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50 fascinating facts about dogs

  • A dog's nose can detect heat, too

    A recently published study has discovered that dogs can detect weak thermal radiation—or warmth—with their noses, at a distance. Dogs could reliably tell the difference between two objects, one warm and one room temperature, that were 1.6 meters away, even though they looked and smelled identical. Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that a particular part of their brain was activated when detecting the warmth.

  • Your dog loves you for more than the treats

    Neuroscience has shown that your dog really does think you're special. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of dog brains show that the caudate nucleus, which responds to something pleasurable, shows a more robust response to the smell of a familiar person than to that of a stranger or a familiar dog. And it's not just because you feed him. In another study, dogs' brains showed just as strong a response to the expectation that their owner would appear and talk to them as to the anticipation of a treat.

  • Your relationship with your dog is similar to the parent-child relationship

    Behavioral research has shown that dogs rely on us in many ways, just like children rely on parents. Both dogs and infants feel more secure about exploring when their caregiver is present. In experiments, when a baby sees something scary, they decide whether to approach depending on whether their parent acts like the thing is OK, and dogs do the same with their owners.

  • Dogs actually like baby-talk

    You may feel embarrassed when someone catches you talking to your dog in a high-pitched voice, but you don't have to be, because a study has shown that dogs prefer it. And actually, we don't talk to dogs exactly like we talk to babies—we use the same pitch and intonation, but we intuitively leave out the vowel exaggeration that's thought to help babies learn to speak.

  • Verbal communication works for dogs, but visual is better

    Dogs definitely can learn to respond to human language: One famous border collie named Chaser knew over a thousand words. But visual signals come more naturally to them. In one study, dogs learned to fetch objects by their name and by pointing. Then, experimenters tested what happened if the commands contradicted each other. They found that dogs would fetch the object pointed to, rather than the one named. So while using gestures for commands seems a bit awkward if you're not a professional trainer, it's easier for your dog to understand.

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  • Dogs can tell what our facial expressions mean

    Dogs are good at reading our emotions. In fact, they can tell whether we're angry or happy just from our expressions in photos, without the help of body language or our voices. In one study where dogs learned to tell the photos apart by being rewarded with a treat for touching them, dogs who were treated for touching the angry face learned more slowly, because they seemed to be reluctant to approach it.

  • That guilty look doesn't mean what you think it does

    Owners think they can tell when their dog has done something wrong because they show a "guilty look." But a study showed that dogs gave the guilty look when their owners believed they'd done something wrong, even if they hadn't. And they didn't give a guilty look when they actually had disobeyed, but the owner believed they had been obedient. The look is a reaction to the owner's anger and fear of being punished—not to what the dog itself has done.

  • Dogs can tell we are distressed—but don't expect them to solve the problem

    Your dog may seem to know when you're sick or upset and need comforting, and some studies have supported this. In one study, dogs were in a bigger hurry to push through a door to get to their owner when she was crying than when she was humming. But don't expect them to rescue you like Lassie does in the old movies. In another study, dogs did not try to get help from a bystander when their owner pretended to be stuck underneath a fallen bookcase.

  • Dogs have evolved a special muscle to make puppy dog eyes

    You know that sad look your dog makes when she wants your food? Dogs actually have a special muscle to lift the inner eyebrows to make that look, which is not found in wolves. To human eyes, the expression makes them look babyish and sad, so we probably accidentally selected for it in the course of domestication because we find it endearing, and it triggers a nurturing response.

  • Dogs have evolved to be able to digest grains

    Advertisements tempt you to buy dog food because it's full of meat, and grain-free dog food seems to be a trend that is here to stay. But dogs' bodies have changed in many ways in the course of domestication, including their digestive system. A study comparing dog and wolf DNA found that they have evolved to have more copies of the gene to produce the protein that breaks down the starch in the intestines, and lab studies showed that they should be five times better at digesting it. This change allowed them to take advantage of a wider range of our food sources as they evolved to live alongside humans.

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