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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

52 Fun Facts About Dogs

Find out why your dog acts the way he does.

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There are so many interesting facts to learn when it comes to man’s best friend. With all the love, cuddles, and companionship these four-legged family members give us, the least we can do is learn a little bit more about what makes them so special—not that we need any more proof. Whether you have a small dog or a large dog, there are so many facts about dogs that go beyond just their behavior and facial expressions. While the list could go on and on, these are some of our favorites.

A dog smelling flowersAnita Kot/Getty Images

The “smell” center of a dog’s brain is 40 times larger than yours

Dogs can smell thousands of times better than humans. Their noses have millions more scent receptors—for example, a human nose averages five million, while a Dachshund’s nose has 125 million—making dogs useful for sniffing out drugs, dead bodies, bed bugs, explosives, and other things dogs can smell that humans can’t.

beautiful close-up dog from behind viewNatee K Jindakum/Shutterstock

Their ears are pretty impressive too

Dogs’ sense of smell might be pretty amazing, but don’t forget about their hearing! Everything from the positioning of their ears to the muscles in them helps dogs pick up a whole host of sounds that humans can’t hear. In fact, the most popular explanation for why dogs tilt their heads is that they’re trying to locate the source of a sound.

Boxer dog sticking out his tonguesmilingsunray/Getty Images

But their sense of taste is much less developed

Dogs have approximately one sixth of the taste buds humans have (1,700 to humans’ approximately 9,000). This is why dogs will scarf rotting food scraps (or grass) as voraciously as they’ll eat a bowl of kibble or a hunk of steak. Their less discriminatory sense of taste also has to do with their evolutionary instincts, carried over from when they would scavenge in the wild.

Spain, Costa Blanca, Chocolate labrador's noseJustin Paget/Getty Images

No two dog noses are the same

A dog’s nose is the equivalent of a human fingerprint, with each having a unique pattern of ridges and creases. Also find out the reason dogs’ noses are always wet.

Long haired dachshund sleeping in bed with his humanAllison Michael Orenstein/Getty Images

Dogs dream like people

If you’ve ever noticed your pooch twitching in her sleep, this probably means she’s dreaming. Researchers found that dogs have similar sleep patterns and brain activity as humans, and that small breeds tend to dream more than large ones. Psychology Today suggests they’re probably imagining familiar activities like playing outside or chasing their tail. Learn more dog facts about dog dreams with these things you can learn just from your pup’s sleeping position.

Toddler headbutts patient dogJohn Karpinsky/Getty Images

Dogs are as smart as a two-year-old child

According to canine researcher and author Stanley Coren, your toddler and pup are about on par when it comes to brains. He also explained that man’s best friend can count, understand more than 150 words, and even trick people or other dogs to get treats. Intelligence also varies based on breed—Border collies are the smartest dog breed.

Labrador puppies laying against white background.HRAUN/Getty Images

Dogs only mate twice a year

Unspayed females only go into heat twice a year, so dog breeders need to plan carefully. Find out some more things your veterinarian won’t tell you.

06_tail_wag_has_its_own_language_WillowpixiStock/Willowpix

Tail wagging has its own language

If your dog excitedly wags its tail, it means it’s happy to see you, right? Not necessarily. According to Discovery.com, dogs wag their tails to the right when they’re happy and to the left when they’re frightened. Wagging low means they’re insecure, and rapid tail wagging accompanied by tense muscles or dilated pupils can signal aggression.

Newborn chihuahua puppy in handPhotographs by Maria itina/Getty Images

Puppies are born blind and deaf

Newborn dogs are still developing, according to Psychology Today, so their ear canals and eyes are still closed. Most puppies open their eyes and respond to noises after about two weeks.

Woman holding her pet dogSally Anscombe/Getty Images

Dogs have a “sixth sense”

In a 2010 poll, 67 percent of pet owners reported their pets acting strangely right before a storm, and 43 percent said their pets behaved oddly right before something bad happened. The top clues? Whining, erratic behavior, or trying to hide in a safe place. There are even reports that dogs can sense illnesses, like cancer. Check out more superpowers that all dogs have.

Hello From 2000 MetersCarmen Schwarz/500px/Getty Images

Dogs only have sweat glands in their paws

Even though they sweat out through the pads of their paws, their main form of cooling down is panting. So these long-haired dogs are definitely feeling toasty.

10_feeet_smell_like_corn_gozdetaskiniStock/gozdetaskin

Your dog’s feet might smell like corn

Some pet owners might notice the faint scent of corn chips or popcorn lingering around their dog. This is called “Frito feet,” and it happens when sweat and bacteria build up in the paws.

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“Dog breath” is actually unhealthy

You might expect your dog’s mouth to smell like, well, dog. But persistent bad breath can actually be a sign of dental disease or other health problems. If you don’t already, have your dog’s teeth examined by a veterinarian every year. Watch out for other common signs that your dog is sick.

12_its_not_abnormal_For_dogs_to_eat_feces_MachineHeadziStock/MachineHeadz

It’s not abnormal for dogs to eat feces

It’s no secret: Dogs often eat their own feces (and other fecal matter too). But though it might be gross, the ASPCA says it’s perfectly normal, stemming from their pre-domestication days thousands of years ago. The behavior is more common in puppies, while older dogs usually grow out of it, although some still do it into adulthood.

cropped shot of young woman holding trash bag while cleaning after pet in parkLightFieldStudios/Getty Images

Dogs’ pooping has a pattern

Ever wonder why dogs like to twirl around before they do their business? Well, it’s one of the many dog behaviors that perplex researchers, but the prevailing theory is that it has to do with the Earth’s magnetic field. Dogs like to poop facing north or south, and spinning around helps them correctly orient their internal compass.

Sad Dog Vizsla lying on benchIvanova N/Shutterstock

Dogs get jealous

“You’re not imagining it if you think your dog is acting jealous when you give other dogs attention,” says Nikki Naser, Resident Pet Expert at Chewy. “It might not be exactly how we experience jealousy, but research has shown that it’s similar to how an infant might get jealous.” That certainly tracks with dogs’ intelligence being on par with that of a toddler. This dog jealousy is something dog groomers experience when they come home to their own dogs—and it’s one of the things pet groomers wish you knew.

Image of young girl with her dog, alaskan malamute, outdoorPavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock

Don’t get so touchy-feely

Of course, you love your good boy or girl so much. But they actually don’t love it when you give them big bear hugs. “The way people show love is not the same way a dog shows love or wants to receive love,” says Russell Hartstein, CEO of the Los Angeles puppy training company Fun Paw Care. “In fact, it can be very stressful.” He says that dogs can adapt and become comfortable with their loved ones hugging them, but you should still be careful about giving hugs to a dog you don’t know well, and about letting strangers hug yours. You might be surprised to learn some other things you do that your dog actually hates.

closeup portrait of tricolor beagle dog, focus on the eyeGCapture/Shutterstock

Dogs aren’t actually color-blind

This is one of the most common dog “facts” that are actually false. Despite a prevailing myth that dogs can only see in black and white, your pooch actually can see a spectrum of color. While they do have trouble distinguishing between different shades of green and red, which will mostly just appear as grays and browns, blue and yellow tones are relatively clear to dogs.

puppy in a mailbox - american cocker spaniel puppy - 8 weeks oldWilleeCole Photography/Shutterstock

Dogs hating mailmen is nothing personal

Dogs are a protective species, and they understandably see a person coming near their house and placing unfamiliar objects in a box as a potential threat. And it’s often made worse, not better, by the fact that the mail carrier comes repeatedly—dogs figure out approximately when the mail carrier arrives and then get riled up and antsy beforehand.

To save your mail carrier from undue canine aggression, experts recommend being friendly to him, around your dog, so that your dog can see that you trust him. You can also let your mail carrier know what your dog’s name is so that he can properly address your dog.

Beautiful African-American woman with cute dog at homePixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Your dog responds to your tone

Don’t forget that dogs don’t experience the full breadth of emotions humans do, so if you’re trying to train or admonish your dog, taking an angry tone and a very loud voice might just make him skittish. According to Hartstein, “your prosodic of speech, tone, rhythm, [and the] pitch of your voice are far more important” than what you’re actually saying. That’s also a big part of the reason dogs respond positively to that high-pitched cute-pet speak. You should also ignore these common dog training myths.

brown dog yawning on the bedElayne Massaini/Shutterstock

A dog’s yawn is not quite the same as a human’s yawn

When your dog lets out a big yawn, you probably just assume it means what it does when we yawn—that he’s sleepy. And it certainly can be a sign of tiredness, but dogs yawn for other reasons as well. Dogs yawn to calm themselves down, so repeated yawns could be a sign that your pup is feeling anxious or stressed out. It’s similar to the way a cat’s purr can mean lots of different things, so assessing the context of the situation can usually help you figure out what’s going on.

British cat and Golden RetrieverChendongshan/Shutterstock

Dogs don’t actually have it out for cats

Media portrayals of these furry frenemies would have you believe that chasing cats is hardwired in dogs’ DNA. But it’s not specific to cats; dogs’ evolutionary hunting instincts are the reason they chase after anything small and speedy, whether it’s their favorite ball or little Tiger. And dogs and cats can actually get along great, even in the same household, depending on the animals themselves and whether you introduce them the right way.

Pug dog in red dog boots and on a leash walking in the park.Florian Heiller/shutterstock

Dogs heat up more quickly than humans

Dogs’ normal body temperature is slightly higher than that of humans (it hovers at around 101.5 degrees F), which means that hotter temperatures can affect them more. This is why you need to take care while walking your dog on a hot day.

Also, don’t forget about the pavement if you’re taking your dog for a walk—the ground heats up fast in the sun and can be painful on dogs’ unprotected feet. Not to mention, dogs have that thick layer of fur, so a day that may not seem overwhelmingly hot to you can be a scorcher for your dog. That’s why you need to be especially careful of these warning signs of heatstroke in dogs.

girl gives an Australian Shepherd dog a treatChristian Mueller/Shutterstock

Sticking out your hand isn’t the best way to introduce yourself to a new dog

This is another of the fun facts about dogs that aren’t quite true. You probably grew up believing that the old “hold out your hand to an unfamiliar dog and let it smell you” advice was gospel. And it can work, but you have to be careful how you do it.

Just shoving your hand toward a strange dog’s face can scare or alienate her. You’re better off letting the dog approach you first and then offering your hand to the dog to smell, rather than assuming she wants to and waving your hand under her nose. And approach the dog from the side, rather than from straight on, if you must approach it yourself.

A group of four dogs of different breeds is lying on a green lawn.Frank11/shutterstock

“Dog years” vary a lot, based on breed

Nope, every dog year does not automatically equal seven human years, as one of the most well-known fun facts about dogs would have you believe. The saying—which does have some factual merit—came from observations that “average,” medium-sized dogs tended to live around one-seventh as long as their owners.

However, dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and what’s “average” for a Great Dane is very different from what’s “average” for a Chihuahua. Paying attention to the “life stages” of dogs, and how they correspond to each breed, will give you a much better picture of how “old” your dog actually is than equating one human year to seven dog years.

Nice taste. Close up of beautiful dog eating from the bowlDmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Trying to be “dominant” over your dog is not the best approach

Despite enjoying considerable popularity for many years, the “dominance” theory of dog training is finally seeing the truth come out. “You should never try to dominate your dog,” Hartstein insists. The idea that you need to show your dog “who’s alpha,” with methods such as eating before your dog, making sure you’re always in a higher position than them, or punitive behavior, is outdated and ineffective.

Of course, you need to set a routine and make sure your dog understands rules and boundaries, but avoid traditional advice about displays of dominance.

Happy girl with a dog licking her faceESB Professional/shutterstock

Those dog “kisses” don’t mean what you think

You might think a lick to the face is your dog’s way of giving you a kiss—and sometimes it is. Dogs lick as a way to bond in the way that a mother dog may lick her newborn pups. But when a dog is born, its instinct is to lick its mother’s face as a signal for the mom to regurgitate food for the puppy to eat, so that may play a role too.

Dogs greeting each other at a dog park.Jennifer Tepp/Shutterstock

Dogs sniff butts to learn about each other

If the dog facts about dog kisses haven’t convinced you that dogs and humans use different forms of communication, the fact that butt-sniffing is a common dog greeting surely will. A dog’s unique smell is secreted in its glands, and yes, those scent glands are located in their backsides.

A dog’s rear end is home to glands that produce pheromones, which contain information about everything from the sex of the dog to its health and diet. Thanks to dogs’ incredible sense of smell, they can learn all sorts of information about one another just from the nuances of the odor. So the butt-sniff is basically a dog’s way of getting a first impression.

Close-up portrait of pleased girl with short brown hair embracing funny beagle dog with eyes closed. Smiling young woman in white shirt enjoying good day and posing with pet on terrace.Look Studio/Shutterstock

Petting dogs can lower your blood pressure

You can find all sorts of research and fun facts about dogs and the health benefits of having one. And this factoid is true: Petting a puppy can cause your blood pressure to drop around 10 percent. And according to the American Kennel Club, the blood pressure of the dog being petted drops as well.

Lovely mixed breed puppy on the floor of the living roommatabum/Shutterstock

Dogs have three eyelids

Ready for more weird anatomy-related fun facts about dogs? Dogs have three eyelids in each eye! In addition to a top and bottom lid, they have a “nictitating membrane” in the corner of their eye, primarily for removing dust and mucus from the cornea. And cats actually have it too. You might see it when your pet wakes up suddenly, as the membrane is shut when your pet sleeps.

What’s that smell?mikedabell/Getty Images

A Bloodhound’s sense of smell can be used in court

A Bloodhound has such a distinct and accurate sense of smell that it actually can be used as evidence in court. Their scent membranes permit the dog to differentiate smells at least 1,000 times better than humans. Bloodhounds are commonly used in tracing missing persons and searching for criminals, as they can follow tracks that are more than 300 hours old and can remain on a trail for 130 miles.

adult newfoundland dogcynoclub/Getty Images

Newfoundlands make the perfect lifeguards

This breed has a water-resistant coat and webbed feet that make them ideal for swimming. They were initially bred to help fishermen and rescue people from drowning, and a few Newfoundland owners have even recounted their pups trying to “save” them while they’re swimming.

A dog listening to music with headphoneartparadigm/Getty Images

One Beatles song has a frequency only dogs can hear

We all know from earlier in this article that dogs can hear many sounds that humans can’t, and The Beatles used that to their advantage in their hit song “A Day in the Life.” In an interview, Paul McCartney claimed that at the end of the song, a frequency was added that only dogs can hear.

Play the song and watch your pup toward the end, then remember that music is just as beneficial to dogs as it is to humans and can even help with a dog’s anxiety.

dog waits for walking with leashdamedeeso/Getty Images

Dogs have a sense of time

Dogs can tell the difference between one hour and six hours. With enough conditioning and training, your dog will be able to forecast their daily activities such as walks and meals, as long as they occur around the same time each day.

Cute happy dog playing with a stickCapuski/Getty Images

This Golden Retriever became mayor

In 2012, Max the Golden Retriever became the very first mayor of a town in California called Idyllwild. Unfortunately, Mayor Max passed away in 2013, but he was replaced by Mayor Max the II, who has been in charge of the town ever since. As a non-incorporated town, Idyllwild doesn’t have a human mayor, so Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends (ARF) funded the town’s first-ever mayoral election.

Any resident was able to nominate their pet, leading to 14 dogs and two cats on the ballot. All votes cost one dollar, and the proceeds went to support ARF. These aren’t the only animals who have appeared on a ballot. Check out these other animals who ran for political office.

White and black dachshund standing at the grassImagesbybarbara/Getty Images

Obesity is dogs’ number one health problem

Just like obesity is a health concern in humans, it’s also a major concern for dogs. More than half of the dogs in the United States are overweight, a number that has been continually on the rise for years because of too many calories, too little exercise, and consuming the food scraps of humans.

Obesity can have a domino effect on other health problems for your dog as well, and may consequently shorten their lifespan. See how much exercise your dog really needs in order to stay as healthy as possible.

Dogs Looking Away While Resting On Footpath Against TreesKhukrit Osathanunkul/EyeEm/Getty Images

Three dogs survived the Titanic

In 1912, three dogs survived the historic sinking of the Titanic. All three—two Pomeranians and a Pekingese—were traveling in first-class, and according to historian J. Joseph Edgette, they most likely survived due to their size and not at the expense of any human passengers.

Cattle dog standing outdoorsPurple Collar Pet Photography/Getty Images

The oldest dog lived to be 29

Recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest dog ever was an Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey. He lived to be 29 years and 5 months old, from the years 1910 to 1939. Bluey lived in Victoria, Australia, with his owner Les Hall and worked among Hall’s sheep and cattle.

Small mixed-breed dog with chocolate and abdominal pain on the groundSonja Rachbauer/Getty Images

Chocolate can be fatal for dogs

It’s pretty common knowledge that dogs can’t eat chocolate, but have you ever wondered why? Chocolate contains an ingredient called theobromine, which dogs are unable to digest. Consumption of chocolate could create a brutally toxic buildup in their system that could ultimately be deadly. So keep your pup out of the pantry! See what other foods you should never feed your pet.

Adorable Beagle Dog Sleeps On A Sofa Under Blanket. Selective Focus,Przemyslaw Iciak/EyeEm/Getty Images

Dogs sleep curled up because of instinct

Dogs don’t curl up in a ball when they sleep just for cuteness points. They essentially curl up due to a biological instinct to protect their vital organs and keep themselves warm.

Two Basenji Dogs on PathPurple Collar Pet Photography/Getty Images

Basenjis are the only “barkless” dog in the world

It’s true! Basenjis don’t bark, but they definitely don’t remain totally silent either. Some describe the sound a Basenji makes as a howl, but others say it’s more like a yodel. Shrieks and screams have actually led to police knocking on the door of Basenji owners preparing to rescue someone in danger.

Dog working comfortably from homeolaser/Getty Images

Dogs can learn more than 1,000 words

Dogs have an amazing sense of vocabulary, with the ability to learn more than 1,000 words! For example, a Border Collie named Chaser knows both nouns and verbs and can understand them enough to shape an action. Research on the subject is in full swing, with programs dedicated to dog psychology at universities including Duke University, Yale University, and Barnard College.

Saluki dog looking at camera and licking his snout in the parkCapuski/Getty Images

The world’s oldest dog breed is a Saluki

The Saluki served as the hunting hound of kings for thousands of years. They are a slim breed, but incredibly strong with impeccable balance. This breed is very independent but will always remain loyal to their family.

Worried looking GoldenJules Clark/Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson created a dog tax

Dogs initially left a bad taste in Thomas Jefferson’s mouth because they usually helped themselves to people’s sheep and livestock. Jefferson began to tax dog owners due to the high price of wool. The more dogs someone owned, the higher the tax. But after serving as minister to France and reading writings from those he admired with dogs, he began his search for his own pup, ending up with a Briard named Buzzy.

Beagles Campaigning for Lyndon B Johnson at White HouseBettmann/Getty Images

More than half of United States presidents have owned dogs

Speaking of presidents, they truly love their pups. More than half of U.S. presidents have owned at least one dog, if not multiple—and Calvin Coolidge owned at least 12! See if you can match the U.S. president with his dog.

Portrait of happy little girl crouching on bed with Jack Russel Terrier puppyWestend61/Getty Images

The best time to bring a puppy home is between 7–8 weeks

Many veterinarians and breeders agree that between 7–8 weeks is the most ideal time to bring a puppy home for the first time. The largest factor in this decision is the puppy’s socialization period, which usually occurs during weeks 6–12. This period of time is when the puppy is learning the norms of everyday life. It’s best for dogs to enter their new home during this time so they can adapt to their new environment.

Lassies Groesstes Abenteuer, 1960Er, 1960S, Collie, Film, Hund, Lassie, Lassie'S Great Adventure, Boy And Dog, DogUnited Archives/Getty Images

Lassie was the first animal in the Animal Hall of Fame

In 1969, Lassie was the first animal inducted into the Animal Hall of Fame. Lassie is a fictional dog created by Eric Knight, and she began as the star of a short story that was later expanded into a full-length novel, Lassie Come Home. The book was then adapted into a feature film, and Lassie appeared in several more films through 1951, followed by a long-running TV show called Lassie.

dog waiting for owner at rail train stationdamedeeso/Getty Images

Dogs can learn the subway

Stray dogs have mastered the art of the complex Metro in Moscow, Russia, where they have been seen getting on and off at regular stops in search of food. The commuters have become so used to seeing the dogs riding the train with them that they barely notice anymore. As many as 35,000 stray dogs live in Moscow, so this is truly a case of survival of the fittest. Speaking of dog facts, read up on these pit bull “facts” that are totally false.

A wolf dog in the snow.Martin Janecek/Getty Images

Dogs are direct descendants of wolves

There are many breeds of dogs that look like wolves, but did you know that all the dogs we love today have descended from the wild wolf? Wolves would certainly not make good pets, and while wolf-dog hybrids do exist, they are recommended only for experienced dog owners.

a few different dog breeds running and having fundageldog/Getty Images

There are around 900 million dogs in the world

It’s a challenge to estimate how many dogs currently live around the world, but according to the most recent estimates, there are approximately 900 million. About 75–85 percent of those dogs are considered free range, meaning they are not owned by humans, and an estimated 200 million dogs are strays, according to the World Health Organization. With many countries requiring pets to be registered, the country with the most pet dogs is France, which has a dog-to-human ratio of 17 to 100.

Portrait of cute staring dog in living roomGrace Chon/Getty Images

Your dog stares for a reason

If you’ve ever wondered why your dog stares at you, you’re not alone, but the answer is a wholesome one. Your dog is only trying to figure out exactly what you want from it in order to make you happy. It’s looking for a connection and a reaction. It’s also possible that your pup just loves you and wants to look at you.

Happy puppy running through living roomCapuski/Getty Images

Dogs get the zoomies because they are excited

Dog owners are likely all too familiar with the zoomies. Those random bursts of energy mean your pup is excited, especially if you’re around to be entertained by their temporary energy. On other occasions, the zoomies may be a sign of anxiety after a stressful day at the park or a trip to the vet.

Now that these dog facts have helped you understand your pup a little better, dig into these things your dog really wants from you.

Sources:

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.
Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who focuses on digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pick-up lines, and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists, and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.