Dogs 101 – Information About Dogs

The origins of modern-day dogs can be traced back to about 14,000 years ago, when humans who shared hunting grounds with packs of wolves brought their pups home and raised them. Since then, dogs have earned a well-deserved reputation as “man’s best friend” and nowadays people choose to live with them for a variety of reasons – be it for hunting like the early humans, herding, pulling sleds and other loads, guarding and protection, assistance or just pure companionship.

The Basenji is among the oldest of all modern dog breeds, dating back to at least 6,000 BC.

Among the most ancient of all modern breeds is the Basenji, which was prominent in Egypt about 4,500 years ago and dates back to at least 6,000 BC. Images on wall reliefs show the remarkable similarity between the ancient and the modern version of the Basenji, and the only difference is that their legs were drawn proportionally longer than they are now. Early origins of dogs can be followed further around the world to ancient China, where over 2,000 years ago smaller breeds such as the Pekingese emerged – which was restricted to ownership by Chinese royalty.

While the Pekingese is genetically very close to the wolf, their appearance is very different from their ancestor. This is explained largely by the rates of development happening within different parts of the body taking place at different times. Most puppies of different breeds are around the same size until they are three months old and get their main growth spurt – if this happens slower, then the adult dog will be smaller. This is what resulted in the Pekingese and other smaller dogs such as the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso – breeds that probably wouldn’t naturally exist if not chosen for the novelty of keeping them.

Since their earliest ancestors, both modern dogs and wolves have retained their pack behavior and demonstrate greater sense of attachment to their pack than they do with their territory. Understanding these early origins can become very important for the relationship between us and our dogs – especially when it comes to establishing our position and communicating effectively within this small pack.

Dog Language

One key piece of information about dogs to understand is how they communicate with each other – it helps a great deal when trying to get your message across, and it will prevent dangerous incidents such as biting that result from misunderstanding your dog. People associate dog communication with the more obvious signals such as barking or tail wagging, but there are often more subtle signals that can be just as meaningful. For example, a dog that rests with its legs out in front is more alert and ready to act than one that lies on its side.

Dogs communicate largely with their tail, bark, facial signals and posture - in this case a dog displays dominance with a rigid upright tail, head leaning forward and teeth fully bared. This indicates aggression and is not safe to approach.

Dogs also have certain methods for meeting and greeting one another – if they are unfamiliar with another dog, they will approach cautiously and use their nose to sniff. Male dogs will then usually approach the rear of the other dog to sniff, while female dogs concentrate on the head. A dog’s posture, facial signals, voice and tail signals can combine to form their own body language – for example, a dog that crouches down towards you while wagging its tail and letting out a short bark is usually enticing you to play with them.

They also have an extensive vocabulary of different barks, growls, whines and snarls to help convey different messages. A bark is not always meant to be threatening, but could be an invitation to play as mentioned previously, a way of greeting somebody or a method of getting attention. Repeated barking is meant as a threat whenever the dog perceives a risk, and if that risk seems to grow higher they will get more aggressive until it passes. Deep growling is also meant as a threat, but higher-pitched growling could be a sign of submissiveness – meaning, if you want to establish a sense of control over your dog you should speak in a lower voice. A dog’s howl, much as a wolf’s howl, signifies they are lonely and trying to make contact with somebody.

To ensure an effective relationship between you and your dog, it is important that they understand you as being the more dominant one – as such, they will slot into the natural role of being more cooperative and submissive. Factors such as you being much bigger in size will often help, and in other cases the dog will simply be happy to play the submissive role due to the security it offers them. The tail is among the strongest signals as to a dog’s dominance or submission – a wagging tail in a neutral or upright position usually indicates happiness and excitement, while a more rigid tail or one that is wagged slower can indicate dominance or aggression. A tail held low, on the other hand, often indicates fear or submission.

Another key signal is in a dog’s facial expressions. A more dominant dog will stare down another just as a wolf will unblinkingly stare down its prey, while a submissive dog will nervously look about with wide eyes. A dog asserting its dominance will also project its neck towards another, while a submissive dog will draw its head back in. A dog that displays dominance or aggression will also bare their teeth so that they are seen to the fullest extent, while a less dominant dog will try to appear as unthreatening as possible by backing away. A dog’s ears are also important when it comes to reading their intent, though it can occasionally be difficult when the ears of a particular breed are more floppy. A dog paying attention will have their ears as erect as possible, but if those erect ears are pointing towards another dog then it is meant as a signal of dominance. A more submissive dog, on the other hand, will have its ears flattened and pointed backwards.

A happy dog is a safe dog and will display a human-like smile. Be careful to ensure young children understand the difference between this face and one where the dog's teeth are fully exposed to signal aggression.

Such clear and unambiguous signals are important to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with your dog, and especially important to educate young children about to prevent them from misinterpreting a dog’s signals and risking a bite. For example, children focus on the face and may mistake a dog demonstrating aggression with its teeth bared as a happy one. A dog that’s safe to approach will have a more relaxed face and ears and display a more relaxed smile while greeting a familiar human – in essence, not displaying any clear dominance or submission signals. A dog that displays any visual signs of dominance or submission mentioned above, on the other hand, should be treated with more caution.

Dog Senses

Another of the key facts about dogs that is passed down from their wolf ancestors is the keen variety of senses at their disposal, which makes them ideally suited towards hunting and many other purposes:

  • Smell – Healthy dogs typically have wet noses, and this moisture aids greatly in scent detection. Depending on the breed of dog, this can be up to a million times better than any human.
  • Sight – While dogs do not have the nocturnal vision of cats, they do still have effective eyesight for use during night and day. Their forward-pointing eyes provide binocular vision, which enables them to perceive greater depth of field and even distinguish their owner in a crowd of humans well over 500 meters away.
  • Sound – Dogs can interpret a range of frequencies much higher than humans can, and certain whistles and other dog training devices have been developed to account for this. However, it may be surprising to some that a dog’s sensitivity to higher frequencies is actually lower than that of cats.
  • Taste – Another characteristic of the dog family is that they are typically scavengers, and will eat whatever is available to them in the wild. This holds true with domesticated dogs, who will largely share whatever their human owners eat. A dog’s tongue interprets bitter, sweet, salty and acidic flavors and allows them to recognize preferred foods. Their taste buds respond positively to natural sugars as well as components typically found in meat.

Dog Nutrition

A dog's dietary requirements are similar to those of a human with the most important aspects being protein and water. They should be fed twice daily according to their size and weight, but be careful not to overfeed them.

Another important piece of information about dogs to remember is they are naturally carnivores, but will be easily satisfied with a diet not too dissimilar from that of a human. Protein is the most important aspect of this, along with vitamins A, B, D and E, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, minerals and water. Small dogs will need a minimum of 200mL of water each day, while medium-sized and large dogs will need at least 1 liter and 2 liters respectively. All dogs need to drink a lot more in warmer weather.

Commercially-produced dog foods offer convenience, though it is also possible to give your dog a balanced diet using ingredients you would usually cook for yourself with. The other important thing to remember is to give your dog the appropriate amount of food for their size and breed – commercial dog food tins usually offer guidelines to help you determine how much food is ideal for your dog’s weight. Most dogs will need to be fed twice a day, but be careful not to overfeed them – another trait inherited from their ancestral wolves is that dogs will typically eat very quickly to prevent anyone else getting their food, which is even more apparent when multiple dogs live and eat together. This shouldn’t encourage you to give them even more food, as a result of assuming that they are still hungry.

Dog Exercise

All dogs need daily exercise to relieve stress and prevent them from becoming overweight - walking with your dog each day should become your new favorite pastime.

One of the other facts about dogs that is greatly connected to their diet is the amount of exercise they require. All dogs need a certain length of time spent exercising each day, which apart from preventing them from becoming overweight gives them an opportunity to relieve any anxiety and prevent excessive barking while at home. Walking your dog, therefore, should become one of your new favorite pastimes, as not only does it ensure your dog’s health and well-being but there are also significant benefits to your own health as well.

As a general rule, younger and more active dogs require more exercise (at least 30 minutes to an hour) than older and less active ones, but certain inactive breeds (such as the Pug or Pekingese) are prone to obesity, and also need a high amount of exercise despite what many people believe. Ultimately, you should try to walk your dog until they are tired – only then do you know that they sufficiently exercised. You should never, however, force your dog to walk when it’s extremely hot or cold, as this will do more harm than good. Remember to mix things up, as good exercise is as much about stimulating your dog mentally as much as physically – take different routes and introduce them to new places that they haven’t seen before. Not only does this result in a healthier dog, but they are generally happier and less prone to a variety of behavior problems as well.