Fact or Fiction?

When talking about fact and fiction, going to Snapple caps might not be the most accurate way of learning new information. The very first Snapple fact for instance says that “A Goldfish’s attention span is three seconds.” I can reject that fact quite easily, but for the sake of science I have done some research.

Performing a quick Google search will find lots of scuffling on the web in regards to a goldfish attention span. I will admit that I was quick to say that of course their memory is longer than three seconds. Fish can be trained. When their light is turned on, do they come to the surface anticipating food? In order to be trained, organisms must remember the consequences of their previous behavior and respond accordingly the next time. That was my first mistake.

I exchanged the words attention span with memory. Memory is the ability to retain knowledge. Attention span is defined as the length of time that something can concentrate effectively on a task. Still, I think goldfish can have an attention span longer than three seconds.

In 1994 the Palais de la Découverte science museum trained goldfish using positive reinforcement to react to lights and colors differently. In 2003 the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth showed that goldfish have a memory of about three months and can tell the difference between shapes, sounds and color.

If you don’t believe two academia facilities then maybe you will believe the hit television show Mythbusters. The T.V. show created a maze to train goldfish, with the reasoning: if they can remember how to complete a maze, then they can keep their attention span and memory longer for three seconds. Each host had a set of fish. The one set of fish were trained to go through a maze to retrieve food and the other fish had no training. The trained goldfish could complete the maze between 25 and 40 seconds. The goldfish with no training took three to 20 minutes. So myth busted, goldfish can remember and keep focused longer than three seconds!


I can imagine this myth started when people started putting goldfish in tiny bowls. They told themselves that it was acceptable because by the time the goldfish swam in a circle (three seconds) that the fish was so stupid that they had forgotten that they just swam there. Maybe the outcome of this myth is to keep our goldfish in larger tanks?

Another fun saying that comes up every once in a while is that every human year is equivalent to seven dog years. There is really no exact formula; aging for dogs (and other pets) is specific to the individual and breed. Small to medium sized dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs. On average neutered animals, tend to live longer than intact animals, due to lower cancer risks. Another aspect to consider is what we are referring to when we say dog years. Maturity, life span and health are different parts to the umbrella term aging.

Some calculators suggest that the first year if your dog’s life is estimated to be between ten and 16 human years. When your dog turns two you can add another three to eight years. Than after that each year can represent four or five human years. That seems complicated so I like to keep it simple and say how many (earth) years we all are.

One last myth I want to share is about a dogs wagging tail. When dogs seem to be pleased they wag their tail, but it might not be the only time. Tail-wagging most likely signals a strong emotional signal, like smiling. Sometimes humans genuinely smile and sometimes we fake it. So a dog wagging their tail could also mean that they are agitated, tense, anxious, frightened or aggressive.

The most interesting part of the tail wagging is that researchers notice that dogs do not wag their tail when they are alone. If you give a bowl of food to your dog, they will usually wag their tail in appreciation. If they walk into a room with food and no one present, they will just start eating. Researchers have also noticed that puppies aren’t born wagging their tails. Around day 30 half of the litter is wagging their tail and by day 49 they can usually do the full behavior. This is also the time when the puppies are roaming and communicating with each other.

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