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12 Dog Facts You've Always Believed That Are Not Actually True

Written by FOTP Team

Last updated

Why would anyone feel compelled to make up facts about dogs when there are plenty of incredible true facts about dogs? For instance, did you know that your dog has a dominant paw? Is your dog a righty or a lefty?

The truth is, there are a lot of mistruths out there about dogs, but we’re going to help you get your facts straight. So next time you’re at the dog park, and you overhear someone repeating one of these long-standing non-facts, you can confidently scoff and shout “ACTUALLY…” before setting them straight.

1. Dogs eat grass when they have an upset stomach.

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You’ve probably seen your dog pulling out mouthfuls of grass and chalked it up to the same explanation as everyone else: dogs eat grass when they’re sick. According to researchers, eating grass is normal behavior for dogs, regardless of how their stomachs are feeling. It’s likely an inherited behavior from wolves, who eat grass to clear harmful parasites from their guts.

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2. Cats and dogs fight like, well… cats and dogs.

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Dogs don’t instinctively hate cats, but they have an instinctive urge to chase anything small and furry that runs away from them. On the other hand, cats have developed a skill for running AWAY FROM giant, hairy creatures chasing after them. You can probably see how this might create issues. Plenty of households have cats and dogs who get along fine. Training and supervised socialization can help if you're having problems.

3. A dog year is equivalent to seven human years.

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Listen, the whole dog years thing was already pretty shaky. The seven years bit probably just came from statistics, since the average lifespan of a dog is roughly a seventh of a human’s. The actual math is much trickier and depends on the stage of growth, the size of the dog, and the dog’s fitness, but there’s still a rough way to make the calculation. The updated equation (which, frankly, is pretty confusing if you’re not a math whiz) is 16 log(x) + 31, replacing x with your dog’s age. That puts the age of your five-year-old puppy at a comfortably middle-aged 56 human years.

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4. A barking dog never bites.

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Maybe idioms shouldn’t count because the point is that they’re not meant to be taken literally, but the old phrase “a barking dog never bites” couldn’t be further from the truth. Dogs tend to bark when they’re feeling threatened (or when their family is being threatened). A dog bark is like a warning, and if that warning gets ignored, biting is just another tool dogs can use to protect themselves. The jury is still out on whether a dog’s bark is worse than her bite though.

5. Dogs see the world in black and white.

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Dogs can totally see colors. Not all that well, and they can only really make out blue and yellow hues thanks to their dichromatic vision — but they can see them! Dogs have fewer cone cells than rod cells, giving them blurred day vision, limited color perception, and strong night vision.

6. A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth.

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Dog mouths and human mouths are different ecosystems, so it’s not that they have cleaner mouths, just different mouths. There’s plenty of overlap between the mouth biomes of dogs and people, and both species have loads of bacteria swimming around in their maws. Also, that rumor that human bites are more infectious than dog bites is probably made up too.

7. Dogs think of people as pack leaders and only respond to dominance.

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This is another one of those almost-true-facts that’s slightly, well, wrong. Dogs and wolves do seem to live in dominance-based hierarchies in the wild, but that’s not true once they’re domesticated. We feed dogs, give them supplements, take them on walks, supervise them when they go potty, play with them, and give them a warm place to sleep. We’re more like benevolent demi-gods than pack leaders.

8. If a dog has black on its tongue, it’s part Chow Chow.

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Maybe! But probably not. Any dog breed can be born with entirely black or partially black tongues, and many breeds, including chow chows, shar-peis, cocker spaniels, dalmatians, and pugs are prone to having black or blue tongues.

9. Certain dog breeds are completely hypoallergenic.

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No breed’s entirely hypoallergenic (meaning they don’t cause allergic reactions in people). Still, some breeds like Poodles, Schnauzers, and Portuguese Water Dogs are known to cause fewer allergic reactions. All dogs get their saliva and dander everywhere, so if you’re prone to dog allergies, maybe get a lizard or something instead?

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10. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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Another false idiom! *Shakes fist angrily at an intangible concept*

This one is thought to date back to an animal husbandry guide from the 16th century, but back then, we didn’t even know what germs were, so how smart could we have been? Of course old dogs can learn new tricks, though it takes a bit more effort than training an impressionable young puppy. Maybe we should change the expression to “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks; you’re just too lazy to do it.”

11. Dogs are a reliable way to detect cancer in humans.

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Dogs are incredible creatures with such refined senses of smell that they can detect cancer and other diseases in humans, just not very reliably. Listen, it’s an astonishing feat; it’s just not very practical or scalable. Dogs take time to train correctly, and even then, their ability to sniff out diseases is a little hit-or-miss. Good effort though, pups.

12. Purebred dogs have more health issues than mixed breed dogs.

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Mixed breed dogs are just as likely to have health issues as purebred dogs. Environmental factors, genetics, and bad luck can affect any dog’s health. Purebred dogs are more likely to suffer from genetic problems like hip dysplasia due to selective breeding, however, so the AKC recommends that breeders stick to the established breed standards.

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