Brush up your canine knowledge with our incredible facts about dogs — how many do you already know?
Are dogs your specialist subject? Even if you spend a lot of time hanging out with your dog, you might not know about their secret senses, or which colour toy they’re most likely to choose first. Road test your canine knowledge with our round-up of amazing dog facts.
1. Dogs don’t see colours in the same way that we do
Dogs don’t only see in black and white, as we once thought, but they do perceive the world differently to humans. Dogs probably see greens and reds as shades of greys and browns. But they do see blue and yellow clearly – which is why agility courses are usually designed in these colours. Choosing toys in blue or yellow could also help your dog see them more easily.
2. Your dog’s nose is incredibly sensitive to smell and heat
Most of us already know that dogs have a far superior sense of smell to us – somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000 times better, depending on their breed. But research also shows that a dog’s nose can sense thermal radiation, ie heat. Only one other species of mammal is known to have this ability: the common vampire bat, which uses it to track down prey.
3. Dogs have secret senses we lack
Dogs have a ‘second nose’ known as the vomeronasal, or Jacobson’s organ. This sensory organ sits between their nostrils and the roof of their mouth. We’re still not sure of the exact purpose of this organ, but scientists think it may be used to detect pheromones. If that wasn’t impressive enough, dogs also have special taste buds on the tip of their tongue… just for tasting water!
4. Some dogs can detect medical problems
Medical detection and alert assistance dogs are trained to sniff out a range of medical conditions. From detecting cancer to alerting their handlers of an impending medical event such as a seizure, these dogs can make a life-changing difference to their owners. There are around 80 medical alert assistance dogs working in the UK, while research is continuing into whether dogs can also detect Covid-19.
5. Dog yawns can be contagious – and confusing!
Next time you yawn, watch your dog to see if they yawn, too. Researchers have found that contagious yawning doesn’t only affect humans, but dogs, too. In humans, this is connected to social communication and could be a way of signalling empathy, although we don’t know whether it’s precisely the same for our dogs as well.
6. Dogs can be left - or right-pawed
Many dogs prefer using a certain paw over the other. In one study, researchers found that 34% of dogs they tested were left-pawed, 29% were right-pawed, and the remaining 37% used both paws equally. It’s easy to test this in your own dog. The next time they stand up from a nap or reach for a treat, see which paw they use first, and observe whether it’s consistent!
7. Dogs were the first animals to live alongside humans
DNA research shows that dogs were the first animal to be domesticated – and by 11,000 years ago, they had already split into five distinct types. Some breeds of dogs, including the Chihuahua and Rhodesian Ridgeback, still share genetic traces of these ancient indigenous breeds. Around the time that dogs became domesticated, they also developed the ability to digest starchy foods, an adaptation that wolves lack. We still don’t know, however, exactly where and how wild wolves evolved into man’s best friend.
8. Most dogs understand around 100 words
Our dogs are capable of understanding far more words than ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘walkies’. Research suggests that most dogs respond to 100 words on average – around the same as a two-year-old child. They can also recognise specific gestures, count up to five – and some can even carry out mathematical calculations! Canine intelligence tests define the smartest dogs as those that can understand a new command or word after only five repetitions, and follow a command the first time it’s given 95% of the time. If you’d like to brush up on your dog’s basic commands, don’t miss our expert training guide.
9. Dogs can feel a wide range of emotions
From excitement through to anxiety and sadness, our dogs are capable of experiencing many different emotions – as their owners can usually testify. The jury is still out, however, on whether our dogs feel more complex emotions, such as shame. Some experts believe that the guilty look your dog gives you if they’ve just done something wrong may be more to do with them recognising you’re not happy and trying to appease you, than actual contrition. Researchers have, however, found that dogs can experience jealousy – traditionally thought to be a complex, human-only emotion. So, who knows what else our dogs are really feeling?
10. Dogs are good for our health
As we’ve just been discovering, dogs really are amazing. But they’re also seriously good for our health. From simple things like helping us get outside for a daily walk to reducing the risk of heart disease, and helping us cope with stress, our dogs offer us so much more than just good company!
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