The Truth Behind 7 Common Dog Myths

Were you under the impression that dogs age seven years for every one human year? It turns out that simple calculation is more myth than fact. In reality, dogs tend to age more rapidly at the beginning of their lives and slower at the end, with size and breed playing a key role. So what other canine misconceptions have you scratching your head? Here’s the truth behind seven popular dog myths.

Myth: Dogs feel guilty when they’ve misbehaved

You know the look. You walk into a room to discover your dog having a blast tearing up a couch cushion, and they immediately give you that sad, sheepish face when you start scolding them. But do they really feel guilty? Experts say no. “Veterinary experts generally agree that this is a classic case of anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to an animal),” according to the American Kennel Club.

Because guilt “requires an understanding of cause and effect in relation to time,” it’s difficult to prove in dogs. What some people interpret as guilt — a tucked tail, head hung low, flat ears, etc. — is likely just stress or fear.

Although your dog might not quite understand why you’re upset with them, they do still want to appease you. But unless you can catch them in the act of a bad behavior, scolding them after the fact can just lead to confusion and undue stress. Plus, positive reinforcement of good behaviors is what really works to avoid these “guilty” scenarios in the first place.

Myth: There are hypoallergenic dogs

apricot toy poodleCredit: fanjianhua/Getty Images

There are a handful of dog breeds that have the “hypoallergenic” label attached to them, but in reality there’s no such thing. Some hairless and low-shedding breeds — including the poodle, Yorkshire terrier and bichon frise — typically leave less fur and dander around your house, according to the AKC. So some people with allergies might be less sensitive to them — and incorrectly believe the dogs are hypoallergenic. Plus, smaller dogs in general put fewer allergens into the environment.

Still, one study demonstrated that homes with so-called “hypoallergenic” breeds have the same amount of dog allergens as homes with other breeds, though more research still must be done on topic. Anecdotally, it seems some people just get lucky when a specific dog doesn’t bother their allergies, while others try to pick a “hypoallergenic” breed but still are allergic.

Myth: Dogs have a sixth sense

Does your dog know when a family member is arriving home about a minute before you do? Or do they often seem to be barking at absolutely nothing? Sometimes it might feel like our dogs have an extra sense to pick up on things we completely miss, but in reality it’s just excellent hearing.

Besides their highly sensitive noses and keen eyesight, dogs’ ears simply have powers our human ears don’t — especially when it comes to very soft and high-pitched noises. “The average adult human cannot hear sounds above 20,000 Hertz (Hz),” according to the AKC. “… Dogs, on the other hand, can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz.”

This sensitivity helps to explain why dogs seem to hear someone’s presence or even predict certain weather events, such as earthquakes, well before humans can sense them. And you might want to cut your dog some slack for being afraid of the vacuum — as it’s probably a lot louder and scarier than we think.

Myth: A dry nose equals a sick dog

At some point, you’ve probably learned that a cold, wet nose on a dog is an indicator of health, and a warm, dry nose signals sickness. Although that sometimes can be true — especially if the dog has a fever or is dehydrated — it’s not a foolproof diagnostic tool.

Dog noses typically are wet because particles stick better to the surface, boosting their sense of smell, according to the AKC. The moisture also helps to regulate a dog’s temperature. Plus, dogs tend to lick their noses a lot to keep them wet and interpret scent particles through taste.

But a dry nose could have some perfectly normal explanations, too. Your dog’s nose might be warm and dry after a nap because dogs don’t usually lick their noses while asleep. Plus, dehydration from exercise, as well as certain environments, can dry out their noses just like they would dry out our skin. And some dogs’ noses tend to get drier with age. Even so, keep an eye on a dry nose, especially if your dog develops other symptoms, such as pale or tacky gums. When in doubt, contact your vet for advice.

Myth: Dogs and cats are sworn enemies

a golden retriever with a kitten touching its noseCredit: chendongshan/Getty Images

Are you a cat person or a dog person? Somehow, these two creatures have been pitted against each other in animal lore — to the point where some humans feel the need to take sides. And though cats and dogs have their differences, they’re definitely not natural enemies.

Some dogs have a high prey drive, and a cat moving through their home might trigger that instinct. Plus, cats and dogs communicate with different signals, so it does sometimes take work for them to develop a healthy friendship. “A wagging tail on a Golden Retriever often indicates playfulness. A twitching, swishing cat tail, however, is usually a sign of irritation,” the AKC says. “Dogs that misread these signals may end up receiving a swipe at their nose by a bothered cat, and felines may learn to distrust dogs after getting chased around the block one too many times.”

But cats and dogs can learn to enjoy each other’s company — or at least live together in harmony. Try to socialize animals while they’re still young and developing habits. Teach your dog to sit and stay to stop exuberant play and make your cat feel more comfortable. And provide your cat with an escape route where the dog can’t follow them. Be patient, and always supervise them while they’re together until you’re sure of their behavior.

Myth: Your dog won’t be the same after they’re spayed/neutered

Spaying and neutering is a complex topic with ongoing research. But with millions of homeless dogs entering animal shelters each year in the United States alone, it’s important to do your part to prevent pet overpopulation. No, your male dog won’t be mad you took away his “manliness.” And no, your female dog definitely doesn’t need the “experience” of having puppies. In fact, their behavior will probably change for the better — calmer, friendlier, less likely to run away to find a mate, etc. — if at all.

The general recommendation is to have your dog spayed or neutered by 6 months of age, though the timing can vary on an individual basis, according to veterinarian Patty Khuly on PetMD. Some research has shown spaying or neutering at young ages might lead to certain conditions, including cruciate ligament disease and osteosarcoma, though results aren’t definitive enough for vets to stop recommending the surgeries for young animals.

But spays and neuters also can prevent issues, including “behavioral conditions, mammary tumors, prostatic enlargement (not cancer), perineal hernias in males, testicular tumors and pyometras in females, among others,” Khuly says. So address concerns about timing of the surgery with your vet. But definitely don’t worry about your dog turning into a completely different animal or hurting their feelings — until they have to wear the cone of shame, that is.

Myth: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

a happy senior dogCredit: Akchamczuk/Getty Images

Old habits may be difficult to change, but you certainly can teach an old dog new tricks. “For senior dogs, unless they’re exhibiting signs of significant cognitive dysfunction, training shouldn’t be any different than with a younger adult dog, though they may have less stamina for repetition,” according to PetMD. In fact, continuing to teach your dog new things as they age can help to keep their body and mind healthier for longer.

Start with a simple trick, and work patiently with plenty of positive reinforcement until your dog masters it. Be consistent in your commands, especially if you’re working with an older dog who has some bad habits to break. And do keep their age in mind as a factor for training difficulties. For instance, an older dog might have a physical issue that leads to house soiling. But at any age, training can help to keep your dog active and strengthen the bond between the two of you.

Main image credit: RalchevDesign/Getty Images

63 comments

Mia B
Melisa Babout a month ago

thank you

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Monica C
Monica Cabout a month ago

Please spay or neuter your pets. It is a sign of love, prevents certain illnesses and prevents overpopulation especially in the animal shelters.

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Shae L
Shae Lee3 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Caitlin L
Past Member 3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Chad A
Chad Anderson3 months ago

Thank you.

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Daniel N
Past Member 3 months ago

Thanks

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D4 months ago

All dogs are amazing and I do believe they have some type of a 6th sense - I've seen it for myself many times. My sweet boy is rarely bad but when he is he knows it on some level and seems to show regret.

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Jessica C
Jessica C4 months ago

Dogs are awesome!

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Jessica C
Jessica C4 months ago

thx

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Janis K
Janis K4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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