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The Amazing Sensitivity of Dogs

December 22, 2018

I bet you have had that strange feeling that your dog knew something was going to happen just before it actually did happen. Can dogs really see or sense things we cannot? No, but they have extraordinary ones. But when we study our dogs, we learn that they have a lot more to offer, than sensitive noses. In fact, their sensitivity to their environment is amazing. They can read our faces and our body language and their brains interpret all this information and it helps them take purposeful action.

Let’s take a look at some of the amazing things dogs can do:

How do you feel today?

Dogs are expert readers of body language. Your dog can detect if you feel good or depressed today. “They can tell the size of your pupils, your posture, your smile,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, who is an experienced veterinary behaviourist and professor emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

During thousands of years dogs lived in human communities as personal assistants and friends. Over time they developed a capacity to interpret the mood and emotional state of their human partners and to take instructions from them. As a result they were able to team up with hunters and protectors.

“They want to know, if we are upset or if we are in a good mood,” says Dr. Carlo Siracusa, the clinical assistant professor of animal behaviour at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. By watching our faces and our behaviour they can sense if we are in a good mood, and they may then want to interact with us. But if they perceive us as angry and aggressive, they may become defensive or become aggressive themselves or they may just try to avoid or ignore us altogether. Dogs also perceive if a person they meet is afraid or stressed by them. They use their clues from facial expressions and from the smell the sweet of the person they encounter. They then adjust their own approach accordingly. Humans do the same, although we are often less perceptive.

Dogs can help the doctors to diagnose

When blood glucose levels drops in people with Type 1 diabetes, dogs may be able to smell the different chemicals that a human emits during this stage. In a 2015 study published in the journal Diabetes Therapy, dogs were able to identify hypoglycemia by sniffing human skin and breathe samples.

Dogs may also be able identify evolving Epileptic seizures although there is no known specific smell associated with epilepsy. Instead, it is likely that dogs in this case detect these seizures by picking up on elevated stress levels and subtle behavioural changes that can precede an epileptic attack.

In a similar manner a dog may also sense pregnancy because the dog may notice a change in the woman’s hormone levels.

In recent years the medical community has increasingly been paying attention to the possibility that dogs seem to be able to identify early stages of different forms of cancer in patients. However, while the research surrounding dogs and cancer detection has been promising, pups can’t detect cancer with 100 percent accuracy, Dodman warns. According to him, we can’t replace medical testing with canine “sniff tests” just yet.

mxart (CC0), Pixabay

Dogs can tell when not to take a walk

Another interesting observation is that owners often notice is that their dogs seem capable of predicting changes in weather conditions. They may for example, perceive changes in air pressure, humidity and ozone levels. It is also possible that dogs are sensitive to changes in static electricity levels in the air prior to a thunderstorm. This has been tested in controlled tests, but the results are not completely conclusive.

We can only conclude that the extraordinary sensitivity of puppies and grown-up dogs is a tremendous asset we need to nurture and benefit from in our daily lives. We need to study this topic in greater detail. In the meantime dogs seem to enjoy to be trained to use their super-human skills.

Take good care of your dog! Our dogs really are our best friends!