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Dogs live in our homes and sleep in our beds, yet we misunderstand them all the time. After all, dogs and humans don’t speak the same language. And even worse, loads of misinformation gets passed around. So how do you really know what’s going on with your canine best friend? Is that wagging tail a sign of happiness? Does your dog really see in black and white? Read on to bust some common dog myths.

Myth: Only Happy Dogs Wag Their Tails

A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about their mood; however, it’s only one part of the canine body language package. A wagging tail simply means a dog is emotionally aroused. That might be positive arousal, like friendly excitement, or negative, like aggressive intent. A dog’s ear position, body posture, and facial expression are all important cues, too. It’s only by observing the entire dog that you can be confident a tail wag equals happiness.

Myth: One Dog Year Equals Seven Human Years

You might have heard that one year of a dog’s life is equivalent to seven years of a human’s life, but that dog myth is simply not true. You can’t calculate dog years to human years that way. One-year-old dogs are not at the same stage of physical and mental development as seven-year-old children—they are more like fifteen-year-old teenagers. Plus, different breeds develop and age differently. For example, smaller dogs, like toy breeds, develop faster and live longer than larger breeds and therefore are considered seniors at a later age.

Senior Labrador retriever laying down indoors.
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Myth: Human Food is Safe for Dogs

If you can eat something, surely your dog can too, right? Wrong! Lots of foods are perfectly fine in small quantities, but there are other foods that are dangerous for dogs. Some, like almonds, are a choking hazard, some, like macadamia nuts, are poisonous, and even a small amount of chocolate or grapes/raisins can kill. Before sharing any food, be sure you know which foods are safe and unsafe for your dog.

Myth: Dogs See in Black and White

Dogs don’t see the same rainbow of colors that most humans do, but that doesn’t mean they see in black and white. Dogs can see color; it’s just a more muted world of shades of blue, yellow, and gray. While people have three types of color-detecting cells in their eyes, known as cones, dogs only have two. As a result, canine vision is similar to that of a person with red-green color blindness.

Myth: Shaving Your Dog’s Fur in the Summer Cools Them Down

Though humans wear fewer clothes in hot weather, dogs don’t benefit from a reduction in their amount of fur; in fact, for most breeds, shaving down a coat has the opposite effect. The double coat on breeds like the Golden Retriever or Siberian Husky actually keeps the dog cool in hot temperatures, and shaving it down can lead to overheating. And if you shave your dog too close to the skin, it puts them at risk for insect bites, sunburn, and skin cancer.

Myth: All Dogs Can Naturally Swim

Members of certain breeds, like Portuguese Water Dogs, may like  swimming. But it’s a myth that all dogs are as equally at home in the water. Not every dog can naturally swim—some need a little help to feel comfortable, and others, such as dogs with barrel-shaped chests, flat faces, or short legs, have the wrong body shapes entirely. If your dog is unsure in the water, a life jacket can boost their confidence and keep them safe.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi wearing a life vest swimming.
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Myth: Dogs Like Hugs

It’s almost impossible to resist petting or hugging an adorable dog. It makes you feel good. But do dogs feel as warm and fuzzy about these displays of affection? Absolutely not. Most dogs dislike hugs because it makes them feel trapped or annoyed. In fact, dogs often pin each other down when fighting, so hugs can cause stress. For safety and your dog’s comfort, teach your dog to tolerate your hugs or find a more dog-friendly way to express your love.

Myth: Dogs Show Guilt When They’ve Done Something Wrong

Dogs feel all kinds of emotions, so it’s no wonder people interpret their dog’s sheepish look as guilt. However, whether dogs feel guilt is still an open question. When your dog has done something wrong, they might feel bad about it, but the tucked tail and pulled back ears are really an appeasement gesture. Your dog is reacting to your anger, at the moment or anticipated, and trying to calm you down.

Myth: Dogs Hate Cats

It’s a cliché that dogs and cats don’t get along. But do dogs really hate cats? Dogs and cats have different languages and instincts, which can complicate their relationship. For example, cats often run from dogs, which is a surefire way to engage a dog in a game of chase. But it’s not a lost cause. Some breeds are naturally good with cats. And for the rest, training and proper socialization can turn dogs and cats into good friends.

Basset Hound and cat snuggling together and sleeping.
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Myth: Rubbing Your Puppy’s Nose in an Accident Helps With Potty Training

Old-school potty-training advice advises rubbing your puppy‘s nose in an accident to teach them they’ve done something wrong. Unfortunately, rather than making the connection between their accident and the punishment, your puppy will learn you’re harsh and unpredictable. Dogs live in the moment, so unless you catch them in the act, there’s nothing to do but clean up the mess. If you catch your puppy mid-accident, calmly interrupt them, then take them to their potty spot and reward them when they finish the job.

Related article: Should You Give Your Dog Hugs?
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