We know a lot more about dog and cat behavior these days than ever before, but there are still lots of myths about pet care and behavior floating around that are just plain wrong. Pet Airways wants to set the record straight, so we talked to some of the top dogs in pet medicine, skin care and behavior. Here’s what they had to say about some common old wives’ tales, plus some pet-friendly advice on care and training.
Myth #1: Puppies should not go to training classes, the mall or friends’ homes until they have had all of their vaccinations at 16 weeks of age.
No way! The benefits a puppy receives from these early socialization experiences far outweigh the risks of encountering an infectious disease. The scary truth? Dogs are more likely to be euthanized in shelters because of behavior problems than they are to die from parvo or distemper.
“The time of rapid social development that sets a pattern for most things in later life ends at 14 to 16 weeks for dogs,” says veterinary behaviorist Melissa Bain, chief of the clinical animal behavior service at the University of California at Davis. “This important period has passed by the time the dog has received its full vaccination series.”What’s more important: As long as they’ve had their first set of vaccinations, it’s safe to take puppies to well-controlled areas where healthy puppies and adult dogs visit. Puppy classes, yes; homes with friendly, vaccinated dogs, yes; dog parks, no, because dogs of unknown health status may be there.
Myth #2: If a dog or cat scoots on its butt, it has worms.
Maybe. Worms are a possibility, says Marty Becker, DVM, author with Gina Spadafori of The Ultimate Dog Lover and The Ultimate Cat Lover, but more often than not, the animal is trying to relieve the pressure of fluid buildup in its anal glands.
Just what are the anal glands? They produce the scent on feces that allows your dog or cat to announce to other animals “I was here” or “This is my territory.”
“Animals love to spend a lot of time deciding where to place a number two,” Dr. Becker says. “I call it ‘dung shui.’ Every time they go to the bathroom, some of that scent is excreted with the feces. If the anal glands become infected or inflamed, that scent can’t get out and builds up in the anal glands. The area is sore and irritated, so they scoot.”Fecal tags stuck to hair around the pet’s rear end can also cause scooting, in an attempt to remove the clump, which may be causing a tickling sensation. If your dog or cat is scooting a lot, take it to the veterinarian. The anal glands may need to be manually expressed, a stinky job if ever there was one.
Myth #3: Dogs or cats that potty in the house, tear things up or bark when their people are gone do so out of spite.
False. Pets do have emotions, but spite is a complex feeling that isn’t within their range. Dr. Bain says it’s more likely that these behavior problems have a root cause such as separation anxiety, lack of toys, playtime, exercise or other enriching experiences, territorial behavior, or incomplete housetraining, to name just a few.
Myth #4: Bathing dogs too frequently causes dry skin.
Not necessarily, says veterinary dermatologist Lowell Ackerman, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
“The frequency of bathing depends on many factors, including breed-specific skin and fur features, age, medical condition and type of shampoo used. Some shampoos with heavy detergent concentrations can indeed dry out fur; others with more moisturizing features can have the opposite effect. The type of shampoo used and the bathing interval should be selected based on the characteristics of the dog being bathed.”
For instance, water-loving dogs such as retrievers, water spaniels, Newfoundlands and Portuguese water dogs have thick, oily coats that repel water and insulate them from temperature changes. Too much bathing can strip their coats of protective oils, but to maintain the proper texture and appearance their coats should get a thorough freshwater rinse any time these dogs go swimming in a chlorinated pool or saltwater. Talk to your dog’s breeder, a groomer or your veterinarian about what’s right for your particular dog’s coat.
Myth #5: Dogs that pull on the leash, jump up on people, sleep on the bed or push through doors ahead of their people do so because they’re being dominant.
Not exactly. More often, they are simply untrained or just want to be closer to their people for companionship, Dr. Bain says. She offers a few tips on getting better behavior out of your dog.
“To get a dog not to sleep on the bed, you have to provide an appropriate place for the dog to sleep, and all family members need to be consistent in not letting him up on the bed. To get a dog not to jump in greeting, only interact with him when he has ‘four on the floor.’ All people who interact with the dog need to be consistent.”
Myth #6: Aggressive dogs are dominant.
Just the opposite is true. Dogs that behave aggressively usually do so because they’re afraid or anxious. When they’re punished for being aggressive, they become more fearful and sometimes more aggressive. If that cycle isn’t broken, Dr. Bain says, dogs can learn to suppress their fearful behavioral signs, such as a tucked tail or ears held back, and begin displaying more offensive threats. Get help before things go that far!