vomit, it’s a good idea to have your pet examined by our veterinarians to look for any digestive issues or underlying illness.
Grass-eating by your canine friend is relatively benign, as long as it hasn’t been sprayed with harmful pesticides.
Myth #3: Garlic is an excellent remedy for fleas and ticks.
Garlic is one of the best ways – allegedly – to stop a vampire but it is certainly NOT an effective flea and tick treatment for dogs. Unfortunately, this is a myth that is widely circulated on the internet.
Not only will garlic have zero effect in ridding fleas and ticks from your dog, but garlic has also been known to cause hemolytic anemia. Although relatively rare, this condition occurs when the body attacks and destroys its red blood cells. This is bad.
Treatment for this condition is VERY expensive and generally requires several days of hospitalization with frequent blood transfusions. Not all dogs who eat garlic will suffer from this condition, but if you feed your pet garlic, you’re unnecessarily risking your dog’s health.
Myth #4: Rescue dogs are bad because they’re all damaged. There’s a reason they are a rescue dog.
Rescues aren’t damaged – just people’s attitudes towards them are.
The ASPCA estimates that nearly 8 million dogs and cats arrive in US animal shelters each year as strays or are relinquished by the owners.
Many people believe rescue dogs are surrendered primarily because of behavioural issues. This may be true in some cases, but there are other (more likely) reasons for this:
- Puppy Mills: thousands of dogs are rescued each year from illegal puppy mills
- Life Changes: death of an owner, or owners not physically able to provide proper care
- High Cost: many pet parents underestimate the cost of ownership or can’t afford unexpected medical treatments.
- Lack of Time: job obligations and/or changed life circumstances, such as divorce, new job
- Housing Restrictions: landlords may not allow tenants to have dogs – or certain breeds – in a new residence
- Stray or Abandoned: most noticeably seen in 3rd world countries, but occurs everywhere on earth
Not knowing the full history of a rescue dog should not be a deterrent from adopting. Getting an older dog has a lot of advantages. Adult dogs’ personalities are already formed, so when you meet one at your local SPCA or Human Society, you can make sure they’re the right pet for you. Also, dogs adopted through the Ontario SPCA will be spayed/neutered, fully vaccinated, treated for any parasites and microchipped before they get re-homed.
Deciding to adopt a rescue or shelter dog is an important decision. There are a lot of considerations – both expected and unexpected – to take into account when preparing yourself and your home for a soon-to-be re-homed dog. In most cases, the rewards of adopting a rescue far exceed the unjustified concerns many people have about adoption.
Myth #5: I’m the pack leader – I need to show my dog who’s boss.
Cesar Milan – the Dog Whisperer – is wrong.
Up until quite recently, negative reinforcement was considered the tried-and-true standard of training. This promotes the theory that pet parents should act as the ‘alpha’ dog. As of late, this method has come under intense scrutiny, and many pet parents and trainers have abandoned it entirely as a training technique.
Where did this outdated training technique originate?
Dominance-based, ‘alpha’ dog training was based on studies of captive wolves in the 1970’s. These studies propagated the idea that ‘alpha’ wolves become the leader of the pack by being aggressive towards other wolves. Because dogs descended from wolves, humans started to apply this philosophy to dog training. Further studies have since shown that (non-captive) wolf families are similar to human families in that the ‘leaders of the pack’ are the parents taking care of their cubs.
Thankfully, science always moves forward and this theory has now been debunked.
Practice positive reinforcement.
Remember the satisfaction you felt when you received a dollar from your parents for every ‘A’ on your report card? That made you want to get more of them, we suspect? That’s positive reinforcement.
Like humans, dogs care about rewards. This could be praise, or most likely, treats or toys. Positive reinforcement training uses a reward to promote desired behaviours. Because the reward makes them more likely to duplicate the behaviour, this training method is a powerful tool for shaping your dog’s behaviour.
Pet parents are responsible for helping their dog become a well-mannered and sociable member of society. This does NOT mean you need to pull rank – your dog isn’t competing with you for status. Just your love and affection. And food.
Myth #6: Dogs are colour blind – they only see in black and white.
Why do people think dogs are colour blind?
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), this myth began with dog enthusiast, Will Judy. He was a veteran of World War I and devoted his life to educating people on the spiritual bond connecting the human and canine species.
Judy was a publisher of Dog Week Magazine since its inception in the 1930’s and asserted that dogs had poor vision. He went even further with this claim, stating that dogs could only see single shades and tones, and just general outlines of objects. The exact quote from his 1937 training manual read:
“It’s likely that all the external world appears to them as varying highlights of black and gray.”
The quote was generally accepted in the scientific community for decades. Even until the 1960’s, it was believed that the only other mammals that could differentiate colour – like humans – were other primates. We now know this is not true. Debunked!
Although they can’t see the world in full technicolour like most humans, dogs can see some limited colours. Humans have three types of cones in their eyes that allow them to detect a full range of colours, but dogs only have two. This means that dogs can see shades of yellows, blues, and violets – they cannot distinguish reds, greens and oranges the way we can. Their perception is similar to humans with colour blindness.
You would think this partial colour blindness would negatively affect their ability to navigate the world. Not so, since this is offset by their unique eye physiology, allowing for keener night vision and motion detection, not to mention their heavy reliance on their highly-attuned smell-o-vision.
Busting this myth may affect pet parents’ decisions when it comes to training and deciding which products (toys!) to buy. You might prefer to get your dog a yellow ball – instead of red – as it will show up more clearly in the grass. Although this could be a consideration, dogs primarily rely on their sense of smell, often overriding their limited colour vision. Your dog likely doesn’t care what colour of toy you decide to buy, as long as they’re having fun!
Myth #7: Rubbing my dog’s nose in his ‘accident’ teaches him not to do his ‘business’ inside the house.
Many pet parents still think this myth is an effective training method, firmly believing that their dog understands what it means.
This method is mean and most certainly unhygienic. It might make you feel good, but as a retaliation technique, it has zero benefit in correcting the behaviour. At its worst, adhering to the rub-their-nose-in-it myth can cause a severe breakdown of communication, leaving your dog with enduring behavioural issues.
Dogs learn from association, so if your dog has an ‘accident’ in the house, they can’t make the link with the punishment (nose pressed in urine/feces) and the crime (accident in the house). This is negative reinforcement at its worst.
Modern dog training is founded on a theory called Operant Conditioning, with thanks to B.F. Skinner. Simply, the consequence of an action dictates whether the dog wants to repeat that action.
Rubbing your dog’s nose in his feces well after the incident is not a reaction to an action, because the action has happened. Although some dogs show a perception of time, they rarely have an understanding of ‘cause and effect’ like humans. This is why punishing a dog for having an accident in the house is not very effective if you don’t catch them in the act. Furthermore, it can also lead to irrational habits like eating feces, as they may try to suppress the evidence to prevent further punishment.
Proper housetraining your dog should only involve reprimanding when you catch them in the act. A sharp voice command (no!) and quick trip outside is the ideal plan of action. This requires patience and tolerance. Another effective technique is rewarding your pup every time he goes in the right place.
Myths about dogs get passed down through many generations of pet parents. While dog myths are fun to demystify, unaddressed “common sense” can cause actual harm to your furry friend. This miscommunication between pet parents and their dogs can leave them in potentially unsafe situations. It’s important to determine what’s true (and what’s not) – sometimes conventional wisdom and common sense requires closer examination.