What you need to know about dogs
Dogs are descended from wolves, but modern dogs are weak representations of their earliest ancestor and you should know certain things about your dog before you get one as a pet.
Domestic dog breeds are the result of the need people have to manipulate their environment. People bred dogs to strengthen the features they required.
Every modern dog breed caters to a human need.
Dog groups according to the American Kennel Club
- Sporting Group: bred to assist hunters. The group includes Spaniels, Pointers, Retrievers, and Setters. They are good pets for active families because they need plenty of excercise. The sporting group include Golden and Labrador Retrievers.
- Hound Group: scent dogs used for tracking and hunting. They make good pets but some need more excercise than others. The hound group include Beagles, Greyhounds and Dachshunds
- Toy Group: this centuries old group was bred to act as companions for humans. They are small dogs that are easily carried around and are true lapdogs. Dogs in this group include Chihuahua, Japanese Chin, Maltese and Chinese Crested.
- Non-Sporting Group: Group of dogs that do not fit into any other group. They can be small or large dogs. Dogs in this group include Chow Chow, Dalmatian, Poodle, Bulldog, French Bulldog
- Working Group: Dogs that work as sled dogs (traditionally) and in modern times as security dogs, military dogs, guide and service dogs. Dogs in this group include Boxer, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, Doberman and Mastiff.
- Herding Group: Group of working dogs traditionally used to gather, herd and guard livestock. Dogs in this group include Border Collie, Welsh Corgi, German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd.
- Terrier Group: Dogs bred to kill vermin and guard homesteads. SOme like the Dandy Dinmont Terrier were used to hunt otters and badgers. Dogs in this group include American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Silky Terrier, Boston Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier
What role do dogs play in the life of humans?
Dogs are truly man’s best friend. We breed them to be what we want.
We have dogs for different purposes:
- Assistance or companion dogs.
- Guide dogs.
- Hearing dogs
- Mobility assistance dogs.
- Diabetic alert dogs
- Seizure alert dogs
- Seizure response dogs
- Psychiatric service dogs
- Autism support dogs
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) dogs.
- Allergy detection dogs.
There seems to be a dog for every human ailment. A dog’s true value lies in its ability to be a companion for humans. If we understand dogs better we will appreciate them more because they enrich our lives immeasurably.
Are dogs loyal?
Yes, dogs are loyal because dogs are pragmatic.
Like any living creature, dogs have a natural inclination to survive and to do it in a way that requires the least energy.
Dogs are “loyal” because they want to be in a group (pack) where it is safer and food can be obtained with the least use of energy.
Loyalty is one of those human emotions that we apply to animals forgetting that animals do not think or reason like humans. As long as we understand those differences, there is every reason for humans and dogs to benefit from our association.
What colours can a dog see?
Dogs can see yellow, blue and grey but their red and green perception is limited to the extent that it is equal to a colour blind human.
The ability to see colour depends on cone cells which are photoreceptor cells in the eye. Humans have between 6 and 7 million cones in an eye that respond differently to different wavelengths of light and allow us to see different colours. Cones allow us to see light levels and motion. Humans have three cone cells that give us trichromatic vision.
Dogs have two types of cone photoreceptors which make them dichromats. Their vision developed to aid hunting and they have good vision for moving objects.
Humans have more cones so we can see more colours and dogs have more rods which enable them to see in low light and to see movement better.
What all this means is that choosing a red toy for your dog is not such a bright idea. Your dog probably sees dark grey or even black where you see red. Read more here. It may be better to buy your dog a yellow or blue toy or a combination of the two colours.
Why do dogs lick you?
If you believe that licking means your dog is kissing you, you may be “humanizing” your dog by attaching human acts and emotions to your pet’s behaviour.
It could be that your dog is just licking the saltiness from your skin or it may lick your mouth to entice you to regurgitate your lunch. Because that is what dogs in the wild do. It could however mean that your dog is just greeting you as licking seems to be a way of greeting in some wild dog species.
The most popular explanation is that your dog licks you to show affection, just as dog mothers lick their puppies.
What can dogs not have?
Dogs can eat many things that humans can, but there are some things dogs should not have.
- First on the list is chocolate and that is for a very good reason. Chocolate contains methylxanthines a unique drug derived from Xanthine which produces stimulants such as caffeine and is used in medicines and the manufacture of pesticides. Certain methylxanthines are used to alleviate asthma and bronchitis.
The methylxanthines in chocolate could lead to disruption of your dog’s metabolic process and large amounts could lead to seizures, irregular heart function or even death.
- Avocado is the second bad dog treat to be aware of. Avocado contains persin, a toxin that occurs in avocados and which the fruit uses to defend itself against parasitic fungi. Many animals and pets are affected by persin in avocado. These include rabbits, birds and mice. But avocado is less of a threat to dogs than to other animals.
- Next are onions and garlic which kill the red blood cells in dogs even when it is consumed in small quantities.
- Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs.
- Milk and dairy products create problems in dog becasue they do not have the enzymes needed to break down the sugars and fatty acids in cow’s and goat’s milk.
- Then there are macadamia nuts, sugar, caffeine, salt and yeast dough, with the latter fermenting in the dogs stomach and creating alcohol poisoning.
How long does a dog live?
Smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs but in general, dogs live 10 to 13 years.
- The popular belief that 1 human year equals 7 dogs years is not correct. That is because dogs do not age at a fixed ratio to humans and that in turn has to do with DNA methylation and the epigenetic process. The epigenetic process occurs non-linear in dogs and linear in humans.
What it means is that the ageing process in dogs does not occur in a straight line like in humans. Let’s see what that means in ordinary language:
- The equivalent of a one-yard old dog (or cat) is a 10 – 15-year-old human. A one-year-old dog generally has reached full growth and sexual maturity
- The second dog year is equal to 3 – 8 human years in terms of physical and mental maturity.
- Every dog year after that is equal to about 4 or 5 human years,
Dog years are not calculated on the human concept of calendar years but on the life stage reached. We might say human stages are reflected as calendar years to make it comprehensible and to have a common measurement. Just as human development is reflected in numbers of years so we can understand it, so is dog development reflected in human years for us humans to understand the dog’s age.
Because dogs do not grow and mature at the same rate as humans there is a difference in years between a dog’s age and a human’s age.
Asking how old a dog is, is the same as asking how old a toddler is, or a teenager or a retired person.
Are all dogs loyal?
Yes, dogs are loyal and will defend you with their lives because you are part of their pack. You will care for your dog to nurture the emotional satisfaction that it gives you to care for a living creature and to get loving “kisses” from your dog.
Dog loyalty exists because dogs are pack animals and pack animals are dependent on the pack. They owe their survival to the pack. Your dog sees your family as its pack and will do what is necessary to protect members of the pack and, in its own way, to promote the welfare of the pack.
Loyalty by dogs is not culturally or emotionally motivated emotions as is often the case in humans. Humans may be loyal because their religion, culture, or upbringing requires it, but dogs – in fact, all animals – show loyalty as far as it makes survival probable.
Humans call it “loyalty” and will show “loyalty” meaning a value of society. Dogs don’t call it any name and show “loyalty” from a much more practical point of view and that is survival with the best guarantee and the least effort.
Dogs do not defend you from harm because they are loyal, they defend you because you are the pack leader and the provider of food and care. Read more about it here.
It is a prime example of different motives but mutual benefits.
What does a dog eat?
Dogs are carnivores and hunters so, by nature they are meat eaters but they will eat any food that has an acceptable taste.
Most modern dog foods are manufactured on scientific principles, so if you buy your dog’s food from a well-known manufacturer or you buy a reputable brand, you should be OK. You can prepare your own dog food if you have the time or want to save money.
Dogs do not eat “civilized” like (most) humans, they gulp down their food and look for more and there is a reason why they will keep eating as long as you feed them.
Dogs, like all pets and many animals in human care suffer from the fact that we “humanize” animals. We say animals “smile” when exposing their teeth looks like a human smile but we forget that animals show emotions in other ways. Dogs wag their tails they don’t smile, they lick your mouth for a purpose they don’t “kiss” and they find safety in the pack, they are not “loyal”.
Dog owners often are surprised that their dog does not defend their property while they are absent, but allow people who feed them meat, onto the property. Dogs do not naturally refuse food from strangers, they need to be trained.
How often should a dog eat?
Ah, now here we have one of those topics that have as many answers and convictions as there are pet websites on the Internet.
Most advice really boils down to how your life is organised. If you have to feed your dog outside you may find that leaving food out attracts birds, rodents and ants. If you only see your dog in the early morning and then more than 12 hours later, you may find that being without food for more than 12 hours is detrimental to your dog’s health.
Based on their metabolism dogs should eat every 12 hours. How you can fit in with this time schedule will dictate when you feed your dog.
Some advisers prescribe that pets should not be left with a bowl alone during the day but that advice seems to be based more on your schedule than dog habits. By nature, dogs are browsers which means they will eat what they need as they move in their area. The same applies to a dog bowl that is accessible at all times. The dog will browse and may leave but will return to the bowl as it needs nutrition.
You could also use a slow bowl to let your dog only feed when it really needs the food.
If you lead a scheduled life you can easily let the dog follow your rules because dogs are creatures of habit and will adapt themselves to your feeding times.
Understanding my dog
You can understand quite a lot of what your dog wants to tell you if you know your dog and are observant.
Dogs react to their surroundings the same way we act when the doorbell rings. What you should know is that a dog is not a human and cannot understand human language. Dogs understand some words which they learn by associating them with your behaviour and they learn the meaning of voice tones.
Your dog’s abilities of smell and hearing are so much more than yours that communication only become possible once you and your dog understand each other’s reactions.
If you get up to open the door when the bell rings your dog will quickly learn what the doorbell means and what reaction is needed when it happens. Your dog may walk to the door with you or it may just observe but you can be sure that it knows to expect to see a human when the door opens.
The “non-communication” part happens when your dog becomes aware of something that you cannot hear or see.
I sometimes look after my granddaughter’s dog when they are away. When they are about a kilometre away her dog starts to get active and may even howl. The dog knows they are near long before I even think of checking Google Maps to see where they are. The same happens with smells. Your dog may smell something that you are totally unaware of.
How we can understand our dogs better and communicate with them more effectively is to notice their behaviour and learn their reactions to specific sounds, smells or “events” in their observation of the surroundings.
Listen to how a dog barks and you may soon understand what it is telling other dogs and yourself. I often experience that dogs further away in the neighbourhood bark but sometimes dogs around my house do not respond while they may respond quite aggressively at other times.
When you are watching TV and your dog suddenly sits upright and points its ears it is telling you something. If it then barks or starts making soft whining sounds you may know that someone who the dog knows and likes may be approaching. If it barks loudly you know someone unfamiliar may be approaching and if the hair on its back stands upright you may expect unfriendly company. Your dog shares information with its pack and it is alert to the messages the pack members send to it.
Understanding what your dog says bark-for-bark may not be possible but you can go a long way in understanding what your dog wants to tell you if you listen more and speak less. This is generally good advice in life also!