Scientific Dog Studies
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7 Surprising Scientific Dog Studies

There are several fascinating dog studies performed that can help dog owners understand their canine friend just a little bit better. They can also be used to learn the healthiest way to treat your dog. For instance several published reports have proven that certain health attributes like a lean diet can increase the lifespan of your pooch. Use this list of important dog studies to improve the health and overall well being of your four legged friend.

1. “Grain Free” Dog Food Leading To Canine Heart Disease

No Grain Free Dog Food

Be careful what you feed your dog. According to a study published by Tufts University in August of 2021, certain dog food ingredients can lead to a higher chance of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, or DCM.

Using research from the Food and Drug Administration, they observed more than 800 different compounds. In total 9 dry dog foods appeared to be associated with DCM.

All of them contained a minimum of the three ingredients pulses (peas), potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Results:

Shockingly peas were the front runner on a long list of possible ingredients linked to Canine Heart Disease. Each of the diets with a high number of peas contained much higher levels of the DCM causing compound compared to diets without peas.

Grain Free” diets are most likely to blame since they are most often linked to heart disease. Scientists believe this is because they contain higher levels of certain ingredients like peas or potatoes which replace traditional ingredients like corn and rice.

Lesson:

Stay away from “Grain Free” dog foods and instead feed your dog a healthy raw food diet.

Study Citation:

Smith, C.E., Parnell, L.D., Lai, CQ. et al. Investigation of diets associated with dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs using foodomics analysis. Sci Rep 11, 15881 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-94464-2

2. Dog Socialization Skills Are Inherited From The Parents

Canine Social Skills Genetics Study

Some skills just don’t need to be taught. This study published in March of 2021 examined 375 two month old puppies to measure a set of cognitive skills. They wanted to see if certain social skills were passed down from the dogs parents.

During this study three tests were conducted testing their ability to interact with humans.

The first was a simple pointing test where the human would point to one of two cups that were overturned containing a treat. The puppy would have to select the right one by touching it with their nose or front paw.

The second test studied the puppy’s ability to look at a persons face while they communicated with them in “puppy talk.” They wanted to see how long they could hold the puppy’s attention.

The third test involved teaching the puppies to locate food kept in a plastic container. Then they sealed it with a lid to see if they would look to humans for help. This was done in comparison to adult dogs.

Results:

  1. Object Choice Test – The puppies went to the bowl that was being pointed to 67% of the time.
  2. Human Interest Test – The puppies stared at the human speaking in “puppy talk” for an average of 6 seconds.
  3. Unsolvable Test – The puppies were less dependent on help from humans than the adult dogs.

Lesson:

Almost half of the socialization skills displayed in dogs are inherited from their mom and dad. In other words some of the puppies were just born with the skills to perform the experiments.

Study Citation:

Emily E. Bray, Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan, Daniel J. Horschler, Kerinne M. Levy, Brenda S. Kennedy, Thomas R. Famula, Evan L. MacLean Early-Emerging and Highly-Heritable Sensitivity to Human Communication in Dogs bioRxiv 2021.03.17.434752; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.17.434752

3. Puppies Age Much Faster Than Humans

Dog To Human Years Equivalent Research Chart.

Although the age old adage is that one dog year is equal to seven human years, it is much more complicated than that. During certain stages of a dog’s life they age much faster than others.

To understand how dog years compare to human years, researchers did a study with 104 Labrador Retrievers. They used a procedure called “oligo-capture” sequencing.

It is a process that uses methylomes from the dog’s DNA to determine the relationship between dog and human years.

It compares major milestones in the lives of dogs and humans to determine their age equivalence. The most shocking revelation was that a one year old dog is equal to a thirty year old human.

Results:

Here is a chart displaying how dog and human aging matches up:

Dog YearsHuman Years
3 Months9 Years
1 Year30 Years
4 Years52 Years
9 Years66 Years

Lesson:

Puppies age much faster than older dogs and than their human counterparts. They develop extremely fast as youngsters and are similar in physiology at one year old to that of a thirty year old man or woman.

Study Citation:

Tina Wang, Jianzhu Ma, Andrew N. Hogan, Danika L. Bannasch, Elaine A. Ostrander, Trey Ideker Quantitative Translation of Dog-to-Human Aging by Conserved Remodeling of the DNA Methylome Published: July 02, 2020 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cels.2020.06.006

4. Dogs Understand Tone Before Words When Listening To Us Speak

Dog Tone VS Word Experiment

It turns out we have more in common with our four legged friends than we thought. Dogs process speech like humans. When they hear someone speak, their brain splits the processing job into two parts. The right side of the brain processes tone and the left side processes the words.

A new study looked at the brain activity of twelve pet dogs to determine how they understand human words. The main object was to figure out whether tone or words were analyzed first.

To measure their response an fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, machine was used.

To administer the test, a trainer would speak “praise” words with meaning and “neutral” words without meaning using different levels of pitch in her voice. The praise words were clever, that’s it and well done. The neutral words were as if, such and yet. The brain waves were then measured to see if tone or the meaning of the words themselves took priority.

Results:

The results showed that the right side of the brain took prominence when processing communication from humans.

Lesson:

The tone of your voice resonates more with your dog than the actual words. Remember this the next time you are training your dog with commands.

Study Citation:

Gábor, A., Gácsi, M., Szabó, D. et al. Multilevel fMRI adaptation for spoken word processing in the awake dog brain. Sci Rep 10, 11968 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68821-6

5. Dog Have A Built In Compass For Navigation

Dog Magnetoreception Investigation

I lost my dog “Montana” many years ago after we moved. We think she left to make her way back to what she considered true home. We never found out if she made it but it turns out she had the tools to do so. Here is an incredible story of a dog that did make its way home after two days and eleven miles.

According to a study published in June of 2020, dogs have a built in compass that uses the earth’s magnetic field to find their way back home.

Referred to as “magnetoreception,” this uncanny and god given ability allows animals to follow a geomagnetic axis north and south to reach their destination.

Many animals including bees, birds, dolphins, sea turtles and whales rely on this amazing inner compass. Researchers have studied this for nearly a century. This most recent study followed 27 hunting dogs equipped with GPS collars through the forest of the Czech Republic.

Over 600 trials were analyzed to discover how the dogs would find their way back to the drop location. By tracking the dogs they were able to determine the method used for navigation. Some of the time the dogs used scent to follow their tracks when returning. But how they found their way back the rest of the time was astonishing.

Results:

Approximately 60% of the time, dogs found their way home using their scent to retrace their outbound steps. 33% of the time, they used their built in navigational compass to determine the way home. 8% of the time they combined tracking and scouting to make it back home.

Lesson:

When it comes to navigation dogs can do something that humans cannot.

Study Citation:

Adámková J, Svoboda J, Benediktová K, Martini S, Nováková P, Tůma D, Kučerová M, Divišová M, Begall S, Hart V, Burda H (2017) Directional preference in dogs: laterality and “pull of the north” PLOS ONE 12:e0185243.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185243

6. Grumpy Dogs Out Learn Friendly Dogs

Grumpy VS Friendly Dog Social Learning

Good news for grumpy dog owners. Researchers in March of 2021 published a study that analyzed the connection between dog owner behavior and problem solving to determine their impact on social learning.

To begin with two behavior tests were performed along with a questionnaire to evaluate the relationship between dog and owner.

Two of the main traits looked at were “irritable” and “overactive.” It also determined how possessive they were with their owner.

The dogs then had to take a detour test with a couple of differing variables. The first comparison was taking the test with owner and then with an unfamiliar person. The second variable was taking the test with and without someone demonstrating the task.

Results:

The grouchy dogs fared better with the test when the demonstrator was unfamiliar. They also looked back less for help from their owner.

Lesson:

A more aggressive dog that asserts itself and is more goal driven learns quicker. In addition, the relationship between dog and owner plays a major role in the social behavior of canines.

Study Citation:

Pongrácz, P.; Rieger, G.; Vékony, K. Grumpy Dogs Are Smart Learners—The Association between Dog–Owner Relationship and Dogs’ Performance in a Social Learning Task. Animals 2021, 11, 961.
https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11040961

7. Puppies Are Less Scared Of Strangers Than Wolf Pups Raised By Humans

Labrador Retriever Puppy VS Wolf Pup Comparison

Who doesn’t love some adorable cute fluffy wolf pups? In this study 37 wolf pups went head to head with 44 dog puppies to see how they compared when relating to humans. Though the two share the same ancestry, domesticated dogs have made great strides over the thousands of years.

To set up the experiment, Duke University scientists had the wolf pups raised by humans even sleeping with them in bed during the night.

In contrary, the dog puppies were raised by their mother and spent time with the rest of the littermates. They didn’t have near as much contact with humans.

The wolf pups and dogs completed a series of temperament and cognitive tasks. One of them involved both participants choosing a bowl that was hiding a treat. The trainers helped with lexical and visible hints to help them locate that much deserved prize.

Results:

The dog puppies took the instructions much better and were much better at finding the treats. They were also way less scared of human contact and were thirty times more likely to walk up to a human than the wolf pups.

Lesson:

Domesticated dogs are more comfortable around humans than wolves that are raised by them. They also understand human signals better and make more eye contact than the wolf puppies.

Study Citation:

Hannah Salomons, Kyle C.M. Smith, Megan Callahan-Beckel, Margaret Callahan, Kerinne Levy, Brenda S. Kennedy, Emily E. Bray, Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan, Daniel J. Horschler, Margaret Gruen, Jingzhi Tan, Philip White, Bridgett M. vonHoldt, Evan L. MacLean, Brian Hare Published: July 12, 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.06.051

In Closing:

Hopefully these scientific dog studies have given you a better understanding of your dog. Use this information to your advantage and keep an eye out for future research or publications on this page. This list only contains a handful of all the great experiments that have been done over the years. For more insightful studies check out our article German Shepherd Lifespan And How To Increase It!

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

What is your favorite dog study on the list? Did any of them surprise you or make you curious? Please let us know! We would love to hear about your honest individual opinion!

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