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Why do dogs lick people? And answers to 50 other canine questions

  • Why do dogs lick people? And answers to 50 other canine questions

    There’s a reason dogs are known as “man’s best friend.” They’re often faithful, energetic, and sweet. They bound to the door to greet their owners and shower their people with kisses when it’s time to leave. When a person is bored, dogs are usually up to play any game at all. When humans are lonely or want company, dogs are there to snuggle up for as long as they're welcome. Dogs seem to love their people unconditionally and don’t seem to mind their owners' weird quirks. But for as lovable as they are, dogs also do some odd things. We've all known dogs guilty of licking their owner's faces obsessively or running around in circles after getting a bath. Then there are the less savory actions, like rolling around in garbage or eating rabbit poop in the backyard. And why do dogs spend so much time sniffing each other’s butts?

    Unlike human friends, owners can’t come out and ask their dogs why they do the puzzling things they do. And even if dogs could answer, they might not know. When dogs lick people, for example, is it a hereditary thing that dates back to their wolf ancestors, or just something they’ve seen others doing? Are dogs trying to show their owners affection, or do they like how their humans taste? And what about the non-behavior-related questions? Such as, how long dog owners should let their dogs stay home alone or whether hiccups should be alarming. Do dogs dream? Can dogs feel guilt? Do dogs get mad at their owners? And where did they come from, anyway?

    To answer some of these pressing dog-related questions and separate fact from fiction, Stacker has put together a slideshow featuring 51 of the most commonly asked questions about canine companions. The questions have been answered by veterinarians, dog trainers, or other canine experts. Some answers may seem obvious, while others might surprise readers. Click through Stacker's gallery to gain a greater understanding of man's best friend.

    You may also like: Origins of the 50 most popular dog breeds

  • Why do dogs wag their tails?

    Dogs wag their tails in part to show excitement, but it goes much further than that. Canine tails are comprehensive communication tools that convey a wide range of emotions, depending on how they’re wagged and in what direction. For example, a 2007 study referenced in Live Science suggested tail-wagging to the right may indicate positive emotions (as dogs access the brain’s left hemisphere) while leftward-wagging tails hint at negative emotions (accessing the right hemisphere). Neutral positions suggest a relaxed disposition, low tails suggest submissiveness, and high tails indicate arousal or aggression.

  • Why are there so many dogs named Fido?

    The name Fido comes from the Latin word “fidelitas” meaning faithful—an apt description for many pooches. There have also been two famous dogs named Fido, which has helped propel the name to fame in popular culture. First was Abraham Lincoln’s dog—the first presidential dog to ever be photographed. Later, an Italian dog named Fido became famous during World War II when his owner was killed in a factory bombing at work. According to local newspapers, Fido went to the bus stop every day for 13 years waiting for him to return, and the town erected a statue in his honor.

  • Are dogs actually smiling?

    According to certified dog trainer Victoria Schade, dogs aren’t actually smiling in the human sense of the word when they turn their mouths upward. However, dogs do have their ways of communicating happiness. “The canine equivalent of a smile is a bouncy body, a loose tail wag, and a facial expression with soft eyes and a relaxed mouth and ears,” Schade told PetMD. It is also likely that some instances of smiling are adaptive behavior, learned from positive reinforcement they’ve received when making the expression unintentionally.

  • Why do dogs hate fireworks?

    The Fourth of July makes many dogs tremble. A 2013 study from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo, Norway, found that nearly half of all dogs included showed behavioral signs indicating fear when confronted with loud noises such as fireworks, thunder, or gunshots. Some vets believe the fear is learned, perhaps originating from overly quiet environments or traumatic noise-related events early in the dog’s lives. Others believe it is a genetic predisposition that can be particular to some breeds.

  • What makes chocolate bad for dogs?

    Chocolate contains an alkaloid called theobromine. Humans can metabolize this chemical compound quickly, but it takes dogs a long time, during which toxic quantities can build up in their bodies. The smaller the dog, the more susceptible they are to potential poisoning. The larger the quantity and higher the theobromine content (dark chocolate has the most), the more severe a dog's reaction will be. It is indeed possible for dogs to die of theobromine poisoning, but more commonly they get extremely sick and a vet must induce vomiting.

  • Why do dogs have whiskers?

    Dog whiskers are tiny receptors full of nerve endings at the base of the follicles that send sensory messages to their brains. These receptors help dogs perceive changes in air currents, pick up ground vibrations, and collect useful information about the size and speed of animals approaching or inanimate objects nearby. Certain breeds also use their whiskers to evaluate space and determine if they can fit in certain places or access certain locations.

  • Why does my dog follow me to the bathroom?

    Dogs are pack animals, and this doesn’t change when owners are using the bathroom or engaged in other activities that humans consider private. The instinct to follow owners everywhere arises most likely from their sense of protectiveness and desire to keep their owners in sight at all times—not the desire to watch humans do their business. It also may be a behavior that’s been positively reinforced by accident, according to New York veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack. “If every time you are with your dog, he gets affection or treats, he’s likely to [follow you around] more often,” Barrack told Family Handyman.

  • Do dogs dream?

    When dogs are asleep, the electrical activity in their brains show patterns similar to those observed in humans during dreaming states. What’s more, there is evidence to suggest that rats dream—a fact that canine psychologist Stanley Coren says means dogs probably do, too. “Since a dog's brain is more complex and shows the same electrical sequences, it is reasonable to assume that dogs are dreaming, as well,” he said. Coren, who wrote, “Do Dogs Dream?” said people could observe dogs dreaming about 20 minutes after dogs fall asleep—when a dog's breathing gets shallow, and their muscles start twitching.

  • Why do dogs love peanut butter?

    A dogs’ obsession with peanut butter is probably linked to the salty taste, along with the rich smell, according to Dr. Susan Wynn, a veterinarian at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. “Dogs (and people) are hardwired to seek out certain chemicals that signal a nutrient-rich food, with fat and protein being the primary drivers," Wynn explained to The Dodo. Other factors include the fun nature of peanut butter—it’s sticky and can become a game, as well as the fact that it’s a “human food” they get to partake in—something that makes it extra special.

  • What makes dogs shed?

    Dogs have fur mainly to help control their body temperature, which is why shedding tends to occur seasonally. Although dogs will slough hair throughout the year just like humans, the greatest volume happens in the spring and fall. Spring shedding is the time when dogs abandon their thick winter coat in favor of a thinner summer version. Conversely, fall shedding is the time when they’re getting rid of their summer coat to grow thicker, warmer fur for winter. Another function of fur is to protect their skin from the sun, which is any they never lose all of it.

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