Special abilities that show dogs are smart

We’re sure you don’t need any further reasons to love dogs, but for good measure here’s one more. A new study involving UK-based charity Medical Detection Dogs has suggested a dog’s nose could help detect and diagnose the most lethal type of prostate cancer – part of a broader ability to smell diseases, including COVID-19.

Read more: Dogs trained to sniff out coronavirus have a 100 per cent success rate

Here are a few more extraordinary abilities your dog could have in its arsenal – from basic numeracy to sniffing out the contents of your bloodstream.

1. Dogs can see in ultraviolet
Canine eyes are remarkably similar to human ones, albeit with superior night vision and a narrower colour spectrum, but studies now suggest dogs may be able to see an entire range of ultraviolet invisible to people. Exactly why dogs need to see in UV is up for debate, but it may aid their eyes in a number of dog-related fields, including seeing through camouflage.

2. Dogs can be truly, genuinely altruistic
How many animals feel empathy is up for debate – arguably many don’t (*cough* cats *cough*) – but dogs are special in their ability to build real relationships across the species barrier. One 2015 study ranked dogs among a small handful of ‘prosocial’ animals: that is, they would help others without direct benefit to themselves.

Read more: Do dogs really feel empathy, guilt, grief?

3. Dogs can tell when diabetics have low blood sugar
‘Hypo alert’ dogs can quite literally smell high or low blood glucose levels based on tiny variations in odour, and, when trained correctly, can fetch a diabetic’s blood glucose testing kit when they get a whiff that something’s wrong.

A dog’s sense of smell is estimated at 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours, and stories abound of heroic hounds tracking their owners across hundreds of miles of open country.

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4. Dogs can potentially sense natural disasters
We still don’t know how or why, but some dogs are thought to be able to sense earthquakes and incoming bad weather long before their bipedal masters. Case studies include the Chinese city of Haicheng, evacuated prior to an earthquake in part due to unusual pet behaviour in 1975, and eyewitness testimonies swearing that dogs refused to go for a walk on the morning of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

These anecdotes should perhaps be taken with a pinch of confirmation bias, but studies do suggest dogs can sense environmental changes we can’t. Some suggest animals can detect earthquakes via changes in the chemistry of ground water, while others cite the canine ability to sense changes in barometric pressure.

5. Dogs can count
This may not seem like much to you when there’s a perfectly good calculator function on your phone, but in the animal kingdom, counting is kind of a big deal. Some dogs are thought to be able to fully perceive different numerical amounts – an ability beyond most mammals, that tend to see sets of items as indeterminate quantities of things.

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Read more: Eight things we do that really confuse our dogs

6. Dogs can see up to 270 degrees
Front-facing human eyes can only see half the world at once – or around 180 degrees – but a dog’s field of vision runs up to 90 degrees more, expanding their visual panorama to up to three-quarters of their surroundings. It is a truth universally acknowledged that dogs are easily distracted, but at any given moment, there’s more world for them to be distracted by.

Did you know any of these? Does your dog have a special ability?

– With PA

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Written by Luke Rix-Standing



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