Your dog gives you unconditional love and acceptance, entertains you and, regardless of her breed, is beautiful in your eyes. The domestic dog is an amazing animal with a fascinating history. Some of the strangest facts about them come from looking into the background of the species and the origins of the various breeds. In the Middle Ages, for example, the mixed-breed dogs belonging to the lower classes were not allowed to breed with the pure-bred hunting dogs of the aristocracy.
Throughout history, dogs have delighted people with their loyalty, affection and ability to help. In return, humans have loved and cherished their dogs. The Ancient Egyptians held their dogs in such high esteem that when one died, the entire household mourned for several days, going without food and shaving off their eyebrows.
One of the older dog breeds on record is the greyhound, which was a hunting breed originally. Among the many theories regarding the origin of the greyhound's name is that it comes from an error in translation, when scholars mistakenly took the original German name of Greishund to mean grey dog. The term actually means old or ancient dog and possibly refers to the age of this particular breed.
Everyone knows that a dog's sense of smell is extraordinary, but why? They have an extra organ to help them, called the vomeronasal or Jacobson's organ, which sends impulses to specific parts of the brain for interpretation. These impulses help dogs identify not only scents, but also social and sexual status in animals and people. Because dogs possess more than 220 million cells to detect scents, while humans only have five million, dogs are able to smell up to 1,000 times better than we can.
Nature equipped dogs with three eyelids instead of the two that humans have. Called the nictitating membrane, the third lid protects the eye from foreign bodies and keeps it lubricated.
Some dogs have webbed feet -- that is, the skin between the toes reaches all the way to the base of the nail. Such breeds include the Newfoundland, dachshund, Portuguese water dog, and German wirehaired pointer. Most webbed footed dogs were bred for working in water in their home countries. The webbing enables them to be strong swimmers and diggers, making them a preferred choice for search and rescue jobs or water sports such as field trials and retrieving.
The poodle is one of the most intelligent breeds of dogs, according to Stanley Coren's book The Intelligence of Dogs. However, the poodle comes in second only to the border collie (a herding breed) which is commonly believed to have an IQ level equal to or higher than that of a 2-year-old child. The book also reviews numerous studies that prove dogs can solve complex problems.
At the American Psychological Association's 117th annual convention, Coren spoke of how most dogs can understand up to 150 words, while the top 20 percent can learn 250 words. This elite group consists of border collies, poodles, German shepherds and Labrador retrievers. He also found evidence that most dogs can manipulate their pet parents and other animals for their own purposes, such as to get extra treats.
By Tracey Sandilands
Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptions; Sir John Gardner Wilkinson
Alabama Cooperative Extension System: The Dog's Sense of Smell
Animal Eye Care: Canines Have Third Eyelids?
American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breeds -- Get to Know the Newfoundland
What Do Dogs Know?: The Intelligence of Dogs
ScienceDaily: Dogs' Intelligence on Par With Two-Year-Old Human, Canine Researcher Says
Random Facts: 99 Fun Facts About ... Dogs
About the Author
Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.