Sometimes, dogs seem like incredibly simple creatures who eat, sleep, poop and play. When your pup whines in her sleep, or barks at the dog on television, though, her world appears more complex. Is she simply responding to stimuli around her, or is there more going on? What’s happening in that doggy brain? Read on to learn more about the mysteries of canine life.
Do Dogs Dream?
Humans and dogs actually have the same sleep patterns– slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM). SWS is the first stage of sleep, but dreaming occurs during REM, when the body relaxes and the eyes move rapidly. Just as dreaming humans can talk or toss and turn during REM, dogs sometimes twitch, move their paws, bark or whine during this deep sleep stage. And just as humans don’t like to be woken up during their deepest sleep, dogs should also be left alone when they are dreaming. As for what they’re dreaming about – that’s anyone’s guess!
Dogs have facial expressions, too:
We all know that a tail-wagging dog is most likely happy, and that one who bears his teeth is probably feeling aggressive. But Japanese researchers recently discovered that dogs convey emotions more subtly using facial expressions. The study found that dogs raised their left eyebrows on being reunited with their owners, but would cock back their left ears upon seeing a stranger. If they were shown a scary object, their right ears would go back. The researchers also found that dogs mimicked the human tendency to look at the left side of a person’s face upon seeing them for the first time – really cool evidence that shows us how dogs have co-evolved with humans. So next time you come home take a good look at your dog’s facial expressions to see if you can find out how he’s really feeling!
Dogs smell our diseases
Several recent studies have shown that dogs’ superior sense of smell allows them to detect cancer and other diseases. This is because dogs can detect Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in extremely small amounts. Sick people are thought to emit these compounds through breath or urine. So far, dogs have detected patients with breast, lung, bladder and colorectal cancer. While dogs have only been used to detect cancer for research purposes so far, dogs also help humans manage other conditions, like epilepsy, autism and heart disease.
They Don’t Feel Guilt
Did your dog give you those sad puppy-dog eyes the last time he ate the remote control? Well, while he might appear to feel deep and sorrowful remorse for his act of wrongdoing, it turns out that dogs don’t actually feel guilt. A recent study shows that the guilty-dog look is almost entirely a response to the voice and body language of the owner – dogs in a study at Barnard College in New York were more likely to look guilty if they hadn’t eaten a forbidden treat than if they had. So what we think of as dog guilt is actually a human construction, proof that yelling at your dog for doing something “wrong” is not effective as a training measure. Positive reinforcement is best!
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