On TV & DVD: Dogs Decoded - Nova, Tuesday, November 9
What is it that makes dogs so appealing to humans? And what secrets do they hold? Scientists are trying to understand dogs like never before and determine if they are smarter than we think. According to Dogs Decoded, there has been an explosion in dog research, particularly in how dogs are tuned in to humans.
Dog owners clearly believe their dogs are attuned to them and can sense their moods. Is their a scientific basis to that? As it turns out, when dogs look at human faces they pick up on the direction of our gaze, and use this ability only with humans, not with each other. They have developed special skills to communicate with humans, and are the only animals that respond to pointing (yep, they beat the chimps on that one).
Nova interviews a number of experts on the subject, including researchers, psychiatrists (for the human connection), and an evolutionary anthropologist (Brian Hare, Duke University). According to research, dogs are primed to communicate with us, and their abilities extend beyond what anyone knew. Viewers will meet an amazing border collie named Betsy who shows that some dogs have the ability to be more intelligent than ever thought possible; she understands over 300 words.
One question is, did dogs evolve or was it human environment that formed the abilities that make them so compatible with people? In an attempt to find an answer, researchers raised wolf cubs in homes as a puppy would be raised. However, by eight weeks, the wolves were not interested in what the humans were doing and “did their own thing,” behaving as they would in the wild. At two months they became destructive and dangerous. After four months they were returned to the wolf preserve where they were born. Researchers concluded it is impossible to raise a wolf as a dog, and therefore, genetics is responsible for their docility.
Dogs have been bred by humans over thousands of years, their unique abilities are part of their nature. How did they evolve innate attributes, what made them tame? How did wolves evolve into domesticated dogs?Continued on the next page