Dogs are beloved worldwide and often a favorite subject for story and myth. This is not surprising, as dogs are our most ancient inter-species relationship. However, as science advances, much of what we thought we knew about dogs turns out not to be true. New information, often even more fascinating and exciting than the previously believed mythologies, challenges us to update our practices and our thinking.
My husband and I loved to watch the old television show “MythBusters.” A team of talent, ranging from Hollywood stunt guys to clever and inventive scientists and engineers, would test out a new myth each week trying to prove or disprove it. It often involved entertaining explosions, cool robotics or sizzling chemistry.
It turns out, the grooming profession has some “myth-busting” of its own to do. We are in the middle of a significant knowledge revolution in grooming. For most of the last century, groomers have been operating in silos—working alone, not communicating with each other and with no educational requirements. Groomers used to work primarily from their own homes and with no internet. We were more isolated and even secretive, feeling competitive and proprietary with our own skills and information. Myth-based practices abounded in those days.
However, as trade shows, competitions and, post-pandemic, more online educational opportunities become available, the knowledge revolution in grooming began to reach more people. We are evolving into a much more collegial, educational and communicative industry. All around us, we are seeing the myth-busting power of new information and the morphing of old school thinking in our industry. Product lines, tools, equipment, and our expertise are getting better and better. And, our pet clients benefit from this expansion as well.
While all this new information is increasingly available to more groomers, our industry and the reception it has received remains uneven at best. As my grooming and teaching career has spanned over four decades, the explosion of new information in our industry based in science is truly exciting to see. But with many fields (not just grooming), there is still a very present attitude of, “I know what I know, and it works—don’t bother me with that new stuff.”
Transitions in information are not always easy or quick, and grooming experiences growing pains, as do many other professions. Some prefer to cling to their familiar practices and anecdotes, while others are excitedly lapping up any new information they can access.
Let’s take a look at just a few interesting myths about dogs and their grooming that have been “busted” by recent advances in scientific information:
1. Myth: The dog is descended from the wolf.
Busted: The dog has always been said to be descended from the wolf. It’s even on dog food commercials, so it must be true! Recent discoveries of ancient canine DNA and our better ability to explore the details of current DNA have proven the dog is not descended from the wolf at all! The dog is a cousin of the wolf, both having descended from a common ancestor.1
A similar common misunderstanding of evolutionary science includes the old school notion that humans evolved from monkeys. We did not. Just as the dog and the wolf came from different lines of the Canidae family, humans and other primates are cousins, descended from an extinct common ancestor.
Once the dog’s DNA was fully mapped and published in 2003, lots of old stories about the dog were myth-busted. The mapping of the canine genome showed that the wolf and the dog had a common ancestor as yet undiscovered in fossils and archeology, but clearly there in the DNA. Some scientists are calling it “the ancestor wolf” or “proto-dog.” They are working to find more ancient dog DNA to help fill in the gaps.
Teams of scientists are still working on all this, debating single-origin or dual-origin theories. Canine evolutionary science has seen an explosion of discoveries in recent decades, including migration patterns and the discovery of five distinct and globally distributed gene pools. As early as 11,000 years ago, there were already five distinct dog lineages that gave rise to canines in the Near East, Northern Europe, Siberia, New Guinea and the Americas.2
2. Myth: Humans domesticated the dog.
Busted: Domesticated animals are species that are long-controlled by humans and who live and work with us exclusively. They no longer live in the wild, nor can they. All domesticated mammals (including humans) share physical features that are similar, and there is some exciting new science that explains why that happens3—a more involved topic for another day.
The story has long been that the dog was the first species domesticated by humans. Because of the amazing work in ancient DNA, anthropology and archeology, we now know that the dog as a distinct species is much older than once thought (approximately 33,000 to 44,000 years old). What science has revealed is that our two species are co-evolved and, therefore, we share a relationship unique in all the world.
But who domesticated whom? Which of our two species first tentatively approached the other, demonstrating the mutual benefit of a partnership? It may change your understanding of who we, as dog groomers, work with to learn this!
What the evolutionary biologists now say, clearly indicated by the bulk of the emerging evidence, is that the ancestor wolf or proto-dog approached us first. They came to our camps to feed off our garbage and we saw the benefit of having them near our camps. They kept away other predators and, over time, they helped us hunt more successfully. So, they get the evolutionary credit. Dogs are the first domesticated mammals and dogs domesticated us! Dogs taught people the benefits of inter-species friendliness. Dogs may even be responsible for the very survival of the human species at multiple points in our history.4,5,6 I find it deepens the joy and appreciation in my grooming to know this about the dogs on my table.
3. Myth: All canine coat types can be groomed the same.
Busted: The same shampoo; the same shave down, no matter the breed or coat type, has long been a widely accepted grooming industry practice. But thankfully, for the dogs, that is now changing with more and better information about coat genetics and dermatological science. The dogs get the benefit of better grooming as our industry innovators put out more and better products, tools, and techniques based on this better science.
When I began grooming in the early 1980s, there were few choices in grooming products and tools, and everything got shaved. Shampoos and conditioners are now researched, manufactured and marketed with many more options for coat type, skin issues, breeds and desired grooming outcomes. Tools and equipment are amazingly better with more diverse choices for both the groomer’s hands and the dog’s skin and coat.
Best of all, our understanding of canine coat genetics has greatly improved. We now have access to electron microscopy and advanced dermatology. We know about the anagen, catagen and telogen phases of hair growth, and the differences between those cycles in primary versus secondary hairs. This access to better information leads us to an improved understanding of the most significant genetic difference in the canine coat, which is what some of us are calling “Fur vs. Hair,” or genetically pre-determined length (PDL) coat types (which are not to be clipped) vs. genetically undetermined length (UDL) coat types (which grown until cut).
We also now know that on wire-coated breeds (also a Fur or PDL coat type), the microscopic follicles are deeper and more complex and the hair shaft is larger. This means they won’t easily shed out naturally and must be pulled or tugged on (hand-stripped) or carded. If they are only clipped, they can leave little bits of hair roots inside the follicles, eventually causing some of the follicles to clog, become irritated and even die.7
This list is in no way exclusive of the myths that surround dogs and our profession. There are many others to discuss and consider, and they are all part of our professional growth as groomers. Myth-busting should be an on-going process in any field as new science helps us re-evaluate our old school practices.
As we acquire more information and science about what we do and collectively bust more myths, we help our skilled trade industry grow more and more into a respected profession. And as we rise in our ability to educate ourselves, we help raise our status as skilled tradespeople to a professional level and do things better for these wonderful dogs we serve.
Enjoy all the exciting new information out there! ✂️