Your Dog’s Senses
It is important to understand your dog’s five senses (six if you believe in the supernatural). When you appreciate the facts about how your dog perceives the world, it will help you be a better informed puppy parent, and better understand the pleasures and challenges your dog experiences in the world around her.
Comparatively, a dog's eyes are located farther apart than those of humans. This feature gives dogs the ability to detect movement at a greater distance, however they do not see as well up close. They can also see better in dimly lit places, but they can only distinguish a limited amount of colors which are dull compared to the rich capacity of the human eye.
Dogs are able to detect motion and flickering light far better than humans, but their visual acuity is lower thus limiting their ability to focus on the shapes of objects. In human terms, a dog is estimated to have 20/75 vision. The dog can see 20 feet, where a human could clearly see 75 feet.
Dogs have the ability to hear sounds about four times better than humans, especially high pitched sounds.
In addition, dogs have ear mobility. Over eighteen muscles are used by a dog to tilt, raise, rotate, or lower its ears. Using their ear mobility, they can rapidly pinpoint the exact location of a sound.
Most scientists believe that the modern dog descended from the wolf. Wolves howl to let other wolves know their location, and modern dogs do the same thing.
Modern dogs, however, have a wider range of vocalization such as barking, whimpering, moaning, whining, and I believe, if you listen closely, you can hear a ‘doggy laugh’.
A dog’s greatest sense is smell. They explore their world through scents.
To a dog smelling and sniffing is the same as tasting the air. While our brains are dominated by the visual cortex, a dog’s brain is dominated by the olfactory cortex. Thus our canine friends interpret their world through smell as most people interpret their world through sight.
Dogs have an amazing ability to discriminate between smells, as well as, an extraordinary olfactory memory. After initial exposure to a scent a dog can remember, and identify the original odor for a very long time.
Dogs can smell anxiety, fear, and excitement in people due to the pheromones secreted through our skin. (For more information on a dog’s sense of smell read the article Aroma Therapy & Your Dog)
Dogs have fewer tastes buds than humans, so they enjoy eating almost anything, yet their main taste sensations are sweet, sour and salty. Dogs are omnivores, as they will eat both meat and vegetables, including grasses and weeds.
It is extremely important to watch what your dog eats at all times. They are able to gobble up a chicken bone rapidly (which could splinter in their throats and cause serious injury) or shred paper towels and feast on the paper. Another reason to closely monitor your dog’s food intake is that they can easily contract an illness, especially on walks when they want to explore everything. If they accidently get into garbage they could be exposed to unwanted bacteria and get sick.
Dogs are pack animals, and are defined as social creatures, thus their sense of touch is an important element for development, socialization and survival.
Dogs, like people, have sensory nerves throughout their entire bodies. They thrive on being touched. Puppies are born both blind and deaf, so they use their sense of touch to locate their mothers for feeding or if they get separated from the litter.
Most dogs love to be touched, stroked, petted and kissed.
Many people believe that dogs have a sixth sense which is defined as the power of perception seemingly independent of the five senses.
Scientists have studied this ‘perception’ and have been able to prove that this power that dogs possess is actually attributed to the acuteness of their other senses, such as hearing and smell.
For example - a person insists that their dog knows when they are returning from work because the dog will be at the door waiting for their owner. The owner believes that their dog has a sixth sense.
Scientists have been able to prove that dogs, with their keen and acute sense of smell and hearing, are able to detect their masters by hearing them approach, and smelling their scent from a distance.
I believe in science, but I am open minded enough to know that science can not yet prove everything.
My experience: On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was getting ready to go to work. At the time I had a job as a marketing director and worked directly across the street from the World Trade Center. I had scheduled a meeting in World Trade Center at 8:30 a.m. that morning.
LuLu Belle, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was 8 months old at the time. She was a very good puppy. She never barked, was playful but reserved, and she always abided by my busy schedule.
At 7:15 a.m. I prepared her morning bowl of food, but she was not interested. I tried to get her to go outside to relieve herself, but she ran to the other side of my apartment. She was very naughty that morning, and I was very irritated because it took longer than usual for me to leave. I crated her up and left for my meeting.
As my subway train approached the World Trade Center stop, located directly under the towers, the train stopped.
“Because of a fire condition at the World Trade Center station we will be delayed,” the conductor announced.
A collective groan rumbled through the cars.
They finally released us at the Chambers Street station, the stop before the WTC station.
As I mounted the subway station stairs, angry that LuLu Belle had made me late, I looked up to see a gaping black hole in the side of one of the WTC towers. Black smoke, punctuated by flames, spewed from the opening.
I walked toward the Hudson River away from the buildings. It seemed that with each block that I walked I discovered the truth. First people said that a commuter plane had accidentally crashed into the building, then people said it was a commercial plane that lost its navigation, and finally I heard that this horror was caused by a terrorist attack.
The day’s events played out – the loss of lives, the crumbling buildings, my own near brush with death – but it was not until I arrived at home later that day that I realized that LuLu Belle knew something terrible was going to happen.
As I opened the door to my apartment, she sat in the corner, calm, composed, and regal. She knew I would escape, knew I would come home to her.
Someday science may be able to explain that with her sharp senses she was able to detect something different in the atmosphere, some wind change, some invisible force, but for now I believe that she has a sixth sense, and I will forever be grateful to her for saving my life.