42 Amazing Facts About Dogs

How well do you know humankind's best friend?
How well do you know humankind's best friend? / Sandra Marisol Del Mendoza/500px/Getty Images

Cuddle up with your best friend (or borrow a best friend’s best friend) and detox from the world with interesting items about the animal that American humorist Josh Billings called “the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself.”

1. Dogs lick people and other dogs for a variety of reasons.

brown and white dog licking a blonde woman's face
Kisses! / Fly_dragonfly/iStock via Getty Images

Puppies will lick their mothers or owners as a sign of affection or to indicate that they’re hungry. As adults, licking becomes a sign of submission to an authority figure. So if your dog licks you, they’re probably trying to let you know that they want something—probably food and/or attention.

2. Licking also makes dogs feel better.

Licking your face releases endorphins that calm and relieve your dog's stress. But if a dog is constantly licking itself, they might be bored or have a skin problem you need to have checked out by a vet.

3. Dogs circle up before lying down on instinct.

If we spun around three times before taking a nap it would seem like a waste of time or adherence to ancient superstition, but for dogs it’s a matter of old habits dying hard. Dogs do it as a behavior evolved from their wild ancestors. Their nightly routine entailed (ahem) pushing down tall grass, which scared off bugs or snakes while forming a small bed. Turns out spinning achieves a lot.

4. You should never leave your dog alone in a car.

According to the American Kennel Club, a dog should never be left alone in a car—with no exceptions. Not only will your dog miss you but, the temperature inside cars increases rapidly regardless of whether or not the car is parked directly in sunlight, and dogs overheat extremely easily!

5. Puppies are functionally blind and deaf at birth.

On day one, a puppy’s eyes are firmly shut and their ear canals closed. Why? In brief, it’s part of an evolutionary trade-off. Because pregnancy can hurt a carnivore’s ability to chase down food, dogs evolved to have short gestation periods. Brief pregnancies meant that canine mothers wouldn’t need to take prolonged breaks from hunting. However, because dog embryos spend such a short time in the womb (only two months or so), puppies aren’t born fully developed—and neither are their eyes or ears.

6. Dogs understand the power of “puppy eyes.“

Puppy Border Terrier on a couch
Who could resist this face? / Tim Graham/GettyImages

According to a study from 2017, dogs raise their eyebrows to give “puppy eyes” and make other dramatic facial expressions when they know humans are watching. Shelter dogs have learned this trick, too; pups who employ the puppy eyes trick tend to get adopted more quickly than dogs that show other behaviors, like wagging their tails.

7. Dogs improve your attitude.

That feeling of happiness you get while watching a bunch of puppies fall all over each other is genuine. Studies have found that spending time with dogs, especially in high-stress situations, can ease tension in humans. They can also lower your blood pressure (and they like going on walks, which helps you, too).

8. One of the most expensive dog breeds has been popular since the Renaissance.

Löwchens are a petite, long-haired dog that have been a popular breed since the Renaissance, and even showed up in some paintings from that period.

9. Dogs can understand up to 250 words and gestures.

The average dog is estimated to be as intelligent as a 2-year-old child.

10. A wet nose is not actually a sign of a dog’s good health.

It’s a common misconception that your dog’s wet nose is a sign of good health, but the real reason for the moisture on Fido’s nose is a little murkier. One explanation is that dogs repeatedly lick their nose throughout the day to keep it clean. Another is that the moisture helps them cool off. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do, so they pant and let off extra heat through their noses. A special gland in the nose produces a clear fluid that helps them cool down faster.

11. Dogs know how you feel.

Dogs can read your mood. A 2016 study from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paolo found that dogs can read and respond to the emotions on human faces, even in photographs.

12. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell.

A dog can smell anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the average human. Canines have 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly 6 million. Moreover, the part of the brain dedicated to smell is 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

13. Dogs breathe differently than humans.

While people breathe in and out the same way, canines breathe in through their nostrils and out through the slits found on the sides of the nose. This system circulates air so that the animal is always bringing in new smells. Breeds like the bloodhound also have the advantage of floppy ears that push up new smells.

14. Dogs get jealous.

Anyone with two dogs will probably tell you that dogs definitely feel jealousy—and it’s true! A 2014 study confirmed that your pet gets a little miffed when you start petting other dogs on the side.

15. Dog feet smell like popcorn.

If you think your dog’s feet smell like popcorn or corn chips, you’re not alone! Dogs have a lot of bacteria and yeast that grow on their paws as a result of moisture that gets caught in the many folds and pockets between their toes. These microorganisms create a variety of smells. The bacteria Proteus or Pseudomonas are the likely parties guilty of giving your hound’s feet that distinct tortilla smell. There’s no need to go wash your pet’s paws just yet, though—a subtle smell is completely normal.

16. Guide dogs do their business on command.

If only human children were so easy to potty train.
If only human children were so easy to potty train. / amanalang iStock via Getty Images

Guide dogs are extremely well trained and only go to the bathroom on command. Usually the owner will have a specific spot for the pup and use a command word like, “go time” or, “do your business,” so they’ll know when and where to clean up.

17. Dog names have changed a lot throughout the years.

In 2021, the most common dog names included Bella, Luna, Lucy, Max, Charlie, and Milo. If you’re curious about how much dog name trends change, here are some popular ones from Medieval times: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus, and Mopsulus.

18. Dogs dig to beat the heat ...

When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to cool down.

19. .. and to hide their stuff.

Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he’ll be able to find it. Whether or not he’ll actually go back for it is a different story.

20. Dogs bow to signal attack practice.

Wondering why dogs bow? In many cases, it serves an important evolutionary function. A prime example is the play bow: If you’ve ever seen a dog crouch forward with its elbows on the ground and its rear end in the air, wagging tail and all, then you know what it is. The position is the ultimate sign of playfulness, which is important for a species that often uses playtime as practice for attacking prey.

21. Several dog breeds are cat-friendly.

yellow dog licking white, black, and orange kitten in the grass
Best friends. / Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

If you’re a cat owner looking for a dog that won’t fight with your feline, look for one of these breeds: Japanese chins, golden retrievers, papillons, Labrador retrievers, and beagles. Of course, every dog has its own personality—so just being one of the above breeds doesn’t guarantee that Fido and Fluffy will become instant BFFs.

22. Labrador retrievers are the most popular dog breeds in the United States.

Labrador retrievers often hold the no. 1 spot on lists of the most popular dog breeds. In fact, they’ve been the top dog for 30 consecutive years—the longest reign of any breed in American Kennel Club history

23. The name beagle could help explain their loud bark.

The word beagle most likely comes from the French word begueule, which means “open throat.” The name is pretty accurate: Beagles have impressive vocal cords that are much fuller and louder than those of other dogs. Beagles are so talented at vocalizing, they do so in three different ways: There’s the standard bark for everyday things, like the doorbell or getting a new treat. Then there’s baying, which sounds a lot like doggy yodeling. This throaty yowl is used on the hunt to alert fellow dogs that they’ve picked up an interesting scent. Finally, there’s the forlorn howl. Beagles will howl if they are sad, bored—or if others are howling first.

24. Hunters in the Middle Ages had tiny beagle-like dogs.

Hunters in the 13th century employed pocket beagles, which are exactly as tiny and adorable as they sound. These miniature pups were only about 8 to 9 inches tall; today, beagles are about 13 to 15 inches tall.

25. French bulldogs can’t doggy paddle.

French bulldogs’ origins are murky, but most sources trace their roots to English bulldogs. Lace makers in England were drawn to the toy version of the dog and would use the smaller pups as lap warmers while they worked. When the lace industry moved to France, they took their dogs with them. There, the English bulldogs probably bred with terriers to create bouledogues français, or French bulldogs.

As a result of their squat frame and bulbous head, French bulldogs can’t swim, so pool owners should keep a watchful eye on their pups.

26. Hot dogs are named after weiner dogs.

daschund dressed up in a hot dog costume
A treat for the eyes. / LourdesPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

The deli product hawked by street vendors was originally known as a dachshund sausage because it resembled the short-legged hound. How the name switched is up for debate, but some believe the name was shortened to hot dog when a befuddled cartoonist could not spell the original name.

27. Dog tails have their own language.

A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. But a wagging tail doesn’t always indicate a happy pup. A loose wag from side to side means the dog feels relaxed and content. More fervent wagging with hip movements means the dog is happy or saying hello to a loved one. If the tail is straight up, it’s a sign of confidence or aggression; down and curled between the legs usually means fear or submission.

28. Testing dog intelligence is based on learning new commands quickly.

Border collies, poodles, and German shepherds are considered to be among the smartest breeds of dog. To be placed in the top tier of intelligence, breeds must understand a new command after only five repetitions and follow the first command given to them 95 percent of the time.

29. Some dogs will look like puppies their whole lives.

Although rare, some dogs can have pituitary dwarfism. As a result, the dogs are puppy-like forever, keeping their puppy fur and staying small in stature. While this condition makes them look like adorable teddy bears, it comes with a whole slew of health problems.

30. Some dogs can hold eggs in their mouths without breaking them.

Golden retrievers have “soft mouths,” meaning they can carry things in their chops without damaging them—an important skill for canines tasked with retrieving their masters’ hunting trophies. They’re so gentle, in fact, that some can be trained to hold a raw egg in their mouths without breaking it.

31. There’s a reason your dog sniffs other dogs’ butts.

Dogs sniff rear ends as their way of asking, “Who are you and how have you been?” Canines can find out a whole slew of information from just a whiff. The secretions released by glands in the rump tell other animals things like the dog’s gender, diet, and mood. It’s sort of like talking with chemicals.

32. Labrador retrievers aren’t from Labrador.

They actually come from Newfoundland. In the 18th century, Greater Newfoundland dogs bred with smaller water dogs to produce St. John’s water dogs. These smaller canines looked a lot like modern day Labs, but with white muzzles and paws. The St. John’s water dog eventually went extinct, but it served as the ancestor for the Labrador retriever.

33. A Labrador’s color doesn’t depend on its parents.

Regardless of the parents’ color, a single litter of Labs can include black, yellow, and chocolate puppies. There are two genes that cause the pigmentation of the coat, so the variation can be just as common as different hair colors in a human family.

34. Corgis are great at herding cattle.

image of a tan and white corgi running
Watch out, cows! / Lisa_Nagorskaya iStock via Getty Images

The Welsh used the short dogs as herders as early as the 10th century. In those days, pastures were considered common land, so there were no fences. To keep a farmer’s cattle together and separated from other herds, corgis would nip at their legs to herd them. Because of their closeness to the ground, corgis had easy access to the cows’ ankles and were difficult targets of any retaliatory kicks.

35. Dogs have left- or right-dominant paws.

They also have different blood types, and they can get laryngitis from barking continuously.

36. Dogs's mouths aren't “clean.”

A common myth is that a dog’s mouth is a magically clean place. This is not the case: A canine mouth is brimming with bacteria. Fortunately, a lot of those germs are specific to the species so you don’t have to worry when your pup goes in for a wet kiss. That said, there are some similar bacteria, so make sure your pet has up-to-date shots.

37. Dogs dream.

Smaller dogs also tend to dream more than larger dogs, and older dogs more than midlife dogs.

38. We’re leaving a lot to our dogs.

A surprisingly high number of dogs in the U.S. have been named primary beneficiary in their owner’s wills. (Humans are still in charge of the money, though.)

39. There’s a dog breed with six toes.

Meet the Norwegian lundehund—which translates literally to puffin dog—a pup with six toes on each foot. They’re helpful for climbing the jagged, slippery rocks where puffins like to make their homes.

40. Bloodhounds are the most-skilled smellers.

A bloodhound’s sense of smell is the strongest among any dog breed. In fact, a bloodhound’s sense of smell is so strong and impressive that it’s admissible as evidence in a court of law.

41. The Labradoodle’s creator things starting the breed was a mistake.

brown labradoodle lying down
Oops. / dmbaker/iStock via Getty Images

In 2019, Wally Conron —the dog breeder who developed the Labradoodle— said that creating the designer dog breed was his “life’s regret.” “I opened a Pandora's box and released a Frankenstein['s] monster,” he added. We’ll add: An adorable, playful Frankenstein’s monster.

42. Rates of dog euthanasia are down.

In 2019, The New York Times examined data from shelters in 20 major American cities and discovered that rates of euthanasia—the practice of terminating the life of animals, often by lethal injection—has dropped by an average of 75 percent in recent years. In Houston, for example, 57 percent of animals brought into shelters in 2012 were put down. In 2018, that number dropped to just 15 percent. In Philadelphia, the rate decreased from 36 percent to 13 percent in the same timeframe. Phoenix went from 46 percent to just 4 percent. Other cities, including Los Angeles and New York, demonstrated similar declines.

The trend has continued: The boom in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a record decrease in euthanasia rates.

A version of this story originally ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2022.