Find out which 4 dog myths you should never believe.
Reliable statistics on dog bites and dog attacks are hard to come by, for complicated reasons.(4) Reporting’s inconsistent, and breed identifications are often shaky. How shaky? I was taking a walk one day when a man warned me about the Pit Bull sleeping under the park bench I was about to pass. Now, I knew this dog. For a Pit Bull, he looked an awful lot like a black German Shepherd or Shepherd mix. My dog Izzy, who precisely resembled a Dingo, was once accused of being a Pit. I wouldn’t have believed this was possible if it hadn’t happened to me.
Pits are still being bred to fight other dogs and probably they are more likely than your average dog to aggress against animals.(5) But it’s worth recalling how many dogs Michael Vick killed for being unsatisfactory fighters, too.
Why Dog Myths Can Be Harmful
You can spend your dog’s entire life thinking she’s colorblind and odds are the misinformation will never do either of you any harm. But many dog myths are hurtful or dangerous, so how do you evaluate what you hear? Sometimes you can bring down a myth with common sense, like Professor Brisbin asking that blindingly obvious question about how a locking jaw would unlock again.
Next, look for evidence. It’s true that on the Internet anybody can say anything, and does, but when a statement’s made over and over again without any scientific or statistical references to back it up, be suspicious. Sweeping generalizations? Watch out. Third-hand reports? Forget them. There’s a reason hearsay isn’t admissible in court.
As for experts, legally speaking, your 12-year-old can hang out her shingle as a dog behaviorist tomorrow, so that’s how much labels are worth. Ask about the qualifications of anyone offering information or advice. There’s no licensing or formal education requirement, but conscientious dog trainers and behavior counselors read scientific texts and attend specialized seminars.
The better we understand our dogs, the richer our lives together can be. You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini, as well as on Facebook, and write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I answer as many questions as I can. That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading!
Neitz, Jay, Geist, Timothy, and Gerald H. Jacobs. 1989. Color vision in the dog. Visual Neuroscience 3, 119-125; https://www.extension.org/pages/Through_the_Eyes_of_Your_Canine; and Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (Scribner, 2009), pp. 128-29.
See, for instance, the discussion here – which, by the way, gives a good clear picture of how much work it is to raise a litter. The question of when is the best time to spay/neuter a dog is controversial, but although some vets advocate waiting until after growth is completed, no one believes that dogs have any physical or emotional need to actually become parents.
I Lehr Brisbin, personal communication, May 16, 2010. The study is Bridgers, J. M., and I. L. Brisbin, Jr. 1989. Mechanical advantage in the pit bull jaw. Bulletin of the South Carolina Academy of Science LI, p. 51.
For a thorough, well-researched, and entertaining discussion, see Janis Bradley, Dogs Bite: But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous (James & Kenneth, 2005).
See Duffy, Deborah L., Yuying Hsu, and James A. Serpell. 2008. Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 114(3) (Dec.), pp. 441-60. This study, which sampled 33 breeds and is one of the few to include Pits, found “relatively average” stranger-directed aggression among them, but slightly more than a fifth of the Pits behaved aggressively (“snaps, bites, or attempts to bite”) toward strange dogs. Akitas showed a higher incidence of dog-dog aggression, Jack Russells missed by a hairsbreadth, and Aussie Shepherds and Dachshunds came close. Owner-directed aggression was lower among the sample of Pits than among the samples of (for example) Beagles, American Cocker Spaniels, and Shetland Sheepdogs. I don’t mean to single any of these breeds out except as examples of common family pets, and obviously the more powerful the dog the more potentially dangerous a given degree of aggression is. But the ticking-time-bomb Pit Bull is a myth.
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