Companion Dogs

Companion Dogs - History of our pet dogs

Dogs have long been the most popular companion animals. Indeed, the dog has often been referred to as “man’s best friend.” This is probably because domestic dogs tend to enjoy human company and activities more than other animals, and are generally the easiest animals for humans to interact with.

The dogs we know as our companions are in the same animal family as wolves, dingoes, coyotes, and foxes, and seem to have descended from a wolf-like ancestor. It is generally believed that dogs weren’t domesticated by force, but by natural selection. Dogs who hung around human settlements and fed on scraps and extra food were more likely to survive than those who didn’t. Any dogs that were too aggressive were probably killed while the friendly ones may have been tolerated or even welcomed by humans. Archaeological evidence show that companion dogs existed at least 14,000 years ago but many archaeologists believe domestication could have occurred thousands of years earlier.

Over the years, humans have selectively bred dogs, to create over 400 different breeds of domestic dog that vary greatly in size, colour, tail and ear size, personality, and skills. For example, Newfoundland Labradors are excellent swimmers; they actually have webbed feet! Dogs were usually bred with specific purposes in mind, for example, to create excellent hunters, trackers, and runners. It is now more common to choose breeds for aesthetic purposes or for personality. But the special abilities of some breeds are still exploited by humans, as dogs are widely used to detect narcotics and other illegal substances, to guard homes and businesses, and to guide people with disabilities

Companion dogs are omnivorous, but unlike cats, dogs can get all the nutrition they need from a well-planned plant-based diet. Indeed, many companion dogs are vegetarian. All dog breeds retain some characteristics of their predator ancestors, for example, an exceptional sense of smell. Dogs also have disconnected shoulder bones (no collar bone) and their back legs are connected to the body only by muscle, characteristics that give them a greater stride length for fast running and leaping.

Emotional intelligence

All dogs have an impressive capacity to learn complex social behavior, to interpret varied body language and sounds, and also to react and learn from new situations. Dogs are able to sense and deliver a wide variety of cues using body language, which allows them to engage in social interaction with other dogs and with humans. They need to be even more perceptive than humans do, since they cannot rely on language to express themselves or know how others are feelings. The dog’s large number of nerves that connect to the facial muscles, allow subtle control of a wide repertoire of facial expressions. Dogs are very expressive animals and are often very good at reading non-verbal cues from humans. They can tell when you are pleased with them and they can let you know that they are pleased, too. This makes dogs relatively easy to train and, most importantly, easy to build strong relationships with.

Remember that a dog who doesn’t obey commands is not necessarily stupid. Too often people scold and abuse dogs for “not understanding” what they want the dog to do, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if their companion dog has his own interests. Try to imagine what a situation might be like from your companion’s perspective before getting angry or calling her stupid. Don’t forget that most animals can’t be trained to live in human homes at all, so the relationship you have with your dog is really quite unique.

Also remember that a dog’s intelligence will be developed through practice, just as it can be in humans. The more involved your companion dog is in your life and the more time you spend interacting with her, the more intelligent she is likely to be. A dog who is bored and under-stimulated will not have much chance to use her brain and won’t learn new things.

Communication

In addition to facial expression and other body language, dogs communicate through vocalizations like barking, whining, whimpering, or growling. The bark is probably the dog noise we are all most familiar with. Companion dogs bark for many reasons. Your companion might be saying he’s hungry, bored, or wants exercise, or he might be trying to tell you that he is home alone, a visitor has arrived, he senses danger, or even that he is excited. Barking and other vocalizations are part of the natural way dogs let us know they need something or that something is up. Unfortunately, many people find barking annoying. And even if your dog’s barking doesn’t bother you, it can be a problem if your neighbours feel differently. You can sometimes limit barking by making sure you don’t reward it. If you think your companion is barking because she’s hungry, for example, don’t stop the barking by feeding her. Instead, call her to you and ask her to sit. If she stops barking reward her with praise and a kibble, feeding her only when the barking has ceased.

Some dogs, like Basenjis, don’t bark at all, but they do make a yodeling sort of noise when they are happy. Other breeds, like the beagle, howl more than they bark. Wild dogs, such as coyotes and wolves, let other packs know they are nearby by howling as a group.

Did you know?

  • Dogs will often greet people by licking their faces and hands. This is also one of the ways that dogs greet each other.
  • Dogs have keen senses of smell. They emit chemicals called pheromones that other dogs can smell and recognize them by. A dog’s pheromones also give other dogs a sense of whether he feels angry, afraid, or friendly. When male dogs pee on lampposts, trees and other objects outdoors, they are trying to mark their territory. This serves as information that other dogs can interpret through smell.
  • Dogs are colour blind. They cannot see as much detail as humans because the lenses of their eyes are flatter than ours, however, their eyes are more sensitive to light and motion. Some breeds, have a field of vision up to 270°, compared to 100° to 120° for humans.
  • A dog does not touch the ground with their whole foot when they walks – they actually walks on their  toes.
  • Dogs cannot sweat so they cool off by panting, which allows cool air to pass over the tongue.
  • Tails are used by dogs in a variety of ways to communicate. If they put it down between their legs they are afraid or feel dominated. A perked tail can indicate aggression, while a wagging tail usually indicates excitement.
  • Dogs have good hearing and can hear higher pitched noises than humans can. They can also hear sounds from about four times further away than we do. Their ears are relatively mobile so they can locate exactly where a sound is coming from.