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13 ‘Facts’ About Dogs That Are Totally False

You may think you know everything there is to know about pups, but it’s possible you’ve fallen for a few common dog “facts” that are untrue. With help from vets, dog trainers and behaviorists, we’re busting the most egregious dog myths.

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Dog tail on wood floor

A Wagging Tail Always Means a Happy Dog

Though a wagging tail often does denote an excited or happy dog, that’s not always the case. A 2013 study that appeared in the journal Current Biology found that different types of wag speeds and placements mean different things.

“For example, a vigorous tail wag to the right means happiness at seeing their owner, but slow wags of a tail held half-way down can mean fear or insecurity,” explains Jess Trimble, DVM, chief veterinary officer for Fuzzy Pet Health. “Additionally, a tail held very high and wagged extremely fast can mean fear or aggression for some dogs.”

Tail wagging is just one way that your dog communicates with you. Find out the things you shouldn’t own if you have a dog.

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beautiful black and white dog border collie sit and ask food do a trick on a field with flowers and look in camera. in the background mountains. space for text

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

“It is true that puppies are little sponges, making it so easy to teach them new things with gentle, positive reinforcement methods. But make no mistake, old dogs can learn, too,” says Trish McMillan, a certified animal behaviorist based in Mars Hill, N.C. “For example, the nine-year-old Doberman I adopted a few years ago earned her Canine Good Citizen title within a few months.”

She notes that while extremely geriatric dogs may be trickier to train if they have vision, hearing or mobility issues, they can absolutely be trained as long as they’re nurtured and their brain is in good shape. Does your friend have a new dog? These are the best gifts for them. 

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Close-up portrait of a dog, focused on the eyes. Macro view of dog's eyes outdoors in natural conditions, shallow depth of field

Dogs Only See in Black and White

This dog “fact” is arguably one of the most perpetuated myths out there, but it’s not completely true.

“Dogs can see some color, but the spectrum is limited,” says Adam Christman, DVM, and co-chief of staff at New Jersey’s Brick Town Veterinary Hospital. “Humans and most other primates have three kinds of cones in our eyes, making us trichromatic, whereas dogs are dichromatic.” Thus, dogs do have a tendency to mix up greens and reds. Check out these 14 cleaning tools every pet owner needs.

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Young Asian couple walking on beach with pet dog.

You Should Let Dogs You’ve Just Met Sniff Your Hand

This is a well-intentioned line of thinking, but a perpetuated myth nonetheless. Actually, you should not stick your hand out toward any dog you’ve just met.

“In our human interactions, it’s second nature to offer a handshake or a fist bump, but we must remember that dogs aren’t humans,” says Guillermo Roa, a credentialed dog trainer and founder of GR Pet Services in Levittown, N.Y. “Sticking out your hand can be misinterpreted as a sign of aggression and a dog may bite you. It’s better to just calmly wait for the dog to approach you if it is interested in doing so. If you must approach a new dog, do it from the side and avoid staring.”

These are dogs that really don’t shed much.

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Smiling corgi dog in a fancy cap, partying

One Dog Year Is Equivalent to Seven Human Years

Though dogs do age more quickly compared to us, the seven-to-one ratio isn’t quite accurate. “Their comparative age depends entirely on breed, size, and genetic makeup,” says Trimble. “The bigger your dog is, the faster he ages. I have patients that are 10 pound terriers that still act like puppies at 16 years and would be considered around 75 to 80 in human years. In contrast, a Great Dane at 16 would be a record and considered to be over 130 years of age.”

If your dog or cat needs a trip to the groomer but you can’t get an appointment, here are some tips to keep your pet clean and healthy.

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couple of dogs in love sleeping together under the blanket in bed , warm and cozy and cuddly

When a Dog’s Nose Is Warm and Dry it Means She’s Sick

There’s a perpetuated dog myth out there that implies a healthy dog’s nose is always cold and wet. Warm and dry noses are completely normal, though, so don’t worry if this is the usual state of your dog’s snout. “Everything from dry air to allergies to simply taking a nap can affect the wetness of your dog’s nose,” Christman says.

However, while nose health isn’t normally concerning, if you notice your pet’s nose is constantly dry, cracking or running — not simply wet — then you should make an appointment with the veterinarian. Plus, learn is it safe for dogs to eat grass?

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Full check up. Male veterinarian in work uniform listening to the breath of a small cute dog with a phonendoscope in veterinary clinic.

Spaying or Neutering at a Young Age Will Prevent Future Behavioral Issues

“Spaying and neutering dogs at a young age was happening at an alarming rate several years ago, and many veterinarians took the stance of ‘the younger the better,’ ” says Adam Gibson, a dog trainer and director of Top Dog Texas.

The idea is that early neutering or spaying will curb behavior issues as the pet gets older, but Gibson points out that several studies have shown this to be untrue. “There are also added health benefits to allowing dogs to keep their reproductive organs intact into adulthood,” he says. The community is responding to this new data, and more vets and owners are holding off six months to a year to remove reproductive organs.

Dogs do pretty weird stuff sometimes! Here are expert answers to some questions you’ve been begging to ask your dog.

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Young Light Brown Nice Labrador Retriever Squat.Dog is Best Friend.

A Dog’s Mouth is Cleaner than a Human’s

If a dog’s saliva was antibacterial as the myth states, they’d basically be walking medical superheroes. Though they are superheroes in their own right, this is one myth we’ve got to put to rest.

“While dog saliva has a slightly more alkaline pH, which can discourage some bacteria from reproducing, it’s not truly antibacterial. In fact, it can cause illness in humans,” says Trimble. “As a vet, one of the most common causes of canine skin infections we see is from a dog licking a wound or itchy spot too much.” To further the point, this 2012 study on the Canine Oral Microbiome identified 353 types of bacteria living in dog’s mouths.

Plus, learn how much exercise is recommended for your dog’s breed.

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A timber wolf (canis lupus).

Dogs Are Actually Wolves and Should Eat Like Them

Dogs and wolves may come from the same lineage, but treating them as an interchangeable species is wrong and can lead to poor health consequences. Trimble explains that dogs evolved from wolves more than 11,000 years ago, and since that time they’ve become entirely different creatures.

“Dogs should not eat a wild-wolf type diet that’s becoming so popular by boutique pet food manufacturers,” she says. Notably, studies have determined dogs are far superior at digesting starches such as wheat and rice, which are a key part of a nutritional diet. Find out what dog food brands vets feed their own dogs.

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Dog playing outside. Curious dog looking at the camera. Close-up of a young mix breed dog head outdoors in nature. Homeless mongrel pets waiting for a new owner.Dogs Head Tilt to hear us better

You Have to Show Your Dog Who’s ‘Alpha’

McMillan explains that the alpha wolf theory became super popular in the dog training world after wolves were first studied in captivity. However, with time we’ve learned dominance isn’t the best approach.

“Later studies of wild wolves showed that packs are just families, with the older wolves caring for and teaching the younger ones until they’re old enough to leave,” says McMillan. “Modern dog trainers use behavioral principles to look at the antecedents and consequences of behavior, managing the environment, meeting dogs’ needs for social time, enrichment, and exercise, and teaching dogs what we want them to do rather than solely punishing them when they misbehave.”

Find out more dog training secrets for training your puppy.

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Guilty dog and a destroyed teddy bear at home. Staffordshire terrier lies among a torn fluffy toy, funny guilty lookAleksey Boyko/Shutterstock

Rubbing Your Dog’s Nose in an Accident Curbs Future Behavior

Dogs tend to understand behavior problems at the time the behavior occurs. That means that when you come home to an accident and rub your dog’s nose in it, he likely will not make the connection.

“When you do this, you’re in essence punishing a dog that doesn’t know why he is being punished. This could exacerbate the issue and create more potty problems in the future,” warns Christman. “Rather, it’s best to catch him in the act and redirect him to his proper potty destination. Also, make sure to clean up accidents with a pet-friendly cleaner since dogs will often return to spots they’ve marked before.”

You’ll also want to teach your puppy to be comfortable spending time alone.

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Tiny Chihuahua Puppies Playing with Toy on Owners BedAnna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

Adopting Two Puppies at Once Is Best Since They’ll Have a Playmate

This sounds like a perfectly reasonable approach, but it may lead to headaches all around, warns Gibson.

“From a training and behavioral standpoint, the biggest issues I see with two young puppies being raised together are that they end up being much harder to train,” he says. “They are oftentimes so co-dependent upon the other that they don’t seem to develop nearly as much as a puppy raised appropriately by itself. They are very distracted by each other, and their bond is typically so strong that they have less value in their human relationships.”

This is the best time of year to get a puppy.

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man kisses a dogAnna Bielova/Shutterstock

The More You ‘Love,’ the Better the Dog

Love is important when it comes to fostering a healthy relationship with your pup and training them magnificently, but don’t confuse love with poor boundaries.

“Pets are increasingly seen as part of the family and that can be wonderful,” Roa says. “We often want to indulge them by giving them the comfiest seat in the house or food from the table, but that can backfire. Like human children, our furry kids require boundaries. Without boundaries, you will end up with many behavioral issues that can include aggression. Gentle guidance and redirection will help you establish a mutually respectful bond that benefits both you and your pet.”

Additionally, these are the 19 cleaning tips every dog or cat owner should know.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. You can find her work at NBC, Allure, Brides, Total Beauty, BravoTV, PopSugar, Spotlyte, and others.