Dogs delight us every day, but how many realize the amazing abilities that dogs possess beyond those of their human partners? Scientists have been studying man’s best friend for many years and have discovered some truly remarkable abilities and characteristics that make the common canine seem more like Super Dog. Here are a few:
A nose that knows: A human has 6 million smell receptors. Dogs sniff at this, because they have up to 300 million olfactory sensors, which is why they can track a scent for miles and detect bombs hidden in luggage. Almost half of a dog’s brain is devoted to processing smells. If you made an analogy to sight, humans’ visual acuity at 1/3 mile is less than what a dog could “see” 3,000 miles away. When tracking another creature, a dog can determine how long ago it was at a particular location, as well as its age and size.
Did you hear that? Dog hearing is about five times better than that of their human partners. The reason is the dog’s earflap, which contains 18 muscles not found in humans. Dogs use these muscles to position their ears for optimal hearing. If you ever wondered why your dog doesn’t want anything to do with you when you’re vacuuming the floor, it’s because the loud noise can be painful and therefore scary. If you live where predictable loud sounds occur (such as church bells or a factory whistle), try giving your dog a treat to help turn the sound into a positive.
Lassie come home: History is replete with stories of “lost” dogs who cover thousands of miles to find their owners. It seems that dogs have an innate magnetic compass that helps them navigate over long distances. In one unusual study, researchers found that dogs like to align themselves in a north-south direction when they, er, do their business. If you and your dog are ever lost in the woods, this talent alone might help you find your way.
Seeing in the dark: Humans have better daytime sight than do dogs. Canines have limited color vision and their vision is less accurate than ours. That is, until the sun goes down. Dogs’ night vision is five time better than ours. In addition, dogs have a 270-degree field of vision compared to our 180 degrees, meaning their peripheral vision is much better than that of humans. If your dog is distracted easily, this may be one reason why. By the way, dogs have three pairs of eyelids – the additional nictitating membrane protects and moistens the eye.
You don’t need a weatherman… Dogs feel changes in barometric pressure, which is why they can anticipate oncoming events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, thunder storms, tsunamis, and so forth. They also might be able to detect static electricity, which warns them of an impending lightning strike. Their acute sense of smell recognizes ozone preceding a rainstorm. If your dog starts acting strange for no apparent reason, check the weather forecast.
They can go fast: Greyhounds have been clocked at 45 mph speeds, far in excess of their two-legged owners. Other lightweight breeds may achieve speeds of 35 to 40 mph. The fastest breeds have strong hearts, hips and legs. Another anatomic curiosity is that a dog’s shoulder blades operate independently of the rest of its skeleton, giving it great mobility and flexibility.
Dog’s second best friend: You know of the Dalmatian as the firehouse dog. Its white coat with black spots immediately identifies these mascots of fire departments. If you ever wondered how this came about, it stems from the origins of the breed. It hails from Croatia and was bred to get along extremely well with horses. In olden days, when fire trucks were horse-drawn, Dalmatians were trained to run in front of the horses in order to clear the way. They also guarded the firefighters’ belongings as they battled the blaze. Nowadays, they are just good companions beloved by firemen throughout the world.
They’re no boars: Shar-peis are renowned for their violet tongues and wrinkled, loose skin. We’re not sure why the tongues have their unusual hue, but the loose skin was bred into shar-peis to help them hunt wild boar. It works like this: Wild boars are big and angry, whereas shar-peis top out at 60 pounds. Their skin is so loose that boars can’t get a solid grip. Shar-peis simply shake off the boar’s grip and wear the pigs down.
Dogs are indeed extraordinary, and they deserve the best care to keep them healthy and fit. Make sure you bring your dog to a veterinarian for regular checkups and vaccinations. Remember, a healthy dog is a super dog.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.