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Pet Health

Common Dog Myths – The Story Behind Them

Val Cairney May 17, 2024 93


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Image of a shaved Chow Chow

In this episode of Val Talks Pets, I’ll uncover the story behind common dog myths. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about dogs, and having our heads filled with what could be nonsense isn’t helpful. So let’s dive right into these myths and separate fact from fiction!

Tail Wagging.  

People usually see a dog with a wagging tail and assume the dog is friendly and happy.  This is common behaviour in dogs, but scientists do not know why they wag their tails more than other canines.  An article by Jude Coleman in Science News Explores, has Emily Bray an expert in canine cognition at the University of Tucson stating, “Wagging also means different things depending on how the tail wags.  

For instance, a dog might wag its tail more to the right side.  That typically means the dog is interested or wants to approach something…. A wag more to the left could signal uncertainty, or mean the dog wants to back away.  A wag low and near the legs is a sign of submission or fear.  Other dogs can understand and react to these different wags.” One question mentioned is whether the dog even knows it is wagging its tail.  

It has also been speculated that dogs may have learned wagging to communicate with humans.  “It could be related to rhythm.”  Wagging side to side can be rhythmic for a human. Who knows? 

So, yes dogs primarily wag their tails to communicate with humans but also with other dogs.  They do wag when they are happy but not always.  So keep an eye on that tail, it may just be trying to tell you something else. 

Let’s go in the direction of some health for more common dog myths.  

A dog’s nose that is dry, means he is sick. 

image of a dog's nose

According to dailypaws.com, a dry nose the majority of the time is completely normal.  However, it does indicate that the dog may need hydration, and can also be a sign of fever. According to Petful.com, “When your dog sleeps, they stop licking at their nose.  This stops the constant flow of moisture to the nasal area.  Within 10 minutes after your dog wakes up, that nose should be right back to its usual wet self.” 

Petful.com also states that plastic is a big cause of dry noses in dogs That’s right, plastic! Such as that found in food and water bowls.  Nearly half of dogs are said to have some form of allergic reaction to plastic.”  The other culprits for dry nose could be allergies, lying too close to a heat source, or sunburned nose.  So remember that doggy sunblock.  A dry nose can indicate some issues, but most times it’s nothing to worry about.

Eating grass when they are sick or to make themselves sick. 

According to vets-now.com, eating grass is fairly common and in most cases nothing to worry about.  Dogs may eat grass because they are bored, or they like the taste, or something ancestral kicks in.  Some dogs will eat grass and then throw up but a small study on this behaviour showed that very few dogs, 8% out of 1500 showed any signs of illness before eating the grass and only 22% threw up after eating the grass.  

It is hard to know because I have seen Tundra eat grass but not throw up but I’ve had dogs in the past that if I were to see them eat grass I knew for sure they were going to throw up.  Generally, speaking, grass eating isn’t a real concern, but it should be if the grass has had pesticides put on it.  Vets-now suggests that you should be concerned about grass eating if the dog is, “eating grass excessively, being sick repeatedly, not eating their food or are lethargic or generally off colour.” 

Dogs can heal themselves by licking wounds.

German Shepherd licking its paw

Common Dog Myths

This is another one of those common dog myths but is there ant ruth behind this? One of the most annoying things is your dog licking a wound and in most instances making it worse.  Well according to AKC.org, “as unlikely as it sounds evidence suggests that dog saliva,…has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.  Dog saliva is even slightly bactericidal against E. Coli and against Streptococcus canis, which is passed from companion animals to humans. In addition, a dog’s tongue is good at loosening dirt from a wound.  However, the keyword in this research is “slightly”.  Modern medicine has far surpassed saliva in terms of effectiveness at wound healing.  

The bottom line on this one is that although there are some slight benefits to a dog licking its wound in the long run they could add more bacteria and inhibit healing.  We have this with Tundra right now. He had a growth removed from his back leg and promptly went outside and broke the stitches.  He’s been licking it and it won’t heal. I’ve got it bandaged to prevent this and get it healing, but if he keeps licking it, it won’t heal. 

Are dog’s mouths cleaner than a humans’?

Just like most other common dog myths the answer is no.  

According to businessinsider.com, the comparison however is not exactly fair.  Germs that dogs have in their mouths are not quite the same as humans.  If your dog licks you, you won’t get a cold or the flu but you could if a person kisses you.  Dogs have lots of different dental bacteria and in the scheme of things, they are pretty yucky.  Plus, dogs, lick their bums and some eat kitty litter so the transfer of fecal matter through the mouth to you can happen which can open the risk for disease and bacteria.  As well, dogs that eat raw should not be encouraged to lick a person due to the salmonella.  

Okay, let’s switch gears a bit and look at this one.  

A female dog should be allowed a litter before spaying  

golden lab with three puppies
Common Dog Myths

Here is the blunt low down on this as stated by vethelpdirect.com.  “It’s a very common misconception that a female dog should have one litter before being spayed.  Not only is it an outdated concept, with no evidence to support that breeding a litter is either physically or psychologically beneficial to a dog.” As vethelpdirect.com further qualifies, “Unlike us humans, our pets don’t harbor the emotional tendencies that we may have towards forming a family unit and having children.  Any concerns over whether a dog will miss being able to have puppies once spayed, or that she won’t be fully mature until she’s had a litter, are inappropriate and unfounded.”  And it follows then the belief that a female dog should have one heat before spaying.  

According to Parliamentanimalhospital.ca “getting your dog spayed before her first heat cycle can help prevent ovarian and uterine cancer as well as other reproductive problems.” “The doctor’s advice is clear: spay your dog before their first heat.  It’s simpler for them and the surgery is easier.  When dogs have puppies it adds to the pet overpopulation issue right away.  This is a decision that needs to be taken up with your vet not decided upon just because it was heard that is what you should do. 

Here is a good one to discuss.  

Some breeds of dogs are hypoallergenic. 

Guess what?  No dog is 100% hypoallergenic.  You can get a dog that is less allergenic but not hypoallergenic.  People can be allergic to hair/fur, skin cells, and saliva of a dog.  The idea that a dog that doesn’t shed is hypoallergenic is yet another one of those common dog myths. Busted! 

Here is a fun fact from the American Kennel Club.  “In 2011 the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy published a study that found no major differences in the levels of the primary dog allergen, Canis familiaris (Can f 1) in homes with dogs labeled as hypoallergenic compared with those that weren’t. While the study authors state that there is a need for more research to confirm these findings, the results threw a wrench in most allergy sufferers’ plans. 

image of a Labradoodle

Common Dog Myths

The results of a further study in 2012 found that low-shedding Poodles had some of the highest levels of Can f 1 present in their coat samples.  Surprisingly, Labrador Retrievers often regarded as a breed more likely to trigger allergies because of their excessive shedding, had significantly lower allergen levels.  This study also found no major difference in the amount of Can f 1 found in the air of homes with “hypoallergenic” and other dog breeds.”  

Well, well well!  I keep saying, especially with the constant cross-breeding of poodles to everything under the sun, you have absolutely no guarantee that the resulting dog with be in any way a lesser allergenic dog.  The whole wrecking of the poodle breed is for nothing.  Some purebred dogs are less allergenic and I mean purebred, registered with the country’s accredited dog registration for purebreds, not someone who says their dog is a purebred.  Papers are mandatory here.  Yorkshire Terriers, Bichon Frise, Maltese, and Schnauzers are examples considered to be lesser allergenic.  

One year of a dog’s life is equal to seven years of a human

According to a study in Cell Systems scientists say that calculation is wrong. “Dogs are much older than we think, and researchers devised a more accurate formula to calculate a dog’s age based on the chemical changes in the DNA as organisms grow old.”  All kinds of factors will influence a dog’s lifespan, large, small, breed, health, etc.  As an all-around calculation dogtagart.com offers, “Year 1 of a puppy’s life is equivalent to a human teenager approximately a 13-year-old.  Year 2 is equivalent to a young adult approximately 22 years old.  Each year after that is equivalent to approximately four human years,” 

There are a lot of dangerous common dog myths that are believed by people. Is this one of them?

All dogs automatically know how to swim. 

Well, not exactly. Certain breeds of dogs have an affinity to water while either breeds can be quite fearful of it. 

 According to njdog.com, “Unsurprisingly, many smaller dog breeds with short legs and less athletic builds have a greater fear of water and may not swim at all.”  “Some of these breeds that struggle with swimming include corgis, pugs, bull terriers, basset hounds shih tzus, boxers bulldogs, and dacshunds.”  Brachycephalic dogs are particularly more cautious towards water because their faces being pushed in, means the water can easily submerge their face or go up their nose and drowning is a real possibility. Dogs like a Bulldog have such large barrel-shaped bodies that create a real challenge for them to float.  Take labs, for example, who are DNA-driven to swim so to speak, are more shaped to swim with their longer bodies and longer legs.  Many dogs whether they are a breed known for swimming or not, may need encouragement to learn to swim.  

On Facebook I follow “Good Boy Ollie and Tato” out of the U.K. Ollie is a chocolate lab that swims like a gliding fish, but his yellow lab brother pup Tato had real trepidation going into the water for the first time.  I saw in the video posted that Tato and Ollie, were at a swimming pool meant for dogs with a swim coach in the pool helping Tato to learn to enter the water and eventually swim.  

Be cautious when teaching your dog to swim

image of two dogs swimming

Common Dog Myths

I don’t think we would get Tundra in a pool or lake to swim in a million years.  He would disdainfully look at us with that “Huskies do not swim” look.  But, I’ve heard of some Huskies that love to jump in the water.  But, either way, you need to be very cautious and make sure you teach your dog to swim.  Do not rely on the old myth that dogs naturally know how to swim, you may end up with a sad situation on your hands.  I strongly suggest a life jacket for all sizes of dogs, even if they are great swimmers.  Here’s my reasoning:

One day a person came in and saw the life jackets for dogs. He reacted by saying, “Don’t dogs know how to swim?”  Ah ha, the myth!  Say you have a dog that swims well and you take him out on a boat. You are far from shore and the dog sees something or gets spooked. He jumps in the water.  If the dog has not been trained to stay with the boat, its instinct will be to swim to shore.  You may be doing everything to get to the dog, but say he is now scared and disoriented. He will swim valiantly towards the shore he sees, tires, and drowns.  So it is best to be proactive by introducing your dog to swimming. Also, think about a life jacket because not all dogs naturally swim.  See my episode on Pet Safety for more information.

I thought that people with good sense wouldn’t buy into the next of the common dog myths.

You can shave dogs to keep them cool.

The other day I had some owners tell me they were having their Samoyed shaved for the summer to keep him cool.  I was gobsmacked.  Let’s just clear this one up.

You cannot shave a dog, or cat for that matter, because you think they are too hot.  

According to vetster.com, “Contrary to popular belief, it’s not true that pets need to be specially trimmed for the summer.  There’s a widespread myth that dogs (and some long-haired cats) should be given a summer trim, but that’s not the case.  Unnecessarily trimming or shaving your pet’s fur can interfere with their body’s natural ability to cool itself.”  

So now you know.  The dog’s undercoat is there for warmth and cooling.  Yes, furry dogs do have to be managed a bit more when it is hot, but shaving them is not the answer.  Cooling mats or vests are great, cool water in several places, and shade or inside with air conditioning is the answer. 

Next myth. 

Human food is okay for dogs. 

Thank goodness that people are much more aware now of the food that is toxic to dogs.  In my episodes on Pet Nutrition, I deal with this issue. We have to be careful concerning the food dogs can get into and also what we give them.   In alphabetical order be aware of, alcohol, apple seeds, apricot pits, avocados, cherry pits, chocolate, candy, chives, coffee, garlic, grapes, gum, hops used in home beer brewing, macadamia nuts, moldy foods, mushroom plants, mustard seeds, onion, powder and flakes, peach pits, potato leaves and stems, the green parts, raisins, rhubarb leaves, salt, tea because it contains caffeine, tomato leaves and stems, walnuts, xylitol which is an artificial sweetener that is very toxic to dogs, and yeast dough.  And this isn’t a comprehensive list, so do some thorough homework.

Well, these are quite a few common dog myths that deserve to be debunked.  A lot of myths just come from old ways of thinking.  Luckily we are always learning and finding new information that helps us keep our pets safe and healthy.  So, next time you think your dog is too old to learn a new trick, or that cats are a dog’s mortal enemy, take a pause and ask yourself, is this just a myth?  It might just be. So do some digging and a bit of research because as I say, knowing is caring. 

Dog chewing grass
All Pictures, unless otherwise stated, have been obtained from Canva with a paid subscription 

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Val
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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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