Let’s face it—we love dogs and everything we know about them. And, like any good relationship, we keep discovering new and fascinating things about our four-footed objects of affection. Each new fact about their loyalty, affection, uniqueness, and their love for us humans has us head over heels all over again. Check out these seven little-known facts from Animal Medical Hospital of Naples and become extra familiar with the beloved canis familiaris. 

#1: Dogs can detect odor in parts per trillion

The dog’s sense of smell is so acute that it’s almost impossible for humans to fathom. Experts have likened the canine nose’s sensitivity to the ability to identify one rotten apple in two million barrels, or one teaspoon of sugar dissolved in two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

If that doesn’t intimidate you—trained detection dogs can identify an odor submerged underwater, across miles of distance, and thousands of years old. Dogs owe their astonishing accuracy to their unique nasal structure, which boasts 300 million olfactory receptors—humans have only six million—and scroll-like turbinates that create additional surface area inside the nasal cavities. The dog inhales the scent, which travels to the brain’s olfactory area that is more than 40 times larger than our own. 

#2: The Norwegian lundehund has six toes and was bred to hunt puffins

The spitz-like Norwegian lundehund has a mysterious past—the breed appears in reference texts and art around the second millenia. These dogs feature several structural abnormalities that helped them navigate the rocky Lofoten islands, where they were once used to hunt and retrieve puffins, which were a valuable local food source. 

While the puffin is a protected species today, the modern Norwegian lundehund still possesses its ancestors trademark features, including:

  • Six toes — The lundehund’s feet have at least six fully functioning toes and extra paw pads so they can reliably grip the rocky hillsides. 
  • Flexible neck — Hyperextension allows the lundehund to bend their neck backwards.
  • Folding ears — The lundehund’s folding ears block out cold winds and help them maintain their body temperature. 
  • Hypermobile shoulders — Enhanced shoulder flexibility and range of motion allow the lundehund to climb vertically and scramble up rocky embankments to reach puffin nests. 

#3: The world’s smartest dog could identify more than 1,000 objects

Chaser—a female border collie owned by professor Dr. John Pilley, Jr.—could recognize more than 1,022 words, the largest tested vocabulary in the world. Pilley began teaching Chaser to recognize words and phrases at an early age using positive reinforcement methods and errorless learning (i.e., a technique that controls the learner’s environment to make failure impossible). Chaser’s intelligence included recognizing nouns, categories, and adjectives (e.g., bigger, smaller, fast, slow)—concepts that were once considered beyond a dog’s cognition.

Chaser’s skill and intelligence were more than a cute parlor trick—Pilley’s research revolutionized the study of canine cognition and paved the way for other remarkable dogs, such as Stella—the first “talking” dog.

#4: Human yawns are contagious to dogs

Friends who yawn together, stay together—or at least share empathetic feelings. According to research, yawning—which correlates with self-reported empathy in humans—also is contagious from humans to dogs. This is not entirely surprising, considering the domesticated dog’s capacity for empathy and close social bonding with humans. In one experiment, 72% of dogs responded in kind to a human stranger’s yawn—a generous empathy level when you consider human-to-human rates range between 45% and 60%.

#5: Dementia is common in senior dogs

Your elderly dog’s forgetfulness may be more than a “senior moment.” In addition to arthritis and sensory loss, some aging dogs experience an Alzheimer’s-like condition known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). According to one source, CDS affects 28% of dogs between 11 and 12 years old, and 68% of dogs 15 to 16 years old. Similar to humans, affected dogs may exhibit confusion and disorientation in familiar places, altered wake and sleep cycles, and changes in their social interactions. 

#6: The dachshund’s cartoonish shape serves a purpose

Everyone loves a “wiener dog,” but do you know why they’re so … weenie? The dachshund was purposely bred to pursue badgers, which dwell in deep earthen tunnels, and their long body and short, foldable legs are ideal for moving quickly in pursuit of their prey. The large, slightly turned-out front feet can dig and travel over open ground efficiently, and their deep chest provides maximum oxygen capacity in poorly ventilated tunnels.  The dachshund’s unique shape creates a shoehorn-like effect that—along with their loose, abundant skin—prevents them from becoming trapped or wedged in a tight space.

#7: The American Heart Association endorses dog ownership

Sometimes it pays to listen to your dog-loving heart. According to patient data gathered from more than 3.8 million people in 10 separate mortality studies, dog owners who experience heart attacks or strokes live longer than non dog owners. Study results included:

  • 65% reduced mortality risk after a heart attack
  • 31% reduced mortality risk because of cardiovascular issues

Researchers attribute these results to dog owners’ increased physical activity, reduced social isolation, and lower blood pressure. But we think love has something to do with it, too. So go ahead, let your heart “go to the dogs!” 

The Animal Medical Hospital of Naples team hopes you’ve enjoyed these fun and fascinating canine insights. But, we realize they may leave you “begging” for more information about your four-legged friend, and how to keep them healthy. Explore our blog for more pet education topics, trivia and tips, and contact our team to schedule a wellness screening appointment.