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50 fascinating facts about dogs

  • Licking is a sign that your dog is anxious

    If your dog lips his licks or 'air-licks' when there's no tasty food around, it probably means he is stressed or worried. It's thought to originate as an appeasement gesture that attempts to defuse conflict with other dogs. In one experiment, dogs licked more often when experiencing an unnerving social situation, like a strange person walking directly toward them. In another, they licked more frequently when looking at photos of angry faces than photos of happy faces.

  • The hormonal system of dogs has evolved so they can live with and even love us

    Domestication causes changes in an animal's body, making them less fearful around humans. Rather than fleeing in terror like a wild animal, dogs actually produce fewer stress hormones in our presence. Interacting with a person also causes dogs to produce spikes in hormones associated with pleasure and bonding, including oxytocin, and one study showed a particularly strong effect of gazing into one another's eyes, a similar effect found in mothers and infants.

  • Dogs get runner’s high

    A study found that after running, both dogs and humans have blood elevated levels of an endocannabinoid, a neurotransmitter that signals the reward center of the brain that something is pleasurable. Unlike humans and dogs, this pleasurable effect isn't found in ferrets, a species that doesn't run long distances to catch prey.

  • Puppies are the cutest right when they need us most

    Mother dogs wean their puppies at around eight weeks of age. In a study where people were asked to rate the cuteness of dogs at different ages, it turns out that eight weeks is when we find puppies cutest. This is when they're sent away to fend for themselves and need to find a human to bond with and care for them, and they've evolved to be most appealing to us at precisely that time.

  • Dogs can count, to some extent

    Using similar experimental methods as those used on infants, dogs can be shown to have a sense of numbers. If you show them a treat, hide it with a screen, appear to add a treat, and then lift the screen to reveal three treats, they will look at it for longer than when they see the expected two treats. Brain scanning studies also show that they use the same part of the brain as humans to process numbers.

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  • One year of a dog's life does not equal seven human years

    This commonly repeated equation has no basis in fact. There isn't one simple number you can use because humans and dogs age at different rates. A 1-year-old dog is in mid-to-late adolescence, not equivalent to a 7-year-old child. A 2-year-old dog is a young adult. After that, you could roughly say it's one year to five years, but that still doesn't account for the fact that different size dogs have different lifespans (small dogs live longer than large dogs).

  • It's fine to play tug of war with your dog

    Another commonly repeated bit of conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't play tug of war with your dog, because it will cause behavior problems, especially if you let him win the game. This is also largely a myth. A study tested dogs on a set of behavioral measures before and after playing tug of war and found that they increased on a quality called "obedient attentiveness," regardless of whether they won or not. There was no effect on a measure of confidence, so no evidence that the dogs became bossier or more "dominant." The most playful dogs did seek more play and attention after being allowed to win, so just don't let them win every time.

  • Your relationship with your dog is not about dominance

    Behavior issues in dogs are often attributed to them wanting to be "dominant," but this is based on long-discredited research. It derives from a claim about wolf packs that turned out to be inaccurate because the research was done with captive groups that did not have natural relationships. What's more, dogs are different from wolves in many ways, and research with feral dogs has shown that their groups don't have the same social structure.

  • You don't need to ignore your dog when you're leaving her alone

    Another behavior myth says that you should ignore your dog before leaving the house, instead of petting and making a fuss, lest you cause separation anxiety. However, a study that compared when owners petted their dogs before leaving them alone to when they didn't found that dogs that had been petted showed more calm behaviors and a lower heart rate.


  • There are more dog breeds than you probably think

    The American Kennel Club (AKC), the major dog breeds registry in the U.S., currently recognizes 193 breeds. But the Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognizes over 300 breeds worldwide.

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