Pet Column: Your dog has superpowers

Roscoe uses his superpowers to enjoy life by the lake. Photo by Shaun Caldwell.

By Elle Williams, CPDT-KA  
Pet Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider  

Dogs navigate the world using their nose, eyes, and ears, in that order. Each function in ways that uniquely out-perform humans. Some superpowers may be obvious, I’m sure we all know that dogs can detect cancer. Then there are the lesser-known superpowers, like a recent scientific discovery I mention at the end of this article.

Let’s explore your dog’s superpowers, starting with its ears. Your dog can hear your specific car from up to a mile away! This explains why they are already at the door bursting with anticipation of your arrival minutes before you even open the door. That and the fact that dogs rely heavily on routine.

One major reason dogs can pinpoint specific sounds is their ability to rotate each ear individually up to a 180-degree angle. With 18 muscles devoted to tilting, raising, and rotating, it’s no wonder dogs can pick up on sounds so well. Long narrow ear canals funnel in sounds allowing sound to travel deep into the ear. So whispering, “Time to take the dogs out for a walk,” might not work as well as your thought.

The superpower of a dog’s ears isn’t just about distance, they can also hear what we can’t. Dogs can hear much higher frequencies than humans can. There’s a whole world of noises dogs are submerged in that we will never fully experience. These noises can explain why your dog is so fearful of fireworks even if you think you soundproofed the home. You only soundproofed it for a human, not your amazing dog. 

Let’s see the world through a dog’s eyes. Most people still believe a dog only sees in grayscale. This has been disproven because we now know a dog’s eyes have two cones: a yellow cone and a blue cone. 

Unlike humans, dogs lack a red cone. Things we see as red, dogs see in gray. Its world is made up of soft yellows, blues, and gray. So when it comes to a vastly colorful view of the world, dogs do lack in this department but make up for it by their scope of vision. 

Canines have binocular vision, their visual field is 240 degrees. For comparison, a human’s visual field is only 200 degrees. It’s like having a car’s side mirrors built in. This makes sneaking up on a dog nearly impossible.

Elle Williams is pictured with her rescue dogs Bear, Gracie, Olive, and Bandit. Photo provided by Elle Williams.

On top of a much wider range of vision, dogs can see much more in the dark than humans do. This helps a canine hunt during the times of the day when prey would be coming out from hiding: dawn and dust. Its night vision is made possible because of its rod-dominated retinas that allow more light to come in than that of a human’s eye.

We do have one thing going for us that dogs don’t, we can see objects that are much further away. A dog can make out an object that is 20 feet away or closer, giving them 20/75 vision. The average human eye can see that same object from 75 feet away. 

Don’t think your eyesight is going to give you the upper hand. Although your dog may not see that thing in the distance clearly, they certainly can smell it. I present to you the ultimate doggy superpower, their nose! 

A dog’s nose is nearly 100 million times more sensitive than ours. Let that sink in.

To humans, smell may not seem incredibly useful. I’m sure we enjoy our ability to smell but I doubt it’s the way you or I navigate the world. When was the last time you used your nose to read your spouse’s emotions? Have you smelled your friend to determine how healthy they are? Would you use your nose like a dating app to smell out someone’s longing to procreate? Probably not, but your dog has, I guarantee it.

A dog’s nose is its social media. Instead of pictures and posts, a dog can learn about the age, gender, health, diet, sexual availability, emotional state, and even the size of another dog all by smelling its anis and/or markings. 

A dog’s nose can pick up on our health and emotional state with such accuracy that many dogs get employed to do just that. Service dogs can smell the change in a diabetic’s blood sugar levels, the chemical changes in an epileptic before a seizure, and even detect cancer at its earliest stages. 

When it comes to our emotions, a dog’s nose, whether a service dog or not, can pick up on subtle chemical changes in a human’s sweat, alerting them to a person’s emotional state. That’s why a dog may alert its owner to a potentially threatening person even if the owner sees nothing threatening about them. And they don’t do it with just their nose.

Dogs have a second olfactory organ called the vomeronasal organ, also known as the Jacobs organ, located on the roof of their mouth. It’s the supercomputer of taking in environmental information via smells. 

So what about that mystery superpower I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Well, it still has to do with the nose but in a way science is just now aware of. An international research team from Sweden and Hungary has discovered an entirely new sense in dogs, they can sense weak thermal radiation.

In a nutshell, a dog can find heat sources from the minute they are born by using the rhinarium located on, you guessed it, their nose. This ability to sense heat was something biologists thought was specific to some snakes, certain beetles, and the vampire bat. We can now add dogs to the list of animals that can sense the world around them in measurements of heat.

Dogs are truly remarkable beings. Never underestimate your dog’s amazing abilities. You may think your dog is average when in reality its sees the world differently than you.

When you understand how a dog navigates the world, you may just find they are much more than your welcoming party at the door, they are truly gifted superheroes.

Elle Williams is a local in-home dog trainer and the owner of Give a Sit Dog Training. She is certified in dog psychology, nutrition, and grooming, and specializes in basic and advanced obedience, puppy prep, and behavior adjustment training.


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