16 Dog facts we’ve only learned in the past few years

Aaah, dogs. Image via Unsplash.

Researchers have been studying dogs for decades or even centuries, but we’re constantly learning new things about them.

Dogs really are man’s best friend — and also our oldest friend

A 2020 DNA study found that dog domestication took place some 11,000 years ago, towards the end of the last Ice Age, indicating that our relationship with our furry friends goes back a long way.

A team of geneticists from 10 countries joined forces with archaeologists to sequence the genome of 27 ancient dogs, obtained from Europe, Siberia, and the Middle East. They found that, although the history of humans isn’t always perfectly intertwined with that of dogs, they were indeed the first domesticated animal, probably from wolves, and they’ve been by our side since the dawn of civilization.

Dogs also dream, but we’re not exactly sure what

A series of studies from the past two decades have shed new light on dog dreams, and as far as researchers can understand, not only do dogs dream, but they have complex dreams that help them be healthier and happier. A 2016 study found that dogs who sleep more are happier, while another recent, 2020 study found that sleep sleep may contribute to dogs’ memory consolidation.

Unfortunately, dogs also seem to have nightmares sometimes. But there’s some good news: the best way to ensure that a dog has happy dreams is to keep them happy during daytime — and happy dogs are truly what the world needs more of right now.

Both a wet nose or a dry nose can be normal

Image via Shridhar Dixit.

The old adage says that a wet nose is a healthy dog, but researchers from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, have shown that that’s not necessarily the case: both wet and dry noses can be normal. For example, dogs’ noses are typically warm and dry when they sleep.

Researchers have previously speculated that dogs lick their nose and keep it wet either for heat regulation or to aid their keen sense of smell. In the new study, however, authors suggest that dogs and other cold-nosed animals employ heat detection in their hunting routines, in addition to their already keen sense of smell.

Chocolate really is poisonous for dogs

Unlike cats, which lack the ability to taste sweetness, dogs find chocolate just as appealing as humans. Well, as some humans, at least. But while the dark treat can be a euphoric delight for us, it can be poisonous to canines. The main problem is the chemical compound theobromine, found in dark chocolate and cocoa. Dogs can’t break down or metabolize theobromine, which means that it can act like poison for our furry companions.

Not all dogs get poisoned by chocolate and the dose makes the poison. Mild symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur when a canine consumes 20 mg of theobromine per kilogram of body weight. Cardiac symptoms occur at around 40 to 50 mg/kg and dangerous seizures occur at doses greater than 60 mg/kg. Raisins and grapes are also very toxic to some dogs, though researchers are not sure exactly why. Dogs should never be fed grapes or chocolate.

Cats and dogs don’t always fight like cats and dogs — and pheromones can help where they do

In the UK, 7% of households own both cats and dogs… and yet they live in peace and harmony most of the time. Many cats and dog owners report that their animals are comfortable in each other’s company, but this isn’t always the case. Conflicts between pets are one of the most common reasons why animals are returned to shelters, and a team of researchers wanted to see how these conflicts could be addressed.

A team of researchers in the UK found that soothing pheromones can not only decrease the number of aggressive interactions between cats and dogs, but can even increase the number of friendly interactions. Dog pheromones in particular led to the greatest increase in friendly interactions.

3 out of 4 dogs suffer from some form of anxiety

The life of a doggo isn’t always easy — even when you are the best boy or girl. A surprisingly high percentage of dogs actually suffer from anxiety of some sort, which can manifest through symptoms such as excessive barking, destructiveness, aggression, or fearfulness. The fact that so many dogs have anxiety came as a surprise to many dog owners, researchers noted.

The best thing to do to prevent and tackle anxiety in dogs is to keep them happy. This starts with picking the right breed (don’t pick a very active breed unless you can really dedicate time and effort to it), making sure that the dog has enough exercise, and give your dog attention. Most dogs hate spending time alone, and can get stressed out. Dogs also tend to mirror their owners’ stress levels — so keeping yourself happy also helps.

The ridiculous voice we use to talk to dogs? They love it

You know that high-pitched, exaggerated voice that some people use to talk to a dog? The emotional “who’s a good boyyyy”? Surprisingly enough dogs, actually like it. Just like how baby-talk can help adults bond with babies, “doggy-talk” can help humans bond with dogs, a recent study has shown.

Dogs were much more likely to want to interact and spend time with those who used dog-directed speech compared to the control group. Researchers only tested adult dogs, and they noted that it is maybe the combination of the acoustic properties and the dog-related content that dogs enjoy. So if you do the “doggy-talk”, make sure to mention walks, treats, dog, and of course, ‘good’.

Dogs can navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field

Stories of dogs who traveled immense distances to find their way back home are surprisingly common… so how do they do it? Their keen sense of smell can sure help sometimes, but that doesn’t work as well for very large distances. In a recent study, researchers have shown that dogs have an internal compass which they can use to orient themselves based on the Earth’s magnetic field.

This was previously suggested by researchers who found that dogs can sense the Earth’s magnetic field… while pooping. Dogs seem to prefer to poop in the north-south axis, and recent experiments confirmed that this doesn’t only happen when pooping, it actually happens a lot, and it helps dogs find their way with remarkable accuracy.

Dogs know they’re doing “puppy eyes” — and they use it to manipulate you

Image via Joshua Sun.

A 2020 study found that the infamous puppy dog eyes expression isn’t just a way for dogs to express sadness — sometimes, they use it as a clever ploy to receive attention and affection. Although the study was carried out on a small sample size, researchers are pretty confident that at least sometimes, dogs know what they are doing.

It’s possible that dogs picked up this communication trick as they were domesticated, researchers believe. It could also be a way for dogs to mimic humans, in an attempt to make us feel more empathetic to dogs, and maybe giving them what they want. The second theory is that it’s a way to make themselves cuter, and again, maybe just getting that extra treat.

Dogs (and wolves) have a sense of fairness

Although dogs can be a bit sneaky sometimes, they also have an innate sense of fairness. As many dog owners can attest, dogs recognize when they are treated fairly or unfairly, and this appears to predate domestication — indicating that it’s not something they acquired during their cohabitation with humans.

A research from 2017 found that both dogs and wolves share the same reaction, and more dominant individuals have an even stronger sense of fairness. “These results suggest that the inequity response found in pack-living dogs and wolves is comparable to that observed in non-human primates,” the study notes.

Dogs can make you seem more attractive

A surprising statistic notes that 22% of men (but only 6% of women) with pets used their pet to attract potential dates. The even more surprising thing is that it kind of works. Dogs seem to be the ‘sexiest pets’ out there, and they can help men get dates both in real life, and online.

Several studies have suggested that dogs really do make men seem more attractive. In 2008, two French social psychologists had one young man named Antoine approach 240 randomly selected women and he was 3 times more successful when he was accompanied by a dog than when he was alone. But please, please, don’t get a dog just to help with dates — a dog is a serious commitment that deserves a lot of attention and care.

Dogs can tell when you’re happy or upset

Image via Caleb Fisher.

While this has been suggested several times in the past (mostly anecdotally, by dog owners), the first tangible evidence came in 2015. A study had dogs look at images representing human emotions and were remarkably capable of telling when humans (not just their human) was happy or sad.

“Our study demonstrates that dogs can distinguish angry and happy expressions in humans, they can tell that these two expressions have different meanings, and they can do this not only for people they know well, but even for faces they have never seen before,” said one study author.

Dogs can accurately diagnose a number of diseases, including COVID-19 and some types of cancer

For years, researchers have suspected that dogs’ sniffing abilities could be used for something more than tracking drugs and explosives, but in the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in this type of research. As it turns out, when you train dogs (specifically breeds with the most sensitive noses), they become capable of detecting diseases.

So far, the approach has been demonstrated for several types of cancer, migraines, low blood sugar, seizures, even diabetes. With the COVID-19 pandemic, several teams have demonstrated that dogs can also be useful for detecting this disease, and in some airports, they’re already being used.

Dogs can get depressed too

The mental state of our pets is a subject of heated scientific debate. Understandably, dogs or cats can’t really explain what’s going on, but researchers have done their best to figure out whether dogs can experience things like anxiety and depression. The verdict is still not 100% out, but the strength of evidence seems to suggest that the answer is ‘yes’, dogs can get depressed, they’re sometimes prescribed even special antidepressants.

Research into dog psychology is still ongoing Remember, dogs sometimes mirror the stress and emotional states of their owners — so one of the things you can do to improve your dogs’ mental health is to take care of your own mental health. Luckily enough, dogs have also been shown to help with that.

Breed is not the main determinant of aggression

Although acts of dog aggression towards humans remain rare, some breeds have an undeserved bad reputation. For instance, a 2008 study found that some of the most aggressive breeds towards humans are Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers, but the aggressiveness differs towards humans they know, humans they don’t know, and other dogs.

Overall though, studies are increasingly showing that when it comes to aggressiveness, breed is not a major determinant. Instead, researchers suggest, we should focus on other factors that influence the risk of aggression. A dog that is loved and cared for has a much lower risk of being aggressive than one who is neglected or even worse.

Owning a dog will make you healthier

Okay, I cheated a bit here. All the entries on this list are new facts we’ve only learned about dogs recently. This has been discussed for decades and is essentially a well-known fact at this point. But I do have one reason for introducing this here: modern science has confirmed it.

The key difference here is physical activity. While walking is often regarded as an easy and accessible way to be active, it still counts, and it’s still useful. Dog owners are, on average, more active, which means they’re healthier. But once again, this is a reminder that owning a dog is an every-day responsibility: you can’t skip out on walks just because you don’t feel like it!

So there you have it, just some of the dog facts we’ve learned recently, thanks to modern science. Although we’ve been together for thousands of years, our relationship with dogs remains as complex and charming as ever.

Undoubtedly, more studies will reveal even more facts about our beloved companions. Did we miss anything that should be here? Be sure to share it in the comment section.

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