Dogs Decoded

I just finished watching this amazing Nova documentary called Dogs Decoded. I realize documentaries are extremely lame and unexciting to some people but not to me, not at all. The thrill of learning something I never would have guessed excites me. Ask me what my favorite animals is. Go ahead. Yes, it’s dogs. I love them and I love all of them. Are you beginning to see why I enjoyed this short lil film so much??

The documentary was great because it focused on the scientific reasoning and evidence that proves dogs really are man’s best friend. It digs into the bond owners have with dogs. Did you know dogs have the ability to read facial expressions? I didn’t either. Dogs have the ability to follow non-verbal cues, cues that not even chimps, our closest relatives, are able to pick up on. It was quite interesting.

My dog knows when I’m sad or not feeling well. I swear she does. I physically feel her motions become more fluid, her actions become more tender and she instantly calms down. To my surprise, she sees it in my eyes!  Also, dogs have actually developed a form of communication (barking) that they only use to communicate with humans. Apparently, dogs don’t actually communicate by looking at the faces of other dogs or even barking in certain tones and frequencies as they do with humans.

The film also went into the origin of dogs. So INCREDIBLY interesting. Dogs are, of course, descendents from gray wolves, but what was so interesting was how or why so many different looking dog breeds came about. As it turns out, different breeds came about because as you domesticate animals, or breed them based on desirable personality traits, the physical appearance also changes. Researchers conducted tests with domesticating wolves to rule out simple nurturing. As people grew into basically wanting dogs less for farm tasks, we began focusing on what we want our dogs to look like. Mostly people wanted their dogs to look infantile. You know why? Because humans naturally have a desire to nurture. So we want dogs that resemble and act like cute little puppies. Humans actually develop such close bonds with dogs because we secrete oxytocin, a nine amino acid peptide that is synthesized in hypothalamus, also known as the love hormone and the dog does too. This hormone is what is released when a woman has a baby and instantly feels connected to the little stranger, and why we adore our dogs.

The film went into the experimental processes that were carried out to find all this information. In Siberia, for example, scientists bred silver foxes until the foxes were domesticated and docile. This is basically the same process wolves underwent to become dogs only at an intensely accelerated rate. Around generation 8 is when scientists notice the physical changes in the docile foxes’ babies. The main researcher thinks silver foxes may be an eventual house pet because they are independent like a cat but affectionate like a dog.

There is so much more to learn in this short little 53 minute documentary. I really suggest you check it out. Now, you know what a huge nerd I truly am but all the same it’s incredibly fascinating.

I’ve found a free version here if you’d like to check it out.

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2 thoughts on “Dogs Decoded

  1. Heather says:

    I watched a documentary about dog breeding in my biology class back in college and even though it was really interesting, some of it was really sad too. First, it’s incredibly interesting that almost EVERY breed of dog came from some variation of the wolf. Isn’t that crazy? Hard to believe. But it’s really sad what happens when breeders think they can make the “perfect” show dog. Breeding dogs with their siblings and family members for desired traits and then getting really unhealthy dogs as a result with a lot of unhealthy breeding. Very sad. 😦

  2. Tara says:

    After reading this post, I’ve come to two conclusions:

    1) I want a dog. OK, I knew that already, but your post reaffirms.

    2) You really need to read “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.” Your discussion of breeding dogs for desireable traits reminded me of this amazing novel. One of the most interesting books I read in 2010, hands down.

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