10 Interesting Dog Myths

Chihuahua Wearing Eyeglasses

Recently, I came across a news piece debunking common animal myths. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about most animal myths (I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to animals), but it turns out I had more to learn.

For instance, did you know that touching a baby bird does not mean the mother won’t take it back? Or that porcupines don’t shoot their quills at a predator? You can read more about these common myths at Animal Facts & Myths Debunked By Wildlife Experts.

Reading some of the myths we have about wild animals made me wonder what kinds of dog myths I may have fallen for that turned out not to be true. So, off I went a-Googling to see what I could find. It turns out there are quite a lot of dog myths out there. Who knew? (Just kidding. Given how many myths there are in the dog training world, I had to figure there were a lot more myths about dogs.)

Here are some of the more interesting ones I found:

  1. Dogs are sick when their noses are warm – It turns out this is a myth (one I actually believed). “The temperature of a dogs nose does not indicate health or illness or if they have a fever. The only accurate method to access a dog’s temperature is to take it with a thermometer. Normal dog temperature is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees F.”

  2. Dogs like to be petted on their heads – Past experience has taught me that this is definitely a myth. While some dogs may not mind it, most dogs DO NOT like to be pet on the head. In fact, a hand coming at them over their head can be quite an intimidating thing to a dog and can be seen as a threat.

  3. Happy dogs wag their tails – Another one that so many people think is true. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy.  “A wagging tail can mean agitation or excitement. A dog that wags his tail slowly and moves his all rear end or crouches down in the classic “play bow” position is usually a friendly wag. Tails that are wagged when held higher, twitches or wagging while held over the back may be associated with aggression.”

  4. Dogs eat grass when they are sick – Haven’t you always wondered why your dog eats grass? I know have. I actually believed this one was true. but according to Dr. Debra Primovic, “Dogs descended from wild wolves and foxes that ate all parts of their “kill.” This included the stomach contents of many animals that ate berries and grass. Many scientists believe grass was once part of their normal diet and eating small amounts is normal.”

  5. Dogs destroy furniture and other items in the house because they are angry – This is actually one of my favorite myths. So many people believe that their dog takes out their anger on them when they are gone. How do they know this? Why their dog looks guilty of course! Afraid not. More and more studies are showing that the guilty look your dog gives you is in response to you (your tone of voice, body posture, etc.) NOT because they actually felt guilty for doing something they knew was wrong. You can read more about a study done in 2009 here.

  6. You should never comfort a scared dog – This is one of those old myths I heard growing up as a kid. My dog Indy was fearful of thunderstorms and we were told to ignore the behavior or it would reinforce it. We did. It didn’t. Her fear just got worse with time. Poor Indy. Now I know better and I comfort Daisy when there is a thunderstorm or fireworks are going off in the neighborhood. Why? Because I finally met someone who understands and works with fearful dogs, Debbie Jacobs. According to Debbie, “One of the first things someone working with a fearful dog needs to understand is that it’s ok to comfort a dog that is afraid. It’s ok to give them a piece of cheese or take them away from what is scaring them.” Daisy is the lucky recipient of this wisdom and I am so grateful. So is Daisy.

  7. Dog growling is always a bad thing – I used to believe this one until I got my dog Indy. Have you ever had a dog who was vocal? Well, Indy was and she loved nothing more than to growl when playing tug or wrestling with another dog. As shared by Eric Goebelbecker of Dog Spelled Forward, “Dogs have a very limited vocal range, and like reading body language, making a judgement based on a single indicator like a growl is a bad idea. Growling during play, such as a game of tug, is perfectly fine.”

  8. Using head collars will cause neck/spinal injury – I recently came across this one when someone I know on Facebook admonished a foster mom for using a Gentle Leader on her foster dog. According to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), a well-recognized and respected dog-training association,  “This is an oft-repeated claim that can be found all over the Internet. In fact there are no documented cases of dogs getting neck and/or spinal injuries from head collars. Proper use of these types of collars should have no ill physical effects on your dog.”

  9. Dogs are descendents of wolves and therefore training should be based on how wolf packs interact with each other – Ah yes. The whole “pack theory” approach to dog training. You can read my friend Pamela’s post Why is the Dominance Theory of Dog Training Still So Darn Popular? but you may also want to read what APDT has to say on this… “Dogs are not wolves and there are many significant differences between dog and wolf behavior such that wolf behavior is completely irrelevant to how we live and interact with our dogs. Moreover, when wolf behavior is mentioned as a model for dog training, the understanding of wolf behavior used is often incorrect and based on studies that have long since been disproven by research scientists who study wolves extensively.”

  10. Pitbulls have jaws that lock, thus making them more dangerous than other dog breeds – False. False. False. I wish I knew where these myths got started. Somewhere I imagine a dog fighter bragging to his dog fighter scumbag buddy that his pitbull has a jaw that locks. Can’t you just see it? According to the Pitbull Rescue Center’s (PBRC) Media Center page “there is NO SUCH THING AS “JAW LOCKING” IN ANY BREED.” And this, from several veterinarians who were consulted on this matter. The whole “pitbulls have a 1600 PSI bite pressure”myth is also false. PBRC shared some very interesting information on animals and bite pressure:

Pretty interesting isn’t it?

I look back at when I first became a dog owner and shake my head. What I knew then and what I know now are ages and ages apart. How many of these myths did I believe when I was younger? Probably all of them. It’s amazing what you learn as you grow as a person.

So what myths did you have as a kid that you have since learned were untrue? Did any of the myths listed above surprise you? I would love to hear your thoughts.

  1. julesmelfi
    March 6, 2013 at 11:11 PM

    Crazy isn’t it? Last weekend when Cali was feeling sick, she did go out and eat grass for over an hour! I couldn’t get her to come in the house. Maybe sometimes the DO eat grass when they’re not feeling well! Great post!!

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 6:45 AM

      Thanks Julie. Yes. The grass one is one of those things we all wonder about. Poor Cali. I sure hope she is feeling better. I saw your picture on Instagram and felt sad knowing she wasn’t feeling well.

  2. March 6, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    Great post – I could have sworn the grass eating was only when Eko was sick, but posts like this remind me that its always important to research things and not just assume them!

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 6:44 AM

      I have noticed dogs at our dog park eat gras when it is warmer outside and in early spring when the grass is fresher. Maybe it is more fragrant then?

  3. March 6, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    I take umbrage with #5. When Dexter was a puppy and I would leave him alone for longer than 4 hours, he would have “conversations” with the insoles of my shoes and only my shoes, never Sean’s shoes. He was trying to send the Boss a message that he wasn’t too happy.

    • March 7, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      Actually, I bet Dexter was trying to comfort himself. Chewing is like a dog using a pacifier. And Dexter might have found your smells more comforting than Sean’s.

      As the person who spends more time with the dogs in our lives, I’ve always had more things chewed. It’s not revenge, though. It’s love. 🙂

      • Mel
        March 7, 2013 at 6:40 AM

        Same here Pamela. Jasper used to do the same thing. He doesn’t anymore, but I know it was because he loved the smells (my smells) and it was entertainment.

      • Mel
        March 7, 2013 at 10:19 PM

        Agree Pamela!!!

  4. March 6, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    I agree about the grass. I’ve had three dogs that would sometimes race outside, eat a bunch of grass and then vomit. They ate it to make themselves sick. This was great post, very interesting, funny how these things just become commonly accepted.

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 6:42 AM

      Thanks My Slim Doggy! It’s always interesting what we learn and begin to incorporate into our beliefs. Glad you liked it. 🙂

  5. March 7, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    That is a great post. We never knew many of those were just myths. Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 6:41 AM

      Thanks Molly. I know. Some of the ones at the top were new to me too!
      Have a great day!Thanks for stopping by.

  6. March 7, 2013 at 6:42 AM

    Great post. And thanks for the shout out to my piece on dominance theory.

    As for the locking jaw, I wonder if that has come from observations of dog attacks and been distorted over time.

    Years ago I read that bites from German Shepherds showed that they bit and shredded over and over. While bully dogs bit and held on (not with a locking jaw, however).

    If you watch trained police dogs, you’ll see they grab on to their “victim’s” body and hold tight. But that’s because they’ve been trained to do so.

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:23 PM

      Thanks Pamela. I was happy to give you a shout out. It was a terrific piece.

      It’s possible the locking jaw came from that. To be honest, I would really love to know where it started and how. I bet if you asked the average person, most would say they believe that one.

      Now I am kind of intrigued about whether there really is a difference between Shepherds and Pitbulls, Huh.

  7. jank1961
    March 7, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    I think I believed all those things at one time, and still believed #2. I believed #6 for a long time, which makes me feel so bad. At first I used to comfort my dogs during thunderstorms, then read I shouldn’t do that, so didn’t for a while. Then I learned that wasn’t true. Thank goodness, because comforting them is what I instinctually wanted to do! I also distract them with a ball….carrying one around seems to at least work on our beagle Cricket. Moses, the golden, gets a thundershirt. I don’t like storms either, so usually we all retreat to the family room downstairs….except my husband and the beagle Kobi, who isn’t afraid of anything. At least now I can cuddle them and try to distract all of us!

  8. Becca Krzmarzick
    March 7, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    Reblogged this on BexBernard and commented:
    I learned a lot from these surprising myths. Some of them I knew from our puppy training class. It’s always good to learn new things!

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:24 PM

      Thanks for the Reblog Becca! How nice of you!

  9. March 7, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    This is a wonderful post! I think the bit about wagging tails is especially important for people to understand!

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:15 PM

      Thank you! I agree. I wish more people did know. I heard this one a the dog park this past weekend in fact.

  10. Jen
    March 7, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    I’ve heard the head collar thing, but as pertains specifically to Dobermans, who may already suffer from Cervical Vertebral Instability. Which kind of makes it a chicken and egg sort of situation, really.

    I’ve also heard not to comfort a scared dog. But, so many people that I see don’t seem to know when their dog is scared or not.

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      How interesting Jen. I had not heard it in relation to Dobermans before. I had never heard of it at all until recently, so that’s not saying much.
      I started nodding my head at your last statement – you hit the nail on the head with that one. Seriously on the head.

  11. FletchsMom
    March 7, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    As a bully rescue mom, I say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for including #10!! If only we could all afford to post that on giant billboards in our respective communities.

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      No need for thanks. Honestly.

      I may not be a bully rescue mom, but I have worked with this breed, both as a pet sitter and as an animal shelter volunteer, and I have found them to be some of the nicest dogs around. I wish we could put #10 on a billboard. I think there are more myths around this breed than any other. Maybe someone needs to do a bully breed myth-buster post. Hmmmm…. 🙂

  12. March 7, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    It’s funny to me now how many of these myths I believed for such a long time without questioning them. It was only when I got my own dog that I learned how wrong some of them are. You don’t know what you don’t know. I try to remember that when I hear others talking about some of these things. It wasn’t too long ago I was panicking over my dog chomping away on our back lawn.

    Ah, those were the days…

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:07 PM

      Me too Kristine. That’s how I learned too, and with each successive dog I have learned even more and discovered how little I really know.
      I laughed at your last line. Oh yes. Those WERE the days!

  13. March 7, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    What a great article! I would have loved to have seen the whole “dogs attack because their brains swell and get too big for their skulls”… that an age-old one I think.

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:06 PM

      Thanks Kimmee! I had not heard the brain swelling one. Glad I missed it. Yikes!

  14. March 7, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    great post…i love debunking myths…I’ve said for years that eating grass is normal and healthy but was always told i was wrong… victory at last 🙂

    • Mel
      March 7, 2013 at 10:05 PM

      Yes Gizmo! Victory!!! Grass is good! Ooops. Did I say that? 🙂

  15. March 8, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    Kol loves grass. Felix loves grass and they pretty much never yakk it back up. I knew that had to be a myth. I will say though, the key to #8 is “when used properly”. The number of dogs wearing collars who have no leash skills and the owners are using the “shout & tug” method of leash traing. **sigh**

  16. March 8, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    I think you debunked at least 6 myths I always believed in! I did not know about the petting dog on head thing, not that I believed that dogs like to be petted on the head, just did it. Explains why Gracie will sometimes back away when I lean over to pet her head!

  17. March 10, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    Great post, Mel!
    I’m afraid I used to believe many of these myths too and I often lament about how little I knew when I first had dogs and what I put them through with my “knowledge”. At least we – and many others – are on the right track now.

    • Mel
      March 10, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      Thanks Sarah. I have often thought the same thing. I was you and stupid when it came to dogs. I know so much more now and my dogs are so lucky to benefit from that. It sounds like yours too. 🙂

  18. March 11, 2013 at 6:35 AM

    I can’t help it, grammar is important. A dog likes to be PETTED on the head, not PET on the head. You pet your dog and he likes to be petted. Other than that comment by Captain Grammar Pants, it was an interesting article with useful info.

    • Mel
      March 11, 2013 at 6:46 AM

      I know Laurel. I just hate the word petted. I had it correct, but I hate the word. I will correct it for the sake of the grammar police. 🙂

  19. March 11, 2013 at 9:10 PM

    Bishu started eating the grass around the house one Spring and it seemed to make her more sick. Finally took her to the vet and found that the grass she was eating was immature cheat grass (before the nasty, seeds develop) which has serrations on the blades. You can feel them as you run the blades through your fingers UP the blade but not down. She craved the grass but it irritated her throat. Somewhat of a nasty cycle. We made sure we pulled all the cheat grass out when it got tall enough to grab!

    • Crysta
      March 23, 2013 at 10:39 PM

      hi Julie, was your dog ok? My ridgeback ate green cheatgrass today on our hike and then was crazy about eating more grass. It was hard work getting her back to the car and keeping her from the anything green. The stuff totally make her pukey, but not much came up… kinda worried. She wanted to eat out lawn when we got home. She now seems pretty calm, but still keeps clearing her throat.
      Did you take Bishu to the VET?

  20. Deb
    June 27, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    Thanks for this post!! Hurricane season is upon us, and trying to calm a 101#, in a storm is kind of trying.

  1. March 6, 2013 at 11:34 PM
  2. March 7, 2013 at 10:06 AM

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