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Dog Myths: Busted

Since we moved to Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania I have noticed that there is a man who rides around town on a unicycle (there’s always one.) Yesterday, as I was walking down a pedastrianised alley near my house that houses the craft market, he came skidding round the corner and hurtled up through the alley from the opposite direction, his legs pumping up and down in a ludicrous manner. A dog that was lazing under one of the stalls started to go absolutely mental, bounding around on the spot and barking in a totally crazy way. To make things worse, the unicyclist whipped his head round and began barking back at the dog over his shoulder whilst still tearing along at full speed. To the dogs crazed mind, the man was some kind of super-fast gliding human that could speak dog language.

The scene was over almost as quickly as it had started. We all stared at each other in amazement. Despite the language barrier, there was obviously one thought running through all our minds: Dogs are scared of unicycles.

Before I began to spread this fact as common knowledge, I happened to come across this video on youtube called ‘Uni-Dog: unicorns do exist, but Uni-Dogs never resist’ The theme and purpose of the video is somewhat confusing but it clearly depicts a man taking his dog for a walk on a unicycle. True, the dog does look reluctant at first. It could also be that the dog has become accustomed to unicycles through repeat exposure. Nevertheless, it clearly proves that my so-called dog fact is wrong. In fact taking dogs for walk on a unicycle and uploading the footage onto youtube seems to be quite a popular past time. Luckily for me, I checked the story out before I began circulating it amongst friends, but it made me wonder how many other dog facts are spread by less scrupulous purveyors of conversation. So I began to look into it.

Dog Myth #1: If you lure a dog onto a mirror and get it to look down, it will leap into the air with shock.

I think I might have got this from a Charlie Brown comic strip. I suppose the idea is to give your dogs the really trippy experience of standing on or under a parallel world of your own sitting room. I actually tried this one with my old family dog Edie. Pretty much nothing happened. The hardest bit was getting her to look down, allowing me to inadvertently prove the dog myth that when you point at something dogs just stare at your finger stupidly. After a while she got bored and wandered off.

However, dogs have been known to get scared and bark at their own reflections in mirrors, shop windows, shiny doors, etc, so there is obviously some truth in this. Charles Darwin’s mirror test offers some insight into animals and mirrors. To measure the different levels of self-awareness in animals, he went around a zoo with a mirror and showed animals their reflections. Over time scientists have proved that monkeys are particularly at handling mirrors, and after getting used to their reflection can use the mirror to pluck their nosehairs and strike sexy monkeys poses. Dolphins and humans are also pretty good (although it takes humans until 18 months to get the hang of it.) Even magpies, pigs and trained pigeons are pretty good at handling mirrors. But dogs just freak out or ignore them. One possible argument it that dogs use smells more than sight to navigate their world. Another argument is dogs are too stupid. Either way, this issue obviously needs a lot more scientific research.

Dog myth #2: Dogs look like their owners.

This obviously cannot be true across the board. For one thing there are a lot more sausage dogs than sausage-shaped humans in the world. But from personal investigations I would have to say this is true in some instances. For example, really old, blind dogs that piss themselves are often owned by the corresponding human. I have never seen a young person dragging round a depressingly ancient dog for a walk, and it seems only old people can bear to put up with them (or, who knows, perhaps even prefer crippled, arthritic dogs.)

A test by Bath Spa University (as ever on the cutting edge of raging scientific debate) proved that this myth is ‘a little bit true’ According to tests on volunteer dog owners, muscley steroid freaks like breeds that inspire terror into other pedestrians, and small, unfit people like miniature dogs that get their excercise by running in tiny circles.

However, the main finding was that there is a terrifying rise in the rate of dog owner prejudice in the UK. Overall, the test demonstrated that owners of bull terriers where generally perceived as ‘thickos’ while owners of labradors were considered ‘dull.’ Dr Workman, (who previously carried out a study which showed that the Birmingham accent was the most hated in Britain), added: “What this study shows is that you shouldn’t judge a person by their dog, but we all do.”

Dog myth #3: One day a human will get bitten by a rabid dog and turn into a zombie.

When former page 3 model and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here contestant Sam Fox was bitten by a stray rabid cat in Thailand (known locally as ‘crazy cat’), rabies was once again thrust into the public consciousness. Rabies (from the Latin word ‘to rage’)  travels through the central nervous system, and depending on the location of the infection can result in either ‘paralytic’ or ‘furious’ rabies. Paralytic rabies is basically what it says on the tin. If I were to get rabies I’d be hoping for paralytic rabies.

Early symptoms of furious rabies includes migraines and fever, progressing to acute pain, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement and intense fear of water. Finally the victim experiences periods of mania and aggression eventually leading to coma and death. Victims are tied to their bed to prevent them from attacking others or themselves.

Around 97% of human rabies cases result from dog bites, although there have been reports of rabid bats in Scotland (band name alert!) It is the most lethal of all infectious diseases and has been feared by mankind since time immemorial. If the virus is not treated before symptoms begin to show (which involves repeated injections into the stomach), it is usually fatal within days. One person dies of rabies every 10 minutes. truly, rabies is no laughing matter.

But this is besides the point. Can rabies morph into a zombie virus that will spread across the world causing some kind of apocalyptic scenario? A report by zombiehub.com warns that the rabies virus could be modified and used as a weapon in viral warfare is a serious concern. ‘It is not farfetched that modified viruses could be used as a weapon…The infected would loose their gift of freewill, in other words a form of ‘zombification’. Viruses have the devastating ability to spread very rapidly and can easily cause a human epidemic or zombie apocalypse.’ However, National Geographic documentary The Truth Behind Zombies argues biting is far too labour intensive to trigger a zombie pandemic : ‘Combine rabies with the ability of a flu virus to spread quickly through the air, and you might have the makings of a zombie apocalypse.’

Looming global disaster or paranoid conspiracy theory, you decide. For more information on surviving a global zombie outbreak (and the chance to win a bleeding zombie target retailing for $90!) you can visit the Zombie Research Society website.

Dog fact #4: Dogs often commit suicide after their owners die.

Dogs were the first animal domesticated by humans. They are a man’s best friend. According to the National Literary Trust ‘dog’ is the most popular first word for babies other than mummy or daddy. There are over double as many dog people than cat people in the world. They are mentioned 14 times in the Bible. We love dogs. But how do they feel about us?

A Skye Terrior named Greyfriars Bobby loved his owner John Gray (aka Old Jock) so much that after he popped it the pup spent the remaining 14 years of his life pining by his grave, thereafter becoming the epitome of pup loyalty and can even boast his own monument and Disney spinoff. Some cynics might say ‘wait a mo, how did he track down Old Jock’s grave? He obviously cant read the tombstone, and dogs presumably can’t identify rotting human remains from 6 feet under the ground?’ Well those cynics would be right; the Greyfriars Bobby was a money-making hoax made up by Victorian entrepreneurs to milk tourists in their nearby restaurant. ‘Greyfriars Bobby’ was actually TWO random stray dogs that they paid in dog munchies to put on a teary eyed show. However, Jan Bondeson, the historian who uncovered this myth, states “It won’t ever be possible to debunk the story of Greyfriars Bobby – he’s a living legend, the most faithful dog in the world, and bigger than all of us.” – which is ironic as Greyfriars Bobby was actually incredibly tiny.

The Daily Mail launched their own investigation into this burning issue: ‘Can a dog really die of a broken heart?’ Animal physiologist Roger Mugfor, who adevises the Queen on her ‘quarrelsome corgies’, knows a number of cases in which pets have starved themselves to death in greif after their owners die. Take, for example, the faithful Brazilian mut Leao whose owner was one of 630 dead in a mudslide catastrophe. The photo went viral in a brief spell of Leaomania until a bemused Brazilian gravedigger revealed that ‘Leao’ is actually called Caramelo and often accompanies him to work to snooze on graves.

These stories perhaps say more about humans insecurities than they do about dog loyalty. The dog-on-grave symbol seems to really unlock some deep part of human suffering (and, whats more, makes for a great quick awwwwww article.) In actual fact, if you died you dog would be much more likely to rip your face off for food like Isabelle Dinoire’s labrador who need a face transplant after trying to commit suicide. Or the 7 Canadian Shelties that fed of their aged owners remains after 2 weeks without food or water. Or the German Shepherd that ate his ancient and lonely owners in Kent. In fact you don’t even need to be dead to get eaten by your dog; Jerry Douthett had his infected toes chewed of by his dog while passed out from a deadly mix of diabetes and margaritas.

 

So folks, until next time, this has been dog myths….

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