Article in November, 2001 issue of Dog Fancy magazine.
You’re sitting on your couch watching infomercials and wondering if that orange cleanser goop will really work on pet stains, when suddenly the power blinks off and the rolling sound of thunder booms through your living room. Panicked, you grab your dog and throw her outside because she’ll attract lightning--even inside the house. She’s in heat, and being an opportunist, you call your neighbor to ask if his dog could mate with yours. You want your female to have a litter of puppies before you spay her. A litter will develop her maternal instincts and make her a better pet, and what the heck—let the neighbor get struck by lightning instead of you. The neighbor is willing, since his dog hasn’t been neutered. Everyone knows that neutering would destroy the animal’s protective instincts. You send your dog to the neighbor, but not before giving her a raw egg to make her coat shiny and attractive to the male.
So, what seems wrong with this scenario? Hopefully everything, including the fact that you are actually watching infomercials. Myths relating to dogs are abundant, amusing, and sadly, harmful. Millions of canines are put to death every year because people still believe old wives’ tales. There are hundreds of myths, but here are a few of the worst—and funniest.
1. DOGS ATTRACT LIGHTNING. Sure, if your dog is chained to a lightning rod. Lightning is formed when electrical charges build within a storm cloud and oppositely charged particles gather at the ground below. Hurtling toward each other, the particles connect and complete the electrical circuit. Lightning will usually seek the closest and most intensely charged particles, which means that tall, isolated objects and metal make the best targets. So, if your dog isn’t tied to a lightning rod then rest assured, Fido won’t attract a killer lightning bolt any more than a human will. Golfers excluded.
2. FEMALES SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO HAVE A LITTER BEFORE THEY ARE SPAYED. The theory behind this is that breeding will develop maternal instinct and “fulfill” the female, resulting in a calmer pet. The truth is that the maternal instinct is temporary. The calmness is otherwise known as exhaustion. Ask any mother. Breeding your female will also expose her to health problems that can rear up both during the pregnancy, and years after. Liz Gray, the Public Education Coordinator for the Tuscaloosa Kennel Club, has been trying to get this message across for 15 years—ever since she spent nearly $1000 to save her dog from a pregnancy related illness. She firmly believes that most people don’t understand the risks to their pets (or their bank accounts) when they decide to breed. “Most do not have a clue how much time, equipment, or money it takes to adequately care for a litter of puppies,” she explains. “Problems can arise at any time with any dog, but the risks are higher with first litters, especially for dogs that are too young to have been bred at all.” Unless you are an experienced breeder, please don’t breed your dog. Especially if the only reason you plan to breed is to develop a maternal instinct. Genetics and environment shape a dog’s personality, not giving birth to a litter of puppies.
3. HOW A DOG SITS CAN DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT IT IS PUREBRED. People who believe this might have been struck by the lightning their dog attracted. Dogs are as individual as humans are. They sit, sleep, and eat in a variety of positions. A dog that sits with its back feet tucked under its body is not necessarily purebred, and one that sits with its hind feet splayed out like airplane wings doesn’t have to be a mixed breed.
4. DOGS NEED SEX TO MATURE. Whoa! Teenaged boys must have started this one. Sex does nothing for a dog except make puppies. People who believe this allow their young females to mate during the first heat cycle. What you’ve got then is a teenaged mom. Many dogs cannot handle motherhood at such a young age any more than human teenagers can. Greg McGrath, a veterinarian at Cedar Lake Pet Hospital in Biloxi, Ms., takes exception to the validity of this myth. “There are no known health benefits derived from allowing dogs to breed. There are definite health benefits to spaying and neutering. Spaying females before their first heat lowers their chance of developing mammary tumors at a later age. Neutering males can prevent testicular tumors, prostate problems, and rectal tumors that are stimulated by testosterone.” In both males and females, maturity develops with age, not sex. Yes, teenagers, this goes for you too.
5. SPOTTED TONGUES OR GUMS ARE PROOF OF A MIXED OR PURE BREED. Nope, sorry. Spotted tongues and gums are proof of some crazy pigmentation, but not of mixed or pure blood.
6. A DOG’S MOUTH IS CLEANER THAN A HUMAN MOUTH. There is a reason for the term, “dog breath.” Serious pathogens can exist in both human and dog mouths as part of the normal flora, but we at least, can brush our teeth. Think about all the rotting food and treats from the kitty litter box that get stuck between a dog’s teeth. My Corgi rolled in elk excrement once, and she spent quite some time happily licking it off. Do you really think her mouth was cleaner than yours is? Let’s sum things up here. Dogs lick their butts. ‘Nuff said.
7. WHOLE (UN-NEUTERED) MALES ARE MORE PROTECTIVE THAN NEUTERED MALES. No—whole dogs are more aggressive. Hormones cause aggression. Breeding and instinct produce protectiveness. By neutering your dog, you will allow him to be a happier and healthier animal. He’ll also be less likely to dart out in front of a car while roaming the streets in search of the female whose owner thinks she needs to have a litter before spaying. Have no fear--a dog that is naturally protective with its family will not suddenly become a wimp just because it was neutered.
8. A PUREBRED FEMALE THAT GIVES BIRTH TO LITTER OF MIXED BREED PUPPIES IS RUINED FOR FUTURE LITTERS. No, no, no! It’s difficult enough for scientists to manipulate genetics, so how can a litter of unborn puppies carry out such an undertaking? Puppies carried within the womb cannot alter the mother’s genetic structure, and therefore, future puppies will not be affected. While pregnant, a female shares blood with her litter, but that’s all. “But blood cells carry genetic code! Couldn’t cells from the mixed litter taint the mother’s blood and affect a purebred litter?” you ask. The answer is no. If you receive a transfusion, will you suddenly morph into the donor who gave the blood? Of course not. According to Las Vegas veterinarian, Philip Caldwell, “After giving birth, the female will shed all cells resulting from the mixed breeding. Despite the mixed mating, the female will still have an abundance of eggs that contain only her genetic material and hence, are ‘pure’.” Even if her temporarily “tainted” blood from the mixed litter were somehow given to a new, purebred litter, (which cannot happen, because the female has a brand new blood supply long before she can get pregnant again) it would not change the litter’s genetic structure. Where do people come up with this stuff? Is that thunder I hear? Quick, throw the dog outside.
9. YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS. My grandmother, at the age of eighty, began a soapmaking business and learned to parasail. I know a seventy-year old man who learned to race jet-skis. Good thing no one told them that myth. The key word here is “myth.” Dogs can learn new skills and commands within their physical capabilities until the day they pass away. What’s more, they want to learn. Their minds need stimulation—just like ours.
10. EGGS ARE GOOD FOR DOGS AND THEIR COATS. Raw egg whites contain avidin, an enzyme that destroys biotin, a B-complex vitamin, within the body. Biotin deficiencies can result in hair problems, skin lesions, diarrhea, and decreased litter size. Egg yolks, on the other paw, are very high in biotin. So should you feed your dog egg yolks without the whites? You can, but some experts consider the hazards of exposure to salmonella bacteria to be too much of a gamble, and not just to animals. “The risk of salmonella from raw eggs is real, however dogs are fairly resistant to it,” says Carole Brown, a Canadian veterinarian from British Columbia. “The greater risk is to the humans who would be handling the food. My personal opinion is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If your dog has a healthy coat and is eating a good food, why would you want to supplement it?” So there.
Now that you’ve read through a sampling of canine myths, let’s discuss why it is so important to dispel them. The word “myth” carries with it several definitions, but one of them is simply, “a false story.” Modern folklorists have a new term for these kinds of falsehoods. They call them urban belief tales. Urban belief tales are superstitious stories that are passed from person to person, usually as truth, often fairly logical and believable on some level, sometimes related to fact in some way. It is the plausibility of these urban belief tales that keeps them circulating and makes them a danger to pets and people. The mistaken belief that Doberman Pinschers turn vicious when their brains swell inside their skulls has led to an unfounded fear and persecution of these dogs. The idea that dogs should be allowed to have at least one litter accounts for the deaths of millions of unwanted puppies. And who knows how many people have become ill after needlessly handling raw eggs? Animals and children are the true innocents in our world, and they need our voices—the intelligent ones, anyway. Changes need to be made, and hopefully this article is a start. Now, go let your poor dog in out of the storm and teach him a new trick or two!