Canine Science – Amazing Scientific Discoveries About Dogs

Man’s best friend holds many mysteries for us and many owners feel they are almost human in the way they act at times – Canine Science. But recently, science has PROVEN dogs listen to humans, they really do feel jealousy, and happy, obedient dogs live longer. Also it turns out that dogs developed from wolves in an amazingly short evolutionary time. And, if your dog lifts its left eyebrow when it sees you, you are loved.

The Canis lupus familiaris (as in dog is my co-pilot) species fascinates humans as well it should – without the dog humans would probably never have moved from hunter/gatherers to herders and farmers.

Horses are great transportation but dogs guard us and our flocks, become members of our families (packs), and offer companionship. It took no great scientific experiment to know that dogs don’t sleep like people, they have incredible hearing and sense of smell, and tend to let their owners know when they think something is wrong.

Many are also ready to defend their pack including humans and even herds of domesticated animals as seen even in puppy play.

Doggy Questions: What’s Real?

But how much else of what dog owners feel they know about their canine partners is real and how much human imagination?

Could a dog really feel jealousy?

Are dogs really just tame wolves? And, if so, how did they become dogs?

Dos your dog understand speech?

How do you know if your dog really loves you, or just recognizes you as a human being?

standing on back. Canine Science.
St. Weiler standing on back. Image by John McCormick

Doggy Answers: What We Know

Science, both new, and newly rediscovered has answered a lot of questions people have about their dogs and mostly the prevailing wisdom of dog lovers is correct.

To begin, Soviet experiments back in the last century were applied to fox breeding but apply to dogs. They are bred for their fur and the idea was to see if less aggressive animals could be bred so the handlers would be bitten less often. [Scientific American]

Dmitri K. Belyaev was the lead scientist and he used the simple process of selecting the foxes who were least shy of humans and breeding them. In a very short time he produced “tame” foxes. They also changed size, coloration, and even developed drooping ears.

No wild animal except the elephant has drooping ears yet nearly every domesticated pet animal does.

This isn’t the place for extensive explanations but it turns out that wolves in a region of China started hanging around human garbage dumps, the tamest got the most food and within as short a span as one human lifetime it is believed some selected breeding on the animal’s part developed dogs. [The Scientist]

Others say they developed in Europe. [The Scientist]

Jealousy – we know children can become jealous very quickly if we pay attention to another or even just want to sit quietly and read, but what about dogs?

It turns out that dogs really do feel jealousy or act exactly as if they do, pushing between the owner and object, even going so far as to attack stuffed dogs which an owner favors – which can explain some seemingly random destructiveness. [PLOS]

I did notice that all the dogs tested were small dogs (the kind I would class as excitable, as opposed to the kind I’ve owned such as 140 lb. Great Dane bitches.

Canine Science

Humans can easily tell if their dog’s bark is nervous, threatening, or merely playful, but it has now been proven that dogs can tell nearly as much about their humans’ voices.

Attila Andics, a neuroscientist in a research group at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest has used brain scans to find that dogs’ brains have a speech center just as do humans.

That means that people may be right when they say their dog seems to understand what they say and don’t just respond to commands as rote responses to a sound.

Long Life – we all know that large dogs tend to live shorter lives, such as the sort of giants I’ve always kept. The only downside of loving Newfoundlands and Great Danes (German Mastiffs) is that they tend to have relatively short lifespans.

We all know of tiny (yappy??) dogs who live into mid-teens of human years. But science has now shown that even big dogs can live longer than usual if they are calm or especially obedient. Hence German Shepherds tend to live a bit longer than similar size but less trainable dogs.

Newfoundlands are as laid back as any pothead and tend to live longer than smaller but very active Great Danes. (My one Newfoundland bitch weighed 220 lbs without being “fat” and was very calm. She also lived more than 11 years. Marmaduke types, sadly, tend to die much younger.

Franjo Weissing of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands referred to this as the “live fast, die young” paradigm. [Science Mag]

And, if your dog lifts its left eyebrow when it sees you, you are loved.

Studies of dog’s facial expressions have shown that when they see a human they raise their eyebrows, but if it is their owner they raise the left eyebrow more.

The sight of a stranger will cause a dog to pull their ears back a bit as a sign of caution.

Show them a pair of nail clippers (or probably a bathtub!) and the right ear will often twitch. [Science Direct]

Although the above is all from recent scientific research, I probably should mention that my knowledge of and interest in dogs goes a bit beyond academic research. I’m a Koehler Method trainer with a background in behavioral psychology from Harvard.

I’ve lived with dogs my whole life from a newfoundland who lived on my boat and attended two universities with me. I owned a Bouvier des Flandres kennel, rescued both newfoundlands and Bouviers, and owned a ranch.

If you have an interest in animal stories and/or any thoughts about moving from the big city to a simpler rural lifestyle, you will enjoy and profit from reading my latest book, Sheep in the Rafters: The Story of Highland Ranch Sanctuary. Also read the Highland Ranch story.