Do you know what your dog is trying to tell you? Dogs have been our closest animal companions for thousands of years, as hunters, protectors, and friends. But their behaviors are still sometimes shrouded in mystery, and myths about dogs continue to abound. However, decoding dog signals is one way of figuring out their messages.
The origins of dogs are hard to pin down. Ancestors of the modern dog are believed to have split from wolves around 30,000 years ago. They initially scavenged with humans, before becoming domesticated during the Neolithic era (10,200-2,000 BCE). At that point, humans had already moved from hunter/gathering to agriculture, with dogs by their sides. During a 1978 archaeological dig in Israel, scientists found the 12,000-year-old fossilized bones of a man and puppy buried together, further cementing the long-term bond between humans and canines.
Even with all that time in the company of our furry friends, researchers continue to unlock the animals' fascinating secrets. Do you know why your dog tilts his head when you talk or spins in circles before he lays down to sleep? Have you always wondered why he gets a sudden burst of energy and zips around the room after eating or bathing? Look no further – we’ve got the 411 on your best pal here!
We're all familiar with this enduring trait – when we speak to our dogs, they sometimes cock their heads. Some believe they're trying to decipher what we're saying, or they recognize that we're positively responding to the gesture, and treats or other rewards are close at hand.
However, according to Dr. Stanley Coren, canine expert and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and writer for Psychology Today, neither of these is the case. If you place your fist in front of your nose, you'll have some idea of what the world looks like through a dog's eyes with a muzzle obstructing some of its vision. Dogs read emotional cues in our facial expressions as well as our voices, and they may just be trying to better gage where you're coming from emotionally when they repeatedly tilt their head from side to side as you speak.
But what about brachycephalic breeds with flatter muzzles? Their vision is also obscured, but to a much lesser degree, and as such, the results of Coren's study showed that dogs with longer muzzles did tilt their heads more often than their flat-faced counterparts.
That running in circles thing your dog does after a bath or eating has a name – "zoomies." Also known as "FRAP" (Frenetic Random Activity Period), it's believed dogs do it to instigate play with their furry friends and people. The assumption is that you, the leader of the pack, will chase your dog when she play bows before darting off. Dogs are kinetic by nature, and even senior pups have their zoomie moments – zoomies are also believed to release tension after a stressful or unusual event, like a bath.
When your dog smiles, it's to let you know that what you say goes. It's called a "submissive grin," and dogs flash their pearly whites to diffuse any unwanted aggression. It's a sign your best pal is seeking attention in a non-threatening way. Dogs are also suckers for positive reinforcement – if there's a treat at the end of this trick, your dog will turn its frown upside down on the regular!
You've heard the stories – a dog wakes a family up in the middle the night to alert them of smoke; a soldier is saved in the line of fire when his dog jumps in front of a bullet. What is it that propels them to do this? According to researchers – empathy.
Dr. Ramiro Joly-Mascheroni, a professor at City, University of London, says "humans don't fully recognize others' feelings until age 4 or 5." Dogs, on the other hand, have a "rudimentary form of empathy" built on the strength of their bond with humans. Dr. Brian Hare, the founder of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center, says that bond is formed from something called an "oxytocin loop" – when a dog and human look into each other's eyes, their levels of oxytocin rise. In other words, they both make each other feel loved.