This makes me think many Americans long for the influence of a superhero in their lives. If super-powers are what constitute a superhero, then I am happy to announce they do indeed exist. Actually, many of us live with them on a daily basis.
Meet canis lupus familiaris…family dog. As evidence of their super-powers I shall reveal them one-by-one.
Let’s start with vision. Although they lack the precision of 20-20 sight, they see better in low light conditions and detect motion 10-20 times better than humans. There peripheral vision is an astounding 270 degrees, compared to a human range of 180 degrees. That means they can see things beyond our field of view and respond to them as quickly as The Flash.
Most folks know that dogs see two primary colors, compared to human ability to see three primary colors…but they can see in the ultraviolet spectrum. Yes, pretty much like Superman and his x-ray vision.
They also sense variations in the magnetic field, recognize familiar friendly faces (resulting in the release of feel-good hormones) and can tell the difference between a friendly facial expression and an angry face.
As for hearing, a healthy young human can hear frequencies ranging from 12 Hz to 20 kHz, the notable exception being teenagers…who seem utterly incapable of registering human words at critical times. Dogs, on the other paw, hear frequencies of 40 Hz to 60 kHz, and up to four times as far as humans. They hear things that we cannot.
This means we really don’t have to shout instructions at our dogs. If they do not respond to our words it is very likely due to lacking English as a native language, or other human languages for that matter. Dogs learn hand signals far more readily than our words.
If this is not amazing enough, canine sense of smell is utterly fantastic. Their olfactory cortex is 40 times bigger than it is in humans and up to 100 million times more sensitive. To put this in context, if you walk into a bakery you will smell freshly baked bread; your dog could smell the individual ingredients from a city block away, and would know that you visited the bakery upon returning home.
Dogs can move the tip of their nose and smell individually with each nostril, channeling scent through the vomeronasal organ in the soft palate directly to the olfactory process in the brain. They can virtually taste odors and process scent, determining the path of an animal, for instance, based on which direction the scent is strongest.
Researchers around the world have learned that dogs can smell testicular cancer and two ovarian cancers in humans, with greater accuracy than modern medical tests. They also detect changes in human chemistry that occur prior to the onset of a diabetic emergency or epileptic seizure. Dogs also detect chemical compounds in narcotics and explosives and may be trained to tell us so.
In short, a dog’s super sense of smell may just save your life one day.
Dogs have other super-powers as well, such as reducing stress in heart surgery patients, reducing heart rate and blood pressure and boosting the immune system. Simply gazing into a familiar dog’s eyes or stroking them produces the mutual effect in dogs and humans alike, including release of oxytocin…the love hormone that helps a mother immediately bond with her newly born infant.
People who live with dogs tend to live longer and healthier, get more exercise, have better social support networks…and then there is the role of therapy dogs. A large body of evidence has shown us how dogs improve human mental and physical health in therapeutic context.
Yes, indeed friends. Superheroes are real and they have been making human existence better for 32,000 years.
Daniel H. Antolec, CPT-A, CPDT-KA is the owner of Happy Buddha Dog Training. He has membership in Pet Professional Guild, Force-Free Trainers of Wisconsin and Association of Professional Dog Trainers. He also sits on the Board of Directors for Dogs on Call, Inc. and is Chairman of Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Committee.