Fact or fiction?


31 May 2013

Raw meat makes dogs vicious

This idea dates from the days when dogs were customarily fed on cheap food such as porridge, broth, stale bread, and sour milk. Meat rarely came their way, and they were so desperate for proper food that they would defend it fiercely when they did manage to get hold of any.

Nowadays a lot of us feed a fresh raw diet, which includes raw meat, and our dogs remain happy and friendly. So it isn't the eating of raw meat that makes dogs vicious.

You could say that giving raw meat to a malnourished dog would make him vicious, but only if someone was daft enough to try to take it away.

Dogs wag their tails to show that they are friendly

The wagging tail is a sign of high arousal, and, like the human smile, has a whole range of meanings, not all of them benign. Look at the whole dog to see the truth in the wag - check out the set of the ears, the look in the eyes, what the mouth indicates, how the posture looks, and whether hackles are up. Never see the tail as the end of the communication.

You should scruff a dog and shake it to tell it off, as that's how mother dogs punish their puppies

Pure fiction. Ask anyone who breeds dogs and they will assure you that mother dogs do nothing of the sort. They will growl or even air-snap at a puppy who is annoying them, but they will never grab, shake, or pin down a puppy. Those actions only occur between canines when one dog is trying to injure another, and this is why anyone misguided enough to follow this theory not only destroys any trust between themselves and the dog, but risks being bitten too.

Dogs should be fasted for one day a week because wild dogs wouldn't eat every day

Cheap and simple for the dog owner, who saves the cost of 52 meals a year, it is easy to see why this idea became popular, but it has nothing to do with the way wild dogs really live. A wild dog might not catch a deer every day, but usually it can still fill up on plenty of smaller beasts such as mice and beetles, plus any carrion it finds. Oh, and by the way - we don't have wild dogs as pets anyway. The ones sprawling in our armchairs are definitely domesticated.

Dogs damage our possessions because they are mad at us when we go out without them

Dogs have no understanding of the way we value our possessions - and do we value them enough if we leave them within reach of a dog? Dogs don't do anything out of spite or revenge, but instead will do what seems to be a good idea at the time.

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Chewing releases endorphins and so relieves stress, which is why a lot of dogs chew when they are left alone. Dogs want to add their scent to ours when they feel insecure, which is why they like furniture, on which we spend a lot of time, and footwear, in which we spend a lot of time. What seems like deliberate damage to us is really the result of the dog trying to gain comfort when upset, whether that means remodelling the sofa, chewing those irresistibly pheromone-scented shoes, tearing up a pillow and chasing the feathers all over the room, or adding their own scent to ours by having a lovely wee right in the centre of our bed.

Dogs can't see colour

Science, which once assured us that dogs saw only in black and white, now tells us that they do have some degree of colour vision, but this isn't the same as our own. Science is a continual journey of discovery, and what was fact yesterday becomes ‘we used to think' today. What we do already know is that they can detect the slightest movement much better than we can, and also make better use of light where it is scarce.

But don't expect them to admire the finer points of your tartan skirt any time soon.

Once a dog has killed another animal it will always be dangerous

It is easy for us to forget that dogs are predators, and it is normal for them to want to kill certain other animals, even though we may not like the idea. But that aspect of their nature does not mean that they are aggressive, because you don't feel aggressive towards your dinner.

Our pets can go their whole lives without fulfilling this aspect of their instincts, and they won't be any poorer for it as long as they have suitable other outlets for their energies. However, some dogs are bred to hunt for a living, under human control and for human benefit, such as ratting terriers or rabbit-catching Whippets. This does not translate to any kind of aggression towards humans, because dogs are such clever beasts that they know we aren't rats or rabbits!

One dog year equals seven human years

Er - and your three and a half-year-old daughter can have children? This idea has no basis in reality at all, but is part of the magic of the number seven in human folklore. Small dogs typically have a longer average lifespan than large breeds, with terriers often reaching their late teens, while a Great Dane is lucky to get to double figures. Bitches usually have their first season between six months and a year old. Most dogs are fully grown by their second birthday, though giant breeds can take twice as long.

How long it takes humans to grow up remains a matter for conjecture.