Most of us are aware that dogs are intelligent beings with superior senses and some particular abilities that far surpass that of people or machines (for example, they have 10 times the number of smell receptors compared with people and can detect odours better than any machine on our planet). But do we really understand just how talented our best friends are? In many cases, the answer is no, simply because there are still many aspects regarding canine behaviour we have not properly researched. Here are 11 things we do know that they are good at.
1. They are able to sense another’s perspective
Are dogs aware of what others can and cannot see? In tests at the Max Planck Institute, dogs were shown a treat behind a barrier that concealed the food from the view of their human guardian observers. They were shown to be more inclined to eat forbidden food when their humans couldn’t see them. Many of us will have experienced this in our own kitchens.
Guide Dogs indicate an awareness that their person cannot see them, so they make sounds to get their attention. This shows an ability to surmise what another is able or unable to see, and to adjust communication to accommodate the disability. They also know that if they can see your face, they can communicate with you. This again demonstrates an ability to see from another’s perspective.
They are also able to know whether we can or can’t hear them. In a test, two boxes were fitted with bells on the open side. On one of these boxes the ringers had been removed from the bells, making them silent. The dogs were taught that they needed to push through the bells to get at a treat inside the box. The experimenter then put food in the boxes and forbade the dogs to take it. If the experimenter faced the dogs, they took from either box, but if she turned away they took from the silent box. They are aware who is in hearing range and what is likely to be heard.
2. They have incredible noses
Dogs are capable of detecting cancer in its very early stages, making a better prognosis for the patient possible. A biomedical research article (2013) by Harvath et al. tells us: “Repeatedly the dogs were able to identify with certainty 20 microscopically verified ovarian cancer cells. It is impressive how this very low limit of detection allows dogs to signal probable future recurrences that could not be diagnosed by other methods for another two to three years.”
3. Their sensory hairs are like high-tech antennae
Whiskers are found on a dog’s eyebrows, chin and on the side of the face. These are twice as thick and three times more deeply embedded than normal hair. They are extremely sensitive to touch and are able to detect minute vibrations and changes in air currents.
4. They can read emotions in humans’ right-side bias
Psychological research at the University of Lincoln has demonstrated that human faces are asymmetrical and that our species reveals emotion more in the right side of the face than the left. We subconsciously direct our gaze to this side in order to read emotional information in a face that we encounter. As far as we know, only the dog shares this ability with us. It has been shown that dogs apply this right-side gaze only when reading a human face.
Text: Susan Henderson
The full article appears in the July issue of AnimalTalk