Dogs Decoded

Recently in the U.S. there was an excellent program on the Public Broadcasting Service channel called Dogs Decoded. The program looked at how dogs respond to us humans, how we respond to them, our connection over thousands of years, dog intelligence, and so many other things! It was a fascinating program.

A few things from the program:

Archaeologists say that dogs began appearing as dogs, and not wolves about 14,000 years ago. That is when the fossil records show them to be recognizable as dogs. However, geneticists say, based on DNA, that wolves began changing into dogs over 100,000 years ago. There were subtle genetic changes at work inside the dog before the outer changes were visible. Were dogs interacting with us, with humans all that time? Did something else start leading wolves to change? According to the researchers, dogs have little reason to bark in most situations beyond the time when they are a puppy. Wolves don’t bark but dogs do. Is barking something that dogs do because it is useful in communicating with us?

Researchers tape recorded all kinds of dogs barking in different situations — happy dogs, sad dogs, playful dogs, dogs who were upset. They played the tapes for people to see if they could accurately identify what the dog was doing or how the dog was feeling/behaving when barking. Amazingly, people had no trouble at all identifying what the dogs’ barking meant without being able to see the dogs and without knowing the dogs. This suggests that there is some kind of language or communication between dogs and humans that happens through barking.

Dogs are also apparently able to read human emotion. According to the researchers, the human face is asymmetrical or different on the left and right side. It is the left side, which displays the important information about our feelings. Dogs normally display no bias in looking at things. They look at things equally from the left or right. But when looking at people they always look to the left side of the person’s face to gather information about the person’s emotions and attitudes.

The program also interviewed a researcher who had first raised a litter of puppies and then followed it by raising a litter of wolves from birth. The goal was to see if nurture, or the way the wolves were raised, would make them behave like the puppies. She cuddled the wolf cubs, slept with them, kept them in the house, and treated them in every way like the litter of puppies. Up until eight weeks all was fine. Then she said that at eight weeks the wolf cubs began changing dramatically. They began acting like wolves. There was video of the wolf cubs grabbing food off the table, getting into fights with the family dogs, and displaying a total lack of manners which puppies raised in the home do not do. After a few months she said she had to put them outside with the adult wolves. So, dogs are not just wolves that have been raised with love. They are very different in fundamental ways.

There were many other things in the program. It was outstanding and it is highly recommended if you have the opportunity to see it.

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