12 dogs myths that separate fact from fiction

Think you know dogs? Think again. We separate fact from fiction and debunk some of the most common dog myths...

1.    Dogs can only see in black and white

Although they can’t see the world in full technicolour like we can, dogs can see some colours. Their eyes detect fewer colours than ours, so their perception is similar to humans with colour blindness.

They can tell the difference between blue and yellow, but see green and red as shades of grey.

2.    I can tell when my dog has done something wrong from the guilty look on their face

Ever come home to find your pet has chewed up your child’s favourite cuddly toy, or has made a mess on the carpet? That look on his face isn’t guilt, but you could be forgiven for thinking it is.

Owners often mistakenly believe their dog knows they have done wrong, but what you’re actually seeing is ‘appeasement behaviour’.

Dogs that look guilty are doing nothing more than responding to an owner’s disappointment, upset or anger and it is their way of diffusing tension in response to feeling threatened. They’re more likely to do this is they’ve been told off in the past.

3.    When my dog eats grass it means they are sick

“She’s just been fed, so why is my dog eating grass?!” It’s a common bugbear of dog owners, and also a worry due to the common belief that dogs eat grass to make themselves sick and get rid of something nasty they’ve swallowed. Others think grass eating is a sign of a lack of some nutrients, but studies have shown this is not the case.

In fact, it’s much more likely to be because it tastes nice, particularly in the spring and summer months when it’s green and fresh. As long as the grass your pet is eating hasn’t been sprayed with harmful pesticides, and your dog is protected from lungworm, they should be fine.

4.    Dogs age seven years for every human year

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, so working out their age in human years isn’t quite as simple as multiplying it by seven. 

Different breeds take different lengths of time to reach maturity, and lifespans vary based on size and genetics, too. Smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds, and they also take longer to mature than their bigger cousins.

5.    You can't teach an old dog new tricks

Pups’ brains soak up new information like sponges and they learn very quickly but, while it takes a little longer, you can certainly train an adult dog.

Dogs learn best with motivation, so grab some tasty, high value treats like chicken or hot dog, and get ready to praise good work.

The best way to go about teaching an old dog new tricks is to make training sessions fun, keep them positive and do them little and often – practice five to six times a day. 

6.    A female dog feels ‘empty’ if they don’t have a litter

False! This is an old wives’ tale, and so is the myth that female dogs need to have one litter before spaying.

Dogs are unable to feel broody and allowing them to have one litter before getting them neutered has no proven health or behaviour benefit for them, and could also contribute to the numbers of unwanted dogs in rescue centres.

Neutering your female dog before their first season greatly reduces the risk of them getting breast cancer. Neutering also prevents other fatal illnesses such as womb infections (called pyometra), and prevents false pregnancies, which can cause behavioural problems.

7.    Its ok to leave your dog in a car with the windows down on a hot day

It’s never ok to leave your alone dog in a hot car, even with the windows down. Cars heat up extremely quickly in warm weather, and heatstroke can be fatal to pets in a matter of minutes.

Dogs can’t sweat like we can so it’s much more difficult for them to regulate their body temperature and keep themselves cool.

Dogs die in hot cars each and every year, so don’t run the risk.

8.    Rescue dogs are all damaged - there is a reason they are a rescue dog

Many people are put off getting a dog from a rescue centre because they think they will come home with a whole host of problems or behaviour issues.

Actually, the most common reason for dogs needing our help to find them a new home is that their previous owner no longer had the time to care for a pet.

Getting an older dog, rather than a puppy, has lots of benefits. Adult dogs’ personalities are already formed, so when you meet one at a rescue centre you can make sure they’re the right pet for you. Plus, any dog adopted from Blue Cross will have behavioural support for life, so if do need help with your pet, all you need to do is call us.

9.    A little bit of chocolate is fine…

You shouldn't give dogs chocolate and it can be really dangerous. How dangerous depends on the type of chocolate and the size of the dog.

Chocolate contains a chemical called ‘theobromine’, which is toxic to dogs. The amount of theobromine in chocolate depends on the type and quality of it – white chocolate only has a little, but dark chocolate contains a lot of the stuff.

Small amounts of milk chocolate probably won't have dire consequences for a big dog, but it's best not to run the risk and keep this sweet treat to yourself. If your dog has eaten a lot of chocolate, particularly if it’s dark, call your vet.

10.    I need to show my dog who’s boss by being the pack leader

Dominance based dog training is based on studies of captive wolves in the 1970s which popularised the theory that ‘alpha’ wolves become the leader of the pack by being aggressive towards other wolves. 

As dogs are descended from wolves, people started to apply this theory to dog training – but science has moved on and this theory has now been debunked by scientists. Actually, wolf families are pretty similar to human families in that the ‘leaders of the pack’ are the parents taking care of their cubs.

Like a human parent teaches their child right from wrong, a dog owner is responsible for helping their pet become a well-behaved and sociable member of society, but you don’t need to pull rank – your dog isn’t competing with you for status.

Ignore trainers who tell you to eat your dinner before allowing your pet to eat theirs, or that ‘alpha rolls’ – or any method that causes fear or pain - will teach your dog good discipline. Instead, take a class that uses positive training techniques and praise your pet for good behaviour.

11.    I think my dog has a cold, can I catch it?

No. Common cold and flu viruses can’t be passed from dogs to humans, and your dog can’t catch your cold either.

It’s very uncommon to catch illnesses from pets, but some diseases are contagious so be careful if your dog is carrying any of the common bugs that cause food poisoning (salmonella, campylobacter, giardia and others). You can easily avoid these by washing your hands after handling dogs and after picking up poo.

Certain groups of people are more at risk, including those suffering from diseases that reduce immunity (such as AIDS), or those who are either on chemotherapy or drugs following transplantation surgery. If in doubt, be careful to wash your hands or wear gloves when handling animals.

12.    I think my dog has a headache, can I give him paracetamol?

Human drugs are approved for use in humans, not dogs. Many human painkillers are poisonous to pets, and paracetamol can cause your dog stomach ulcers, kidney and liver failure, and can be fatal.

Never give your dog any drug unless told to do so by your vet.

It’s difficult to know if dogs can get headaches because we can’t ask them, but it’s likely they can. If your pet is ill, or is showing strange behaviours like sensitivity to light or sound, book a vet appointment as soon as you can.

— Page last updated 2/06/2017