How well do you know your dog? If you think you know them well, you may be underestimating the complex, sometimes confounding, but often fascinating, world of canines. Here, Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital presents 10 little known facts about dogs.

#1: Dog nose prints are akin to human fingerprints

The next time your dog makes “nose art” on your clean window, take a closer look. Dog noses are patterned with lines, ridges, bumps, and pores, and may be as unique as a human fingerprint. While a study on cattle noses provides the only data available, the Canadian Kennel Club has been successfully using nose prints as positive identification since 1938. 

Dog nose prints are defined by 8 weeks of age, and unchanging for at least one year. Considering the highly individualized human fingerprint—estimated to be one in 64 billion—dog nose prints are highly likely to be unique, too!

#2: Dogs dream like humans

If your dog seems to run, sniff, or vocalize in their sleep, your canine bedfellow may be dreaming about you, while you dream about them. Dogs share a similar brain structure to humans, and experience identical brain waves and electrical activity patterns. Studies have shown dream-like activity in the much simpler rat-brain, suggesting that dreaming in dogs is highly likely, and that they probably dream about recent activities—something we do, too!

#3: Dogs can sense thermal heat and radiation with their nose

Long before they took over our hearts and our couches, ancestral dogs had to hunt for their food. While most owners are familiar with their canine’s powerful scent capabilities, they are less aware that the same nose can detect radiant heat—such as that coming from concealed prey—from up to five feet away.

#4: Dogs are not colorblind

Dogs have a limited color spectrum, because they have fewer color-sensitive cones in their retina. While many people think dogs can see in only black and white, they actually see the world in blue, yellow, and gray. Before you feel that your dog is missing out on a technicolor world, remember that the dog’s primary sense is smell, not sight.

#5: Dogs can show unselfish kindness

Dogs are one of the few non-human, non-primate species to behave voluntarily to aid another animal without any benefit to themselves. In this study, dogs were more likely to press a bar that delivered food to a familiar “other” than to a stranger, which underlines the dog’s strong social bonds. This satisfying study confirms what dog owners have long known—dogs are devoted and loyal companions.

#6: Dogs communicate by yawning, scratching, and sniffing

Dogs use practical behaviors to send messages to us, and to other dogs. Calming signals or displacement behaviors—so named because they are used to diffuse tension, confusion, or stress—can include sneezing, shaking off, scratching, sniffing, averting their gaze, and yawning. The next time your dog suddenly itches intensely before bath time, or sneezes when you ask them to sit, consider what they might really be saying!

#7: Dogs can donate blood and receive blood transfusions

Blood donation and transfusion is routinely performed for dogs suffering from anemias, clotting disorders, or emergencies. Dogs have more than 12 blood groups (i.e., types), and must be typed and cross-matched to donate or receive blood. Donor dogs are carefully screened, and must weigh more than 50 pounds, and be healthy, negative for Dog Erythrocyte Antigen 1 (DEA 1), and calm enough to stay still for 10 to 15 minutes. Donors can give blood four to six times per year until they are 7 years old. If you’re wondering, donor dogs commonly receive cookies after their donation!

#8: Dogs who approach each other from the side and avoid eye contact are being polite

Dog owners often expect their dogs to approach each other head-on, as we do when we introduce ourselves. However, in dog language, a direct approach and eye contact is considered threatening and aggressive, unless the dogs are familiar with one another. 

Respectful canine greetings actually look more like a drive-by—dogs will bypass each other, and then sniff each other’s hind end. Relaxed and friendly dogs make a “C” shape with their bodies, and may appear to move sideways.

#9: Dogs may be able to sense magnetic fields

What if your dog’s quest for the perfect potty spot wasn’t so much about driving you crazy, as about a sixth sense? Studies have shown that dogs are sensitive to earth’s magnetic field lines, and spontaneously align themselves with the north-south axis when eliminating. While we may never know the exact reason for this, it sure makes you wonder what else your dog can sense. The future, perhaps?

#10: Dog behavior has nothing to do with dominance

Dogs learn behavior through experience and consequence, rather than an inner desire to “become the alpha,” or achieve dominant household status. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are not in competition for a pack-leader position, and do not view their owner as an alpha dog. Dogs do not compete for a position in the pecking order, which is actually a rather fluid social structure.

If you feel like you don’t know your dog at all, you’re not alone. Fortunately, we don’t have to have all the answers to enjoy our canine companions. What would life be without some surprises, anyway? For help understanding your dog’s behavior, contact Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital.