The Science Behind Your Dog and His Behavior

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Dog science is on the rise as more and more researchers devote their time and resources to understanding the inner workings of how our best friends have evolved to become so intertwined with humanity. From dog biology to dog psychology, we understand more than ever about pups and their behavior. Curious to find answers to what science says about your dog? Keep reading about some of the more fascinating things we've uncovered.

Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much?

Puppy sleeps on her back in a brown dog bed with toys around her.The amount of time a dog spends sleeping depends on many factors, including his age, size, breed, health and activity level. Dogs who don't have a lot to keep them busy during the day are more likely to sleep out of sheer boredom or simply because it's an enjoyable activity. All dogs require significantly more sleep than humans, says the American Kennel Club. This has to do with the amount of REM sleep that dogs get. While humans spend about 25 percent of their sleep in REM cycles, which is the deepest and most restful stage of sleep, only about 10 percent of a doggy nap is spent in REM sleep. This means that they need to sleep longer to make up for the imbalance.

What Are Dogs Saying When They Bark?

Although dogs bark for a variety of reasons, biologists formerly thought that their barking didn't change depending on the message. More recently, however, research into the biology of a dog has discovered that dogs have elasticity in their vocal chords, giving them the ability to slightly alter the sound of their barks to convey different meanings, says Scientific American.

Spectrographic images of dog barks have shown differences in timing, pitch and amplitude, all of which vary according to context. The same is true of growling. While it's not yet clear to researchers what these different barks and growls mean, experiments have shown that dogs react differently to other dogs' vocalizations depending on the context. For example, scientists recorded a dog growling over food and growling at a stranger. When they played back the "food growl" while offering another dog a treat, dogs were more hesitant to accept it than when they heard the "stranger growl" played. Other experiments showed that dogs and people are more likely to react to a dog's "stranger bark" than to other kinds of barking. More dog science research is needed to decode every woof and growl, but it's becoming clear that there is a more complex communication element to a dog's barking — he's not just doing it for fun.

How Fast Can Dogs Run?

How fast a dog can run depends on the individual dog. Running speed is largely dependent on size, body shape, and leg length, as well as the age, health and physical condition. The greyhound averages about 45 miles per hour as the world's fastest dog, with the fastest ever member of this breed clocked at 50.5 miles per hour, says Wag!. While streamlined greyhounds and other fast breeds, such as whippets and Afghan hounds, appear to have been designed for speed, all dogs have the ability to make their bodies more aerodynamic when they run, either by flattening their ears to decrease wind resistance or pushing them back to avoid getting tripped up.

The way dogs move their legs also changes when they run. A walking dog moves his right legs and left legs together, while a running dog leaps with his front legs and back legs paired, allowing for more speed.

How High Can Dogs Jump?

For some dogs, the ability to hop up on a couch is no amazing feat; for others stairs may be required to snuggle with you in your favorite chair; and still for other dogs containing them in fenced yards can be a challenge because of their jumping ability. Similar to a dog's running ability, a dog's jumping ability depends largely on their size, strength, age, health and body condition. Cuteness reports that the highest jumping dogs can clear 6 feet, but what might be more impressive are the small breeds that can jump multiple times their body height. Another component of dog's jumping is how far they can leap. Common in dock-diving competitions, dogs are trained to run and leap in the water to see how far they can make it — some achieving leaps near 30 feet The Labrador Site reports.

How Well Can Dogs See?

Despite having a form of color blindness, a dog's eyes are incredible and can see things that you and I can't see. BarkPost details a number of things your dog can see that you can't like Earth's magnetic field and black light drawings without the presence of black light. However, a dog's vision isn't necessarily better than a human's. According to Veterinary Vision, a dog's eyes are positioned on the side of his head which results in greater peripheral vision, however their visual acuity (or their ability to focus on objects) is only about 20 to 40 percent of that of human's. This means that what a dog can distinguish as an object at 20 feet, a human with 20/20 vision could distinguish it at 90 feet. For this reason, dog's rely on their other senses a great deal to help them navigate the world.

How Good is a Dog's Hearing Really?

A dog's hearing is no myth, in fact, it's an impressive biological advantage that has helped them for thousands of years. According to Petful, a dog can hear a sound up to four times further away than humans. Dogs have the ability to use their ears independently and change the direction for which they are listening, which helps them zero in on the sound they are listening for. This is done because they have 18 muscles in their ears (three times as many in the human ear). Dogs also have the ability to hear different frequencies, which is why things like dog whistles can affect them so much, even when you don't hear anything. Lastly, dogs also have the ability to practice selective hearing similar to humans, so when you're calling your dog in from the yard and it seems like he is ignoring you, there's a good chance that he is.

Why Do Dogs Get So Excited to See Us?

Two pomeranian dogs smiling in car.When you come home at the end of a long day — or even after only an hour or two — chances are your dog is over the moon with happiness and excitement. Every! Single! Time! Dogs' over-the-top response to being reunited with their humans is one of the things we love so much about them. But why do they get so excited?

There are three key factors involved, says io9. When studying brain scans of dogs exposed to certain smells, canine behavioral researchers found that the scent of a familiar human triggered the reward centers of the brain in a way that no other scent accomplished, suggesting not only that dogs know the difference between humans and other dogs, but that dogs genuinely love spending time with their humans.

Another study used a cognitive experiment designed for children seeing their mothers after an absence to measure the response of dogs reuniting with their owners, and found that the response is very similar. It's important to remember that dogs are social animals that don't like to be left alone. To them, our return signals relief from loneliness and boredom. Add all of that up, and it's no wonder that dogs can't contain their excitement to see their favorite people.

Why Are There So Many Different Kinds of Dogs?

Dogs are one of the most diverse species on the planet. Britain's The Kennel Club recognizes a whopping 218 distinct dog breeds and that doesn't even count all the regional variations, designer cross-breeds, mixed-breeds and happy mystery mutts out there.

With all of their diversity in color, shape, size and temperament, scientists believe that dogs started diverging genetically from wolves around 27,000 years ago. You can thank those ancient hunter-gatherer pet parents for dog variety as we know it. No one is quite sure when the practice of breeding dogs with similar characteristics in order to bring out desirable traits first began, but by doing so humans unwittingly took part in gene selection, matching dominant genes and manipulating their expression in subsequent dog generations.

While this practice has gone on for almost as long as dogs have been domesticated, selective dog breeding exploded during the 19th century as people began creating different breeds for aesthetic reasons and novelty's sake rather than because certain traits were more useful for hunting or herding. As this practice continues today, the number of dog breeds and the diversity among the species continues to increase.

There's no doubt that dogs are special, and so is the bond we share with them. As the field of dog science continues to grow, we're continuing to discover more and more about our favorite furry companions. But there's one thing we don't need to rely on science to tell us, and that's how awesome our dogs are — each and every one.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.

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