Dogs Decoded

In my (fruitless) quest for Season 2 of Game of Thrones without a cable tv subscription (I have only a Roadrunner subscription; no tv), I was tricked into signing up for Netflix.   After discovering that Netflix, contrary to the make believe Game of Thrones video window urging me to Watch Now by signing up, in actuality did not have the HBO series, I decided to browse what was available.   Nothing really appealed beyond a bunch of documentaries.

One of the first documentaries I watched was a PBS Nova film called Dogs Decoded.   It is available for you to watch free at Top Documentary Films.

Right away Dogs Decoded went over experiments which examined the scientific explanation for dogs’ apparent abilities to know how their owners felt.   According to the experiments, dogs have developed a skill for reading humans.  It is a skill they don’t use on any other creature; only humans.   They also examined the ability of humans to interpret different types of barks, with fairly substantial results.   While domesticated dogs’ mitochondrial DNA sequences are almost identical to that of gray wolves, none of this behavior is evident in gray wolves.

The implication of this is that dogs have developed communication skills specifically relevant to human beings.   Just for us!   Cool, huh?   But there was more.

A Swedish scientist discovered that humans & dogs both produce oxytocin while interacting, similar to that of a mother & baby.   Oxytocin has all kinds of emotional benefits & may account for health benefits to those blessed with canine company.   Statistically a person with a dog is much less likely to have a heart attack, & if he or she does, having a dog greatly increases the chances of recovery.

A German cognitive psychologist did a series of experiments with dogs & found that they think much more like us than even chimps do.   A border collie demonstrated the ability not just to fetch 340 different items on command but to also be able to look at 2 dimensional pictures of  toys & then go into the next room & get the corresponding items.

There is also an extraordinary Siberian breeding project which produced, after half a century, tame, affectionate foxes.   They also bred foxes in the other direction, then experimented further trading pups & then embryos to discover that the behavior was almost purely genetic.

Even more astonishing, the tame foxes exhibited random changes in physical appearance — floppy ears, curly tails, changes in coat color.   As if they were turning into… dogs.

I’ve only told you guys about the parts of this documentary that stood out for me; don’t take my description as a complete synopsis.   There was fascinating archeological discussion regarding evolution & domestication, & lots & lots of intriguing points made by psychologists & other scientists, including how the Boxer genome might help us figure out how to genetically eliminate several human diseases.

It would seem that dogs really are our best friends.

I’m going to go hug my dogs now.


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