Myths: let's dispel some!
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
Number 1: “A wagging tail means a happy dog!”
This is probably the most dangerous myth peddled about dogs. Dogs communicate physically in a myriad of ways; some subtle, some obvious even to the untrained eye, so it’s vital to look at body posture and position, facial expression, jaw tightness, and eye position and movement as a whole: not just at what the tail is doing. The speed and direction of the wag, as well as the tail height, must also be taken into account. My working dog would wag his tail the entire time he was attacking someone in the bite suit. So don’t let the tail fool you. Learning to read and understand your dog’s body language, and what it’s communicating to you, is one of the most valuable things you can do. They can’t speak human, so we must learn to “speak dog” if we are to live well side by side.
Number 2: “A little chocolate won’t hurt her.”
Actually, it might just kill her. And as with everything, it’s not as cut-and-dried as a simple, “chocolate is/is not toxic to dogs.” If your dog has eaten chocolate, you need to know his or her weight, the amount of chocolate consumed and – here’s the important bit – the type of chocolate eaten. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is. White chocolate is almost non-toxic. Here’s a toxicity comparison chart, compiled by Dr Debora Lichtenberg, VMD:
Baking chocolate: Approximately 0.5 ounce for a 10-pound dog, 1 ounce for a 20-pound dog, and 1.5 ounces for a 30-pound dog all require a call to the vet. Baking chocolate includes Baker’s Chocolate, Callebaut, Ghirardelli, Guittard, Lindt, Menier, Scharffen Berger and Valrhona.
Dark chocolate: Approximately 1.5 ounces for a 10-pound dog, 3 ounces for a 20-pound dog, and 4.5 ounces for a 30-pound dog all require a call to the vet.
Milk chocolate: Approximately 3.5 ounces (more than 2 regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars) for a 10-pound dog, 7 ounces for a 20-pound dog, and 10.5 ounces for a 30-pound dog all require a call to the vet. Milk chocolate includes M&M’s, Hershey’s, Mars, Kit Kat, Dove, Cadbury, Toblerone, Kinder, Ferrero Rocher and Galaxy. Semi-sweet chocolate has a similar toxicity.
White chocolate: Approximately 47 pounds of white chocolate for a 10-pound dog, 95 pounds of white chocolate for a 20-pound dog, and 145 pounds of white chocolate for a 30-pound dog all require a call to the vet.
Number 3: “Neutering a male dog helps stop aggression and calms them down.”
There is actually no conclusive evidence to suggest that this is the case across the board. Removing a dog’s reproductive organs may have some effect on its energy levels or aggression. But correlation ≠ causation. Dogs need their sex hormones for bone growth, muscle maintenance and skeletal maturation. If you are planning on neutering your dog, at least wait until his growth plates have closed. If you are planning on spaying your bitch, ask your vet about ovary-sparing spays.
Number 4: “Exercise calms dogs down and stops bad behaviours.”
Wrong. Exercise may tire your dog out in the short term, but in the long term you will end up with a fit dog that still counter-surfs, jumps up and has no recall. The only way to stop bad behaviours, and in a timely fashion, is to punish them – and reward the dog for what you do want. Remember: clear boundaries and leadership are what dogs understand.
Number 5: “Throwing a ball for my dog tires her out.”
You shouldn’t be throwing a ball continuously for your dog in order to tire them out. Ten to fifteen minutes playing fetch is more than enough. A dog is tired out more effectively by mental and sensory stimulation than by continually running after a ball. Just as mental effort tires us humans out, so it does dogs. After a structured walk, and assuming your dog already has solid Recall, letting them explore their environment with their eyes, ears and noses is far more fulfilling for them – not to mention gentler on their joints. You’ll thank me for this when your dog isn’t 8 years old and full of arthritis.
Number 6: “My dog’s walk is his/her time, so I allow them to do anything they want. They deserve it!”
But why do they deserve it? Because they’re a dog? Dogs need structure, leadership and boundaries. Letting your dog disappear off out of sight to explore unsupervised is a recipe for disaster, even for a well-trained dog. After all, they’re dogs, not robots. Have your dog do some simple down/stay, recall and obstacle exercises during their walk. It will strengthen the bond with you and reinforce their obedience. If you can’t call your dog back off a prey item or dropped food, they shouldn’t be being allowed the freedom to get to it in the first place.
Number 7: “Playing tug with your dog and letting them win will make them aggressive.”
No, it really won’t. Unless your dog already has aggression issues – in which case you shouldn’t be playing games with them in any case – letting your dog win at a game of tug is completely harmless. Just remember that, as long as you’re pulling on one end of that tug toy, it’s a game to the dog. Pulling on it, or trying to wrench it from the dog’s mouth when you decide the game is over, is where the problem lies, because your dog doesn’t understand the difference. Teach a reliable Give, Drop or Out, and have the dog surrender the toy when the game is finished. As with any game you play with your dog, you are in control. You initiate the game, and you end the game. Then put the toy away.
Number 8: “My dog is a yard / compound dog. He gets all the exercise he needs, there.”
No, he really doesn’t. Especially if he’s on his own. Dogs are, for the most part, social animals and want to be by your side. To properly fulfill your dog’s needs you should be taking them for a daily or twice-daily hike, walk, run or swim to get them moving and exploring their environment. It’s also a great bonding experience. Regular, appropriate exercise helps to promote stable weight (unless you’re free-feeding or constantly shoveling treats into your dog’s mouth!) and it has all-round health benefits.
Number 9: “I cracked the windows so they’ll be fine. I’ll only be gone for 10 or 15 minutes.”
When it's a sunny 25c outside, the inside temperature in a parked car with windows cracked rises to at least 43c within 30 minutes. Organ damage and death can occur within 10 minutes. And it doesn’t have to be sunny for your dog to die from heatstroke. An overcast but warm day doesn’t mean your dog is any safer in the car. Cracked windows make absolutely no difference. Even when it’s cloudy and only a balmy 21c outside, the temperature in your car rises to 32c within 10 minutes and 40c within 30 minutes. Leave your dog at home.
Number 10: “A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth!”
It really isn’t! Just because many of the germs in a dog’s mouth are dog-specific, doesn’t mean their mouth is clean. You only have to watch where and what your dog licks to figure this out.
Number 11: “Dogs are colour blind.”
This one is partially true. In tests, dogs could easily distinguish the difference between red and blue. However, they could not tell the difference between red and green. Dogs can see blues, yellows, greens, and shades of grey. Which is useful when buying toys for them to play fetch with!
Number 12: “One human year equals seven dog years.”
This is outdated information. Dogs age quite fast in the first couple of years of their lives but the actual aging process varies depending on the breed. Large breeds generally mature faster but tend to have shorter life spans. On the other hand, small and medium-sized dogs reach their senior years much later in life; usually at about ten for small and toy dogs, and around seven or eight years of age for medium-sized dogs. A chart was produced in conjunction with vets to provide a more accurate representation of dog aging. It breaks down like this:
Number 13: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Yes, you can. You very much can. As a trainer I do it all the time. Learning new things for dogs isn’t a chore. It’s fun, it’s stimulating, and again, it builds the bond between you.
Number 14: “Punishment will make your dog aggressive and/or shut down, and it will stop trusting you.”
Fact: properly timed, appropriately applied, methodical punishment will do no such thing. Using punishment d
oes not magically make a trainer, owner or handler “punishment-based”, unless they are using onlypunishment or compulsion to achieve results. And nobody in their right mind would think it appropriate to do so. When applied correctly, punishment and corrections give the dog clear boundaries and leadership, and enable it to make better decisions going forward. This in turn keeps the dog and handler, and others, safe. For dogs, leadership = love.