Everyone loves dogs and any dog owner knows that the bond with their dog is unique. But have you ever been curious to understand what makes dogs truly special? Why does our relationship with these lovable animals feel so much more deep and intense than with other animals?
In Dog is Love, using ground-breaking scientific experiments and eye-opening historical evidence, canine behavioural psychologist Dr Clive Wynne unlocks the secret to our unique bond with dogs: their capacity to love, an unprecedented attribute in the animal kingdom.
We’ve chosen some of our favourite dog facts from his delightful and heart-warming book to share with you!
1. The heartbeats of dogs and their owners fall in sync when they’re together
In 2016 researched Craig Duncan and Mia Cobb wired up three people and their dogs with heart-rate monitors. For this study, they chose people who had particularly strong interdependence with their dogs, and they asked them to simply sit on a sofa. Once their heartrate had settled down (some of them were nervous about the filming part of the study), the researchers let the dog join them and monitored their heartrates; and the results were pretty extraordinary! See for yourself and watch here:
2. If your dog looks happy, that’s because they are!
Now, this might seem quite basic but nevertheless it’s deeply reassuring. In Dog Is Love, Clive explains how two US researchers carried out an experiment to understand just how well people can identify expressions of emotion on a dog’s face. They hired a professional photographer to take photos of Mal, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois police dog, while he obediently (like the good boy he is) held positions under conditions that most dogs would struggle with. For example, to elicit a facial expression of disgust, they offered him a gross snack. To get a sad photo, they said ‘Fooey’, an instruction used during training to convey to Mal that he had done something wrong. For a fearful response, they showed Mal his toenail clippers. For the happy image, Mal’s handler told him to sit and stay, and then she said, ‘Good boy. We are going to play soon.’
Bloom and Friedman then showed these twenty-one photographs to twenty-five people with considerable experience in training dogs, and another group of twenty-five people who had never owned a dog. Each person was asked to rate each photograph for the presence of the six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, fear and anger. For almost all the pictures, human respondents chose the correct emotion. The most successfully identified emotion? Happiness!
3. Dogs have an unparalleled capacity to love
Sorry to break it to you, but Clive explains to us that while your dog does love you… your dog could love almost anyone, animal or human. Clive attributes this to dogs’ unparalleled capacity to love, for example one of the beneficiaries of dog love is penguins!
On an island about two hours’ drive from Melbourne, there is a community of little penguins; and not any old little penguins: they are a distinct species of penguin, Eudyptula minor, native only to Australia and New Zealand. And they are only 1-foot tall.
AND THEN, a nearby chicken farmer (called Swampy Marsh. Really.) came up with the genius idea of deploying dogs to protect the penguins. Swampy had a Maremma dog to guard his chickens, and was blown away by his prowess at frightening away foxes. Maremmas are an ancient breed of dog from a part of southern Tuscany and are the guys to call if you’ve got a fox problem.
The council permitted Swampy’s dog, Oddball, to stay on the island to keep an eye on things, but he got homesick and ran back to Swampy. Missy, the second dog they tried, stayed a bit longer, but she missed home too much as well. Although they didn’t stick around for very long, Oddball and Missy had done enough: the first breeding season after the dogs left the island, not a single little penguin was snatched by foxes. And today, the little penguins of Middle Island are guarded by two dogs, Eudy and Tula, who have known the penguins since they were pups – so they don’t get too homesick.