1. We’ve been working for about fifteen thousand years on one task as a human race? Since we first met, we’ve been slowly making them just what we want: our family dogs.
So, the theory goes that tens of thousands of years ago, some of the bolder and friendlier wolf-like ancestors of dogs dared to go near enough to early nomadic human settlements and scavenge off their scraps and waste. Over time, because these specimens and their “friendly” genes survived, more and more human-friendly canines came about. Eventually, humans saw the value in them – as companions, guardians, and hunting companions – taking them in as part of the family. For thousands of years, they were then selectively bred by the humans they interacted with, to suit various working purposes, until we arrived at the present picture.
2. Multiplying by 7 might be easy, but the reality of “Dog years” is way more complicated maths than you thought.
For years, most people thought that one dog year was equal to seven human years. This kind of made sense, because the average age of a dog is about 10 years, and back in the ‘70s when this logic was popular, we humans lived to about 70. However, what do we do now that we humans are living into our mid-eighties in this country? Make dog years equivalent to eight human ones? Well, that’s where the second issue comes up: different breeds have different typical lifespans, especially smaller versus larger breeds. For example, an old Corso who’s thirteen is massively exceeding her life expectancy, whilst a Chihuahua who’s also 13 is only just into her senior years. If we scaled it properly, the Corso would be in her hundreds and the Chihuahua about seventy, despite both being born in 2009. If you still want to have a go at working it out, then find out how many years the people in your country live for, and then divide that by the number of years your dog breed tends to live for… and NOW you can multiply it by your dog’s age!. Bear in mind, though, dogs mature much earlier than humans, so this only really applies to adult dogs!
3. When dogs are peeing, they’re actually writing messages for the whole neighbourhood.
Dogs are masters of communication. Whilst they don’t make much noise like we do, they’re always communicating – through their tails, their ears, their lips – and always decoding the communication of others – through their eyes, their ears, and especially their noses. In fact, when dogs pee on things, they’re rarely “marking their territory” (which is good news, or they’d pee all over their houses and owners), but instead are leaving little notes for other dogs to read. Their scented yellow messages are like personal ads, and contain key information about them, like age, sex, confidence, and even sexual readiness. In fact, because these are obviously important messages to broadcast to the neighbourhood, they will often scratch and kick up the surface nearby, after peeing, to act as a beacon to passing dogs that there’s a message worth reading here – and perhaps adding to the scent, too, via their paws! So, when you’re next out walking with your dog and he stops to sniff some pee, understand that he’s not just smelling; he’s reading.
4. If you’re a dog, you’re not seeing or smelling or hearing the world like I do. We’re living in different sensory worlds!
This fact is hardly surprising. Everyone knows dogs have noses that do the job hundreds of times better than ours and ears that do the job tens of times better – but that they don’t see in the same detail we do, or taste things with such intensity. That’s old news. But what is potentially more interesting is how that sensory makeup changes their experience of the world. Here’s an example from my dog walk this morning. It was bin day, and a bin tipped over in the wind. My human experience of that was to hear the noise of it clattering, turn to see what had happened, and then to gag at the smell that came out of it. In contrast, my dog was already on the case by the time I swivelled – because his more acute hearing had picked up on the bin tipping before it went over, his superb eye for movement had spotted it falling before it hit the pavement, and his astonishing nose had already sifted through the stench of rotting fish to his favourite thing, a discarded corn-on-the-cob, and it was in his mouth, sending reward signals to his brain through his relatively weak taste receptors, before I’d registered the event! Born hunters and scavengers, dogs have a different hierarchy of senses from us.
5. Our amazing pooches can smell for miles.
So, with smell being at the heart of everything dogs do, with their forty-million-or-so scent receptors, it’s worth mentioning that this smell has function that humans have hacked into. Thousands of years ago, our species likely sealed the deal of dog-and-human-partnership when we realised what their talented little noses could do for us as hunters and gatherers and scavengers. Fast-forward to the present day, and we’re still training dogs to use those superb olfactory machines of theirs to help us in our prosperity as a specious. A Bloodhound’s evidence can be used in a court of law to prove someone’s innocence. A Labrador’s diagnosis can overrule a doctor’s precise cancer-screening test on a human. And a German Shepherd’s air-scenting ability can get wind of a fleeing criminal based on the scent of fear alone!
6. A dog has all sorts of reasons to lick you and others, and the WHYs might surprise you.
Dogs are lickers. Some of us find it gross; some of us find it endearing, but whatever we think of it – dogs have their reasons for doing it. Most likely, as is the case with wolves, it is a residual trait left from their wolf-like ancestors – where puppies would lick their mother’s muzzle to stimulate regurgitation of the meal she had acquired for them on her hunt. So, if it makes you feel like vomiting, maybe you’re onto something there! Over time, it is likely that the licking has developed secondary functions of a social nature. Canines of various types use their tongues to groom and clean the wounds of their pack – one of my dogs has licked my other dog’s cherry eye to the point of it disappearing – and also to appease anyone with an angry look about them. They also seek out smells and tastes with their muzzles, so might well be checking where you’ve been and what you’ve eaten, when they try to lick around your mouth, specifically. But most of all, in the present day, it has become a kind of ritualised greeting – so it’s not totally anthropomorphic to assume that when your dog licks you, she is indeed happy to see you.
7. You might find dog barking really frustrating… but you might also be exactly the reason it’s happening.
It might be surprising to hear this theory, considering how many people utterly despise dog barking, but it does have some logic to it. Studied dogs that live solely in the company of other dogs, like strays, do not bark much – and neither do other wild species of canids. They rarely bark at each other for attention, or to influence each other’s behaviour. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of barking arises from brief conflicts in communities, or to react to outsiders encroaching on their territory. In contrast, home-raised dogs bark frequently, and for any number of reasons. There is a huge range in barking tendencies between breeds (and even within breeds), but it does seem like a lot of dog’s barking comes from a desire to communicate with us, loud, demonstrative primates, who struggle to read or perform the basics of canine body language.
8. Humans and other primates love to cuddle, but the same can’t be said for most canines.
Some dogs do seem to seek out hugs. They bury their heads in our chests, or throw their backsides into us, or squeeze underneath our arms on the sofa. But dogs as a species don’t like hugs, naturally. It’s a classic primate behaviour to be handsy and to grab at things we like and want to touch. Canines tend not to appreciate such things, even if they are fond of other types of physical touch. Embracing dogs in our arms can feel like forced confinement to them, quite understandably – in canine interactions, dogs tend to reserve embracing for status-seeking displays of dominance, or indeed during mating! So, if you’re not one of the lucky few who has a dog that enjoys cuddling, or at least tolerates it, try to find a more canine-friendly way of showing physical affection – like sitting close, chest stroking, bottom-scratching, and hand-feeding.
9. Your canine companion makes your more attractive
Official research has come along to confirm what many of us believed already: dogs make you hotter. Preliminary research from 2020 showed quite clearly that photos of the same man and woman on a dating app gained more matches each when posed with a canine companion. Even if you aren’t dating, sharing photos of your dogs is still a way of communicating your values to potential friends.
10. In the ‘battle of the sexes’, there’s always another round to fight. But when it comes to having obedient dogs, it seems like we have a winner…
A lot of people out there have made the claim that women shouldn’t have large, powerful breeds, because they can’t control them. In response, many have responded with the argument that training and raising dogs isn’t about controlling dogs with physical strength. Wherever you stand on this debate, you may be curious to observe that two separate studies on dog behaviour and owner characteristics (one from 2007 and another from 2009) found that women-owners tended to report having more obedient and trainable dogs than the men. If this is a widespread phenomenon, then it might be showing us that either women perform better as leaders for their dogs, or that they are happier with their dogs’ behaviour on average. Regardless of gender, the obedience of your dog is your responsibility and so whatever your starting point in terms of physical strength and natural authority and communication skills, you need to take ownership of your dog’s public conduct.