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Dog Tails and Myths

By Dr. Jeffrey Vogl, DVM
Published On: Nov 08 2013 03:05:25 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 08 2013 03:06:29 PM CST

I still hear the same dog myths today that I remember hearing as a child. Call them myths, ol' wives' tails, folklore or superstitions, but they are not true and in fact may be just bad advice.  They have been passed down from the Great and Powerful OZ and, even still, reside in the gospel of digital Dr. Google.  There is no doubt that you will shudder and balk at the blasphemy against hundreds of years of “proof” that these fallacies are fact.  It will rock the very core of your dog knowledge that you have rooted and passed on to all others who seek your mentoring and advice because you are…..  “Dog Person”!  If these “facts” as you know them are false, what else in this world can be true?  Next thing you are going to tell me is that Lassie wasn’t a real show about saving the life of little Timmy every week and, worse yet, Lassie was a boy dog!

Myth 1.  A warm or dry nose means my dog is sick.

The temperature of a dog’s nose has no bearing on whether your dog is ill.  It can be cold, wet, warm, dry or any combination and be normal.  The state of your dog’s nose depends on what they are doing.  Sleeping, playing, inside, outside, panting, etc will all affect the condition of their nose. A dog’s normal body temperature is 100.0 to 102.5 degrees F.  Therefore when you feel them they will always feel warmer to us. There is only one good way to tell if your dog has a fever and it doesn’t involve putting your finger there (professional advice, you're welcome).

Myth 2:  My dogs know when they were bad; they cower and have a guilty look.

This is a tough one because perception is truth and so many people really believe this.  What in fact is happening is that dogs are able to read body language in a nanosecond.  It has been proven in multiple studies, that the instant you walk into a room and see urine, feces, or a destroyed pillow, your body language changes immediately even if subtly.  Dogs over millions of years have perfected a keen sense of reading that body language (not communicating verbally).  This is how they are able to survive in packs in the wild.  They are actually responding to the owner’s behavior with no actual correlation to the offense what so ever. They can “read” you instantly, better than any human. 

Myth 3:  Dogs eat grass only when they are sick to make themselves vomit.

Ok, this is only a partial myth.  Current research indicates that the most common reason dogs eat grass is…..are you ready?  Because dogs just like to eat grass.  We call them “grazers”.  I had a black lab years ago, that would lie down in tall grass, turn his head sideways and just feast on it. Rarely did it ever make him vomit.  Wild dogs (canids) devoured entire prey animals including the rumen (stomach) contents, primarily plant material, which is where they may have developed a taste for grass.  Too much grass in the stomach can irritate it and cause the dog to vomit.  I will say that occasionally we will see a “non-grazer” eat grass only when they have an upset stomach. 

Myth 4:  Female dogs should have one litter before they are spaded.

There is absolutely no medical or behavioral benefit to allowing your dog to have a litter of puppies prior to spading.  In fact, quite the contrary; spaded females live longer, healthier and with much lower risks of several cancers and infections.  Spading is safer and easier before their first heat, not to mention reduces pet overpopulation.  Oh, by the way, it is spaying not spading.  Thought you had me didn’t you?

Myth 5:  A dog’s age is 7 years for every human year.

This myth originates from averaging the aging process in average size dogs over a lifespan.  In fact, dogs age faster earlier in life and after the first year the aging comparison slows down.  Dogs less than one year old can reproduce and are more like teenagers. More importantly, the size and breed of dog determines how quickly they age.  Giant breeds have life expectancies of 8-10 years, where as toy breeds may easily live 15 or more years.  Interestingly, giant breeds reach adulthood much more slowly, yet age much faster.  Also, one breed exception is Boxers, which tend to have a short 9-year average lifespan.

Myth 6:  A wagging tail means a happy dog.

While this is generally true, dogs may also wag their tail when they are fearful, excited, anxious or aggressive.  It is best to look at a dog’s entire body language not just their tail.  Ears erect, tail up, quickly wagging, with locked eyes can be an aggressive posture.  I had to politely take exception with one of my clients who wanted me to offer my hand to his wagging tail, intact male, 90-plus pound mix breed.  He said “Fluffy” liked me and just wanted to lick me which is how he greets people.  For me it had to do with the lips curled, snarling, teeth chomping, lunging on his lead, body language that actually initiated my SANS fight/flight response (actually flight out of the exam room). 

Myth 7:  A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human.

It had been years since I heard this one, until last week.  The comment was that a humans bite is much more infective than a dogs bite on a human.  Now I am not saying that I know anything about human bites at all, but I have to call “bullhooey” on this one.  Granted, a dog’s bacteria in their mouth is mostly species specific and generally cause little harm to humans.  However, I do know where many dogs’ tongues have been, as the old joke goes “because they can”.  In addition I know a couple of my rugrats who occasionally sample the rabbit raisins in the yard, critters they catch and have even been know to dine on fresh, hot out of the press tootsie rolls in the grass.  Not to mention they don’t brush or gargle very often.  I’m just saying.

Myth 8:  A dog who cowers must have been abused in its past.

Certainly some dogs who cower when approached or reached for have been abused in their past.  However, a more common reason for cowering in dogs is due to improper socialization during their critical developing stages as a puppy. This may be from other puppies, the mom, or even in an orphan situation where they don’t learn normal dog skills. Certain breeds can also be more fearful.  Even when raised from birth in a good home, a dog can develop cowering behaviors (proof that they weren’t abused in their past).  The best way to prevent this is to expose puppies to everything in the world especially when 13-17 weeks of age.  Also, make sure you don’t “coddle” a fearful dog, it tells them that they should be afraid, making them worse!

Myth 9:  Dogs are color blind.

We now know that dogs’ retinas are set up to see colors, just not exactly or as well as humans perceive color. Cones are the photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye that detect color.  Rods are the receptors that detect light and shades of grey.   Dogs have the types of cones in their retinas that would see colors in the blue, yellow and green spectrum. They also see shades of grey extremely well.  Their night vision is also much better than humans thanks to their mirror-like reflective coating in the back of the eye called the tapetum lucidum.

Well, there you have it.  The end of an era.  You must now go out and spread the truth among any that will listen and leave me out of it, because I am certainly not going to correct my dog-loving and all-knowing clients. The horror, Lassie’s a boy?
 

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