13 Strange Facts About Dogs You Probably Didn’t Know

Dog and woman sitting beside each other looking at a lake

Dogs are a lovable, endearing, entertaining, goof-ball of an animal that brightens our everyday life. They’re our greatest companion in the animal world, and quite frankly helped humans accomplish things we may not have been able to do on our own.

Despite spending so much time with them over thousands of years, there are actually a lot of abilities and skills of dogs that we are still learning and studying.

Here are some strange and interesting facts that you probably didn’t know, and will most likely surprise you.

1) Dogs can smell how you feel

I’m sure most of you reading this have heard that “dogs can smell your fear”. Well, that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s actually true. Just not in the sense that dog will attack someone or be defensive because of this. In fact, it’s not just fear that they can detect.

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Stanely Coren references a study from neurobiologist Biagio D’Aniello, of the University of Naples “Federico II”. D’Aniello, took samples of sweat produced in states of happiness and states of fear. Those samples, along with a neutral control smell, where then dispersed in a room with the dog, their owner, and a stranger.

The result: when the dogs were exposed to the fear sweat, the dogs displayed signs of distress. The dogs would attempt to seek reassurance from their owners through physical contact. Additionally, the dog’s heart rates were significantly higher during exposure to the fear smell.

On the other hand, the dog’s displayed calm or happy responses when exposed to the happy smells and neutral smells.

The big take away is that this shows dogs do, in fact, smell how we feel and trust us so much with our responses in situations, that they copy our emotional state. One other key was at no time did any dogs display aggression when exposed to the fear smell.

2) Dogs don’t really understand leash connection

While there are a lot of ways that dogs are smart, there are a few things in which our furry friends just aren’t the sharpest tool. One example is being connected by a leash.

We’ve all been in that situation when going for a walk where our dog just can’t help but to get wrapped around every object you come across. Not to mention their ability to hog-tie themselves in their own leash.

Well, it turns out that dogs, no matter how hard they try, just don’t understand being tethered to someone or something. I want to be clear, dogs do understand that you have them on a leash, jut just don’t the idea that you are both connected as you move and navigate obstacles.

Where two humans tied together would be aware that they can’t both go on different sides of an object in their path and need to be on the same side. Dogs don’t seem to be able to understand this concept.

So next time your dog keeps trying to go on the other side of a telephone pole or lamppost, remember they honestly can’t help it.

3) Most dogs struggle with solving problems on their own

Dogs are fantastic social problem solvers. Meaning they really excel at working with us to solve large complex problems. It’s this strong ability to cooperate with humans that can hold them back from solving practical independent problems.

Two separate studies, one by Monique Udell of Oregon State University in Corvallis and an earlier study by Adam Miklosi of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, both took a look at this shortcoming in dogs.

Both studies showed similar results. While working to get a treat sealed in a container, wolves and dogs had very different approaches. The wolves spent roughly 90% of the two minute trial working independently on the problem. Eight out of ten wolves successfully accessed the treat. They were not going to be stopped.

On the other hand, only one out of 20 dogs accessed the treat. The dogs spent most of their time looking at their human companions for guidance in solving the problem.

Long story short, the fact that dogs work with us so well to solve problems, actually ends up hindering their persistence and independence to struggle through solving a problem.

4) Our dogs can be introverts

That’s right. As much as we like to think dogs are one-hundred percent pack animals, that might not be the case. Several studies have shown that some dogs may not enjoy the company of other dogs.

Humans can be extroverts, meaning they enjoy the company of others and thrive on that social interaction, or they can be introverts, meaning they enjoy time alone or with a few select people. Turns out dogs can be the same way.

Furthermore, there may be evidence that dogs are not all that into being part of a pack of dogs. While some dogs may prefer to not be around other dogs in general, studies have also shown that most dogs prefer to be around their owners and loved ones more than being around other dogs.

This shakes up the perceived notion of dogs being firm pack animals. However, this does seem to make sense as to why some dogs just like quiet or like to retreat when there are guests over.

5) Dogs can sense time

Have you ever noticed your dog pacing or just a little excited right before someone else in the house got home? It seems as though your dogs can sense “Hey, my mom should be home any minute.”

Well, it turns out dogs can sense time, even if they can’t tell time.

Krista Macpherson from Western University, London, Ontario, preformed a study that proved this ability. MacPherson was able to train dogs to press a certain button with their paw if they heard a two second long signal and a different button if they heard an eight second long signal.

The dogs were able to successfully recognize and react to each signal given. This is one of many studies that demonstrate that while dogs may not perceive time by tracking hours and minutes, they do experience the passage of time in their mind and have some sense of what it means.

6) Dogs contagiously yawn

As it turns out, our dogs suffer from the same annoying habit we humans do.

All humans know how incredibly frustrating it is when we see someone yawn, and low and behold, here our own body goes, firing up a deep yawn. Doesn’t matter if we slept well the night before or not. Which is why there is always someone in our groups who yells, “cut it out!”

As annoying as that is, it turns out that people who catch that contagious yawn from another person tend to have better social skills. It’s believed to be connected to our ability to show someone empathy. It’s our way of saying, “Man, I’m sorry you binge-watched a whole season on Netlix on a work night”.

Well, the same thing appears to true for our furry partners in crime.

A University of Tokyo study showed that a little more than half of the dogs in their study, yawned after watching their human owner yawn. On the other hand, dogs that watched a stranger yawn, their yawning only happened half as often.

So in a way, you can gauge how connected you are to your dog. If they yawn after you yawn, then it’s a pretty safe bet your pooch has bonded with you.

7) A dog’s inner eye reflects light

Did you ever notice how a dog’s eye glows at night? That’s due to a tiny mirror like part of their eye called a tapetum.

The tapetum is positioned behind a dog’s retina. When light passes the retina it hits the tapetum in the back of the eye and reflects back towards the retina. This allows a dog to capture and use as much light as it can.

That’s right. As much as we like to think dogs are one-hundred percent pack animals, that might not be the case. There have been many studies that have shown that some dogs may not enjoy the company of other dogs.

Humans can be extroverts, meaning they enjoy the company of others and thrive on that social interaction, or they can be introverts, meaning they enjoy time alone or with a few select people. Turns out dogs can be the same way.

Furthermore, there may be evidence that dogs are not all that into being pat of a pack of dogs. While some dogs may prefer to not be around other dogs in general, studies have shown that most dogs prefer to be around their owners and loved ones over being around other dogs.

This is shaking up the perceived notion of dogs being firm pack animals.

8) Dogs have the ability to understand gestures

Too bad you can’t partner with your pal in charades, because another cognitive super power of dogs has to do with their ability to read a pointing finger. It turns out that dogs can understand what we are wanting, just by us pointing. Dr. Brian Hare of Duke University has study this in depth.

In Dr. Hare’s studies, dog have been able to follow what we mean when we point. For instance, researchers pointed to cups with a treat and the dogs would follow the direction to the cup with the treat.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is actually huge. Chimpanzees, our closest relative, don’t understand when we point to something. Likewise, wolves, dogs ancestors, also can’t figure out what we want by pointing.

The fact that dogs can intuit what we want by pointing at something, shows what’s going on in their head and just how complex it really is. This is a skill that most children can’t do until about one year old.

Additionally, more evidence has been found that dogs solve social problems surprising close to the way humans do. If a dog becomes stuck while figuring out social problems, dogs constantly make eye contact to see what guidance we humans can give. This is again, something that wolves and chimpanzees do not do.

What makes this so amazing is that humans don’t start displaying this behavior until somewhere between nine to twelve months old. Human pyschologists have stated that this eye contact for guidance is the foundation for understanding culture and language.

It begs the question “how can a species so distant to us, be so much like us in the way that makes our species so special?”

9) You can teach your dog to be a copy-cat

The Family Dog Project in Budapest, Hungary (which is the oldest dog research project) has went to great length to study if and how dogs can mimic humans.

The “Do as I Do” test was orginally used to study mimic abilities in chimps and chidren. Basically, the researcher say do as I do and it is recorded if the subject mimics and how well.

The Family Dog Project wanted to extend this test to our canine companions. The project taught dogs to do a laundry list of tricks on command. Then researchers progressed to using the command “Do as I do”. The dogs were able to pick up on the human movements and match it to the trick they were taught.

The end result is the dog then learns “Do as I do” as the command. The dogs are then able to copy complex tasks or multi-tasks just by watching. What make this so amazing is that the dogs have to figure out how to copy a creature without a canine body and decide what part of their body to use to copy the researcher.

This ability astounded the research team.

10) Dogs were the first species domesticated

It may surprise you to learn that the very first animal domesticated was the dog. In fact, dog domestication came 1000-6000 years before farming.

So what this means is that our ancestors, who were focused almost entirely on surviving day to day had interesting priorities. They either figured out how to, or chose to, domesticate/work with wolves thousands of years before figuring out how to grow any kind of food.

11) Dogs may have self-domesticated

There is a theory that is gaining popularity in the scientific world that dogs may have actually self-domesticated.

This is a lot different from the idea that early man trapped now exticnt wolves and spent generations breaking and breeding them into the domesticated animal we know today.

However, it may not have happened quite like that.

The emerging theory of self-domestication goes a bit like this. While man was still in the hunter-gatherer period, wolves began following these early humans. The wolves were able to feed on bones and scraps left behind at these camps by the humans. The braver wolves would venture closer to the human camps, while the more skittish wolves stayed away. This gave a distinct advantage to the braver wolf.

Eventually, these two species of predators, man and wolf, start to view each other as allies. It is believed that these groups of wolves began following human groups migrating instead of the carribou herds. From a survival stand point, it was an easier meal to live off of scraps than hunting.

In time the wolves would have began to protect the humans from other animals since the humans were a resource base for the wolves. In turn, the early humans would keep feeding the wolves for protection.

After generations and generations, the size, shape, and color of the wolves shifted, resulting in the domesticated dog.

This seems like a strong theory and much more believable than a few macho early men catching a wolf and taming them by force over generations.

12) Dogs were vilified during the Middle-Ages

While dogs became a close ally of mankind in the begining, and are certainly a fixture of life today, that wasn’t always the case.

In the middle ages, and especially during the black plague, dogs were seen as a menace and blamed for spreading diseases. During the middle-ages dogs had a generally poor reputation. Sadly, this resulted in thousands of dogs being hunted and killed at this time.

13) Dogs actually see in color

It’s actually not true that dogs see in black and white. Im actually not even sure how that myth came about, but science says that’s wrong.

According to an article on PetMD, dogs can absolutely see color. It’s just not the same spectrum of color as humans see.

Basically, a human’s retina, or our photo-receptor, has red, blue, and green cones. These cones are what allow us to see all the vibrant colors in the world around us.

Dogs, however, have only two cones. The one is a blue cone and the other is a color pigment that scientists say falls between a human red and green cone. This means that dogs color vision is closer to a human that has red-green color blindness.


Thank you for taking the time to read my article! I hope it was helpful and insightful. I absolutely love dogs and my mission is to help dog owners better understand their dogs and how to care for them in the best way. Please checkout my about page: CLICK HERE!

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