The five senses: a back to basics look at how our dogs perceive the world.
We share the same senses and the same world as our canine companions. However, the way that they process sensory information leads to an entirely different experience. A dog’s senses can detect tiny medical changes in the human body, predict approaching bad weather and even sense natural disasters like earthquakes. We take a look at each sense to give us more insight into how dogs see our world.
This is undoubtedly the canine super sense. Dogs have 40x more receptors in the area of the brain responsible for processing scent than we do. They can even breathe and sniff at the same time, so important sensory information can be processed on the move. Who, what and when are all identifiable to your dog on their walk. They tap into the movements of nearby dogs and people as they update their version of social media. It is worth remembering that some scents that we find pleasing, such as perfumes and cleaning solutions, can be quite overwhelming to your dog. It is also fascinating to know that when you’re cooking dinner, your dog can detect each individual ingredient!
Taste will, in part, guide your dog to what is good for their body, although there is always a dog that doesn’t pause for thought before inhaling their food or something undesirable! This has historically been a natural way of helping pets self-medicate, called Zoopharmacognosy. The word has Greek roots; zoo meaning animal, pharma meaning drug/medicine, and cognosy meaning knowing. Our dogs can use their sense of taste and smell to identify what they need both nutritionally and medicinally.
A dog’s vision is not as strong as a human's and they rely on other senses much more than we do. Previously we thought that dogs could only see in black and white, but they do have a small amount of colour vision and can see yellows, blues and greys. We should also consider the dog's height as well as the positioning of their eyes to understand how they perceive their world. A Pug or Frenchie is going to see the world very differently from a Labrador, for example.
It goes without saying that your dog’s hearing is far superior to ours, as they launch their warning that the post is arriving way before it drops into your letterbox. The physical structure of a dog's ear is similar to ours, but dogs can hear far higher into the frequency spectrum. Dogs have at least 18 muscles that control their ear flap, giving them far superior hearing. These numerous muscles allow a dog to finely tune the position of their ear canal to localise a sound and to hear it more accurately and from farther away.
Dogs' most similar sense to humans is touch. Puppies become aware of this sense first as they are born both blind and deaf. Through nuzzling and licking with their mother they quickly learn to communicate via touch. This follows through later in life with pawing, licking and mouthing to let you know what they need. Touch is so important to the pack, and it’s safe to assume that your dog enjoys a cuddle as much as you do!
Is there a sixth sense?
Does your dog seem to know when you are on your way home or if you are feeling off? Can they pick up vibes from the people around them? The question of a "sixth sense" has been widely studied and never really answered. Heightened senses, an inbuilt clock or something else entirely?