25 Incredible Things You Never Knew Dogs Could Do
Marvel, meet your next superheroes.
Everyone knows that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Beyond the standard repertoire—sit, stay, shake, fetch, roll over—it’s natural to assume Rover is kind of limited to being little more than a very furry, very cuddly best friend. Well, such an assumption is woefully incorrect.
As it turns out it, your dog is basically a bona fide superhero. From UV vision to the seer-like ability to predict earthquakes, most dogs have inherent skills that, truthfully, are more like magical powers. So, sure, you might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks. But given these 25 incredible things they can do, you won’t have to.
They can smell cancer.
It’s no secret that dogs have an amazing innate sense of smell. But did you know they can use their sniffer to detect cancer cells? That’s right: Dogs can be trained to “identify people that are affected with certain cancers, such as breast cancer and some skin cancers,” according to Samantha Devine, a veterinarian and lifestyle expert at Money Done Right.
In fact, a 2019 study published in the Experimental Biology journal revealed that dogs can use their highly evolved sense of smell to sniff out cancer in blood samples with an astonishing 97-percent accuracy rate. It’s essential to note, however, that dogs aren’t born with this skill. They have to undergo special training.
They can sense biochemical changes in a diabetic person.
Not only can they detect certain cancers, but dogs can also be trained to keep tabs on the insulin levels of their owners; they possess a practically supernatural ability to detect certain biochemical changes that occur within a person’s body. “Dogs can also smell biochemical changes that indicate a diabetic person has low blood sugar, and can be trained to identify people about to have a seizure from low blood sugar,” Devine says.
They can sense when a woman is pregnant.
Though experts still don’t know the exact moment that a dog can sense pregnancy, the American Kennel Club (AKC) says that dogs, thanks to their acute senses, are relatively quick to pick up on major changes in your body and emotions. And, more likely than not, after they sense that you’re pregnant, they’ll become extra protective and more likely to bark at any potential threat (read: fellow strangers in the park).
They can predict the weather.
Ever notice that your pooch starts acting weird before a big thunderstorm touches down? Well, according to Li-ran Bukovza, the founder of Puppy Tip, a dog training and behavior advice website, that’s because your dog can sense storm clouds moving in before you see them.
“There are several possible explanations for this, the most likely being that dogs have a stronger sense of smell and hearing, which makes them more sensitive to changes in the atmosphere,” Bukovza says.
And they can tell when there will be an earthquake.
“Dogs are able to detect when earthquakes, tornadoes, lightning storms, and other hazardous weather are about to come through the area before humans notice any changes in their surroundings,” Bukovza notes.
There’s no universally accepted theory as to why dogs can sense earthquakes, but the AKC hypothesizes that it’s due to dogs’ inherent ability to detect P-waves—or the faster, weaker seismic waves that occur before an earthquake really gets going.
They can tell time.
Aside from using their noses to sniff out scents, dogs also use their cutest body part as a watch. As Alexandra Horowitz, founder of Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab, told NPR, dogs use their sense of smell to tell what time it is.
“Smells in a room change as the day goes on,” she said. “If we were able to visualize the movement of air through the day, what we’re really visualizing is the movement of odor through the day… The dog, I think, can smell that through the movement of that air through the room.”
They can count.
According to Devine, your canine pal can not only measure lengths of time, they can also tell the difference between quantities of objects. “Studies, like a 2013 one published in the Learning and Motivation, have been done on dogs telling the difference between the length of two identical sounds, and the dogs were able to be trained to trigger each of the sounds,” says Devine. “Your pooch can also tell the difference in quantities, with them being able to be trained to pick the larger quantity of an item.”
They can see color.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs see more than 50 shades of gray. In fact, they can see many of the same colors humans can. “Dogs can actually see color,” says Devine. “But it tends to be in shades of blue and yellow because they lack the red and green cones, which are color receptors in the retina.” This might also explain why, as any dog owner can attest, pups like yellow toys more than red ones.
They can also see UV light.
Though dogs can’t see the full spectrum of color that humans can, Devine points out one way in which their vision is superior: They have the ability to see UV light and radiation, meaning they can see shades beyond what the naked human eye can see.
They base where they do their business on the planet’s magnetic fields.
Next time you feel frustrated at your dog’s indecisiveness about choosing where to go to the bathroom, know that they’re not trying to vex you—they’re trying to make sure they pick the perfect spot. According to 2013 findings published in Frontiers in Zoology, under “calm magnetic field conditions,” dogs chose to “excrete with the body being aligned along the north-south axis,” rather than bother with the east-west axis.
They can learn the names of places.
According to Steffi Trott, the owner and head dog trainer at SpiritDog Training in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s fairly easy to train your dog to remember specific places. You just have to bust out the doggie treats.
“Dogs are really good at learning the names of places and then going there when told,” she says. “Try it with your own dog: Put a treat into your kitchen, then take your dog to the hallway and tell them to, ‘Get your treat from the kitchen!’ Repeat it a couple of times, then move to the next room. Your dog will be very motivated to listen and learn; they know there are treats waiting at the end of the game!”
They can sense where you’ve been.
Leave your dog alone in the house all day, and they’ll be able to use their nose to figure out what you’ve been up to. “Dogs’ noses are extremely sensitive,” says Trott. “Not only can they recognize us by scent alone, but they can also tell whether we are sick, what and when we last ate, and even where we have been during the day (from the smell of our shoes and clothing).”
They can solve food puzzles.
Trott points out that canines are adept at figuring out how to catch a scrap of food in nearly every situation. “Show [your dog] a delicious treat, then hide it under a plastic cup,” she says. “Dogs come up with a variety of solutions for this game, such as knocking the cup over with their nose, using their paw to push it away, or even lifting it up with their mouth.”
They can unroll a yoga mat.
“Every dog can unroll a towel or yoga mat,” says Trott. Don’t believe it? “Take a mat and have it lying flat on the ground. Now put a treat at one end and flip the mat over once, as if rolling it up. Put another treat there, then roll it once more. Keep going until the whole mat is rolled up. Now your dog can unroll it. He will earn a treat for every turn the mat takes as it unrolls. This is a great party trick.”
They are as smart as a two-year-old toddler.
There’s no way your dog can best you in a game of chess (or checkers), but they can probably outwit your two-year-old. According to a 2009 study presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Toronto, researchers discovered that dogs could understand around 165 words, including signs, signals, and gestures. Do you know any toddlers with a vocabulary that large?
They can see in the dark.
Unlike their humans, dogs have the ability to see in the dark due to wider pupils and eyes that are equipped with light-sensitive cells called rods that help them see more adeptly in low light. “But a dog’s secret weapon in his ability to see in the dark is the part of the canine eye called the tapetum lucidum,” according to the AKC . “The tapetum acts as a mirror within the eye, reflecting back the light that enters it, and giving the retina another opportunity to register the light.”
They can smell your feelings.
Next time you’re sad, look down. Is your furry pal next to you? Ten bucks says they are—because, as revealed in a 2018 study published in Learning & Behavior, dogs can sense human emotion. Researchers showed dogs a range of human emotions—including anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust—and catalogued their reactions. For some, they cocked their head to the side. For others, they exhibited signs of increased anxiety. Regardless, the end result was clear: Canines can pick up on your feelings.
They have vivid dreams.
Matt Wilson, a neuroscientist who studies memory and learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told PetMD that dogs, just like humans, dream during shuteye. However, unlike human REM, dogs probably visualize fewer psychadelic supernatural occurrences and more everyday happenstance.
“The dream experiences can be traced back to real experiences,” Wilson said. “It’s memory that’s being used to synthesize the content of the dreams.”
They know when they’re being treated unfairly.
You’ll never admit it—and we’ll never share it if you do, of course—but, if you’re a human to multiple pets, you probably have a favorite, right? Well, you might want to but the kibosh on such feelings. According to a 2017 study published in Current Biology, dogs are more than capable of sniffing out inequitable treatment. (Fascinatingly, the researchers suggest such behavior can be traced back to to “the evolution of cooperation in dogs and wolves.”)
They can tell when you’re rude.
According to 2017 study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Spot is spot-on at identifying those who might be on Santa’s “naughty list.” The researchers found that dogs sized up those who “refused to help their owners” in a negative light. On the other hand, dogs were much friendlier with people who they believed to be kind or gentle. (Yes, a dog’s scale of moral relativity is not dissimilar to a human’s.)
Newfoundlands have water-resistant coats and webbed feet.
Newfoundlands, a breed of dog hailing from Canada, are equipped to survive the elements of their particular home region. As Dogtime points out, Newfoundlands are born with webbed feet and water-resistant coats to better help them hunt for fish—and play in the water—all day long.
They sleep in a ball to protect themselves from danger.
Yes, dogs curl up in a ball to keep warm, but they also assume this sleeping position as a form of self-protection. “When dogs sleep in the wild, especially where it’s cold, they’ll dig a nest and curl up into it,” Dr. Margaret Gruen, DVM, a clinician at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Behavior Service, told VetStreet. “It also protects their most vulnerable organs in the abdomen from would-be predators.” In other words, if you see your pooch sleeping in a sprawled-out position, that just means that they feel safe and secure in their environment.
Greyhounds can run faster than most urban speed limits.
With top sprinting speed of 65 to 75 miles per hour, the cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet, without question. But the greyhound—which, according to a BBC Earth video investigation, runs in the same exact style as a cheetah—is no slouch, either: It can hit speeds of nearly 45 miles per hour.
Bloodhounds can trace scents that are as old as America.
Researchers have long concluded that a bloodhound’s nose consists of approximately 230 million olfactory cells, or “scent receptors,” which is about 40 times that of a human. According to PBS, because of this, bloodhounds can often trace scents that date back as far as 300 years ago.
And dogs can sense supernatural activity. (Maybe.)
Whether or not you believe in the supernatural is beside the point: Some folks suggest that dogs are preternaturally attuned to it.
“There have been countless stories of dogs reacting strangely in certain settings, only for their owners to later learn of supernatural activity there,” says Bukovza. “If you ever take your dog to a supposedly haunted house, you may notice [them] cowering, barking aggressively at something you can’t see, or refusing to enter certain rooms. It’s believed that because of their superior senses, dogs have a stronger connection and ability to see or feel the presence of the supernatural than humans.” Okay, then! And for a look at some wacky supernatural events that are 100-percent real, read about these 30 Urban Legends That Are Totally True.
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