We all know how popular dogs are as pets in the West.
If you weren’t lucky enough to grow up playing fantasy games in the garden, pretending little Skip was the lion and protector of all men (just me?), then you only have to take a walk down the road to see evidence that these animals are important to us.
They can squeeze a smile out of a tough day. They keep us fit, show us new perspectives, lead us back into nature. They’re the perfect companions for children and can make a 6am start seem worthwhile. Happily having grown up amongst them, we’d be forgiven for thinking we really know them. But just how well do we know them?
You ol’ wolf, you
Yes, dogs are old. Very old. The closest extant animal to the original (now extinct) is the grey wolf. Gradually, no less than 14,000 years ago, hunter gatherers started to domesticate dogs, and they’ve stayed loyally by our sides ever since.
There are 334 breeds of dog, and these are split up into 10 groups depending on the dog’s purpose, function, size and appearance. There are around 70 million dogs in the US alone, and more than 500 million in the world! – not counting strays, of which there are an estimated 50 million more!
The big and the small
Almost every dog we see is different to the last. There really is an amazing variety of breeds out there. We’ll probably never see them all in a lifetime. The smallest dog on record, a Yorkshire Terrier, was a tiny 6.3cm tall and weighed only 113 grams. The heaviest was an English Mastiff weighing 155kg. The tallest? Just imagine a cuddle from this beast: a Great Dane standing at 106cm!
Okay, so it annoys you when you’re trying to get down the drive without the dog hearing and following. But of course he does because dogs can pinpoint sounds with incredible accuracy. And frankly, when it comes to smelling, their olfactory sense makes ours seem a joke. Dogs have mobile nostrils, which means they can even pinpoint the direction of smells. (Tip: if you’re being chased by a wolf, don’t run into the wind!) Ever wondered why a dog’s nose is always wet? This is essential for determining the direction of the air current containing the smell. So the next time your dog sniffs out the sausages, simply marvel at his abilities… while he’s merrily licking his chops.
Man’s best friend
We’ve all heard this old expression, but the more we learn about dogs, the more it makes sense. It’s no surprise that we get on with dogs so well. There’s now research that shows dogs’ high sociability may be affected by the same genes as in humans. Just consider their unrivalled roles beside us: hunting, herding, pulling, protecting, assisting police and the military, accompanying, and even aiding the handicapped and providing therapeutic support. So hat’s off to the dogs! Though they may require patience and training, let us never forget all that they do for us… asking for nothing in return but our love.