While cats tend to earn the reputation of being aloof and unreadable, we tend to think that our dogs keep everything on display. But when we dig a little deeper, man’s best friend has their own fair share of mystery. Every dog owner will have asked themselves questions like – “Does my dog really recognise me?” “Do they remember the things we do together?” “Can they tell what i’m thinking?” “Do they have a sixth sense?”.

We’ve pulled together 12 frequently asked questions so that pet-parents like you can get some answers once and for all. 

1. Why is chocolate bad for dogs?

As delicious as it may seem to you, chocolate can be extremely dangerous to dogs. This is because of an active compound called theobromine. You can think of this as similar to caffeine. Because dogs absorb it much more slowly than humans, it can quickly build up to toxic levels. In smaller doses, theobromine acts like a diuretic and causes intense vomiting and diarrhoea. When it reaches poisonous levels, your dog will experience hyperactivity and can suffer from seizures, heart attack or muscle tremors. 

If your dog does ingest chocolate, you must induce vomiting within two hours of ingestion. It’s advisable to see your vet as soon as possible, especially if you are concerned about the quantity of chocolate consumed. 

2. Why does your dog lick you?

When you’re sweaty or wet, your dog will often lick you because of the sensory sensations this gives them. They’re also extremely sensitive to how you smell and may lick you more when they find the smell appealing. Licking is also linked to emotion. Your dog experiences a release of endorphins which can make them happy and relaxed. It can be a way to show affection and to seek attention or food. 

However, if your dog repeatedly licks in the same spot or the behaviour is connected to an external stimulus (like the sound of cars passing your house or the vacuum), this could be a sign of worry and anxiety. 

3. Is one human year really seven dog years?

It turns out that this persistent fun fact is actually a myth! Different breeds of dogs age differently and size can also play an important role. For example, smaller dogs typically live longer than large dogs. It’s definitely true that dogs mature much faster than humans, but this changes over their lifespan and can’t be covered by a blanket 7 year rule. Wide Open Pets suggests that the first year of a dog’s life equals 15 human years, but that this tapers off after the first 12 months. 

Still want to do the maths? A more accurate way of calculating doggie age is subtracting two from your dog’s current age, multiplying it by four and adding 21. 

4. Can my dog tell when I’m sick or feeling a particular emotion?

They absolutely can. These seemingly telepathic powers often come down to their incredible sense of smell. Dogs are spookily accurate in predicting when their owner’s are sick and or have diseases like cancer. This is because they can pick up on volatile organic compounds in human bodies. 

As for emotions, while your dog may not be able to process the words you use, they can decode your distinct facial expressions and seem to be able to recognise an ‘angry face’ and match it with a correspondingly angry sounding voice. The same goes for other emotions, which explains why a dog might seek to comfort you when you appear sad and play with you when you appear happy. 

5. What does a wagging tail actually mean?

A dog’s tail can act as a barometer for their energy levels and emotion. While most people associate wagging tails with happiness, there are actually very slight cues that distinguish whether your pet is feeling relaxed and confident, aggressive or insecure. Wagging their tails loosely and predominantly to the right, with accompanying hip movements signals a happy camper, while a straight tail pointing up is meant to intimidate and show aggression. Wagging to the left or a tail low or curled between the legs is a sign that they are feeling fearful, anxious or submissive. Watch for other body language cues such as muscle tension or dilated pupils. 

6. Why are dog noses wet?

Because dogs don’t swear the way humans do, they cool off by panting. A specific gland in their nose produces a fluid that helps this happen, which can account for its general wetness. Another explanation is that dogs tend to lick their nose repeatedly to keep it clean. 

7. How can I tell if my dog is overweight?

There are a few simple tests you can do to confirm whether your pet’s weight is in a healthy range. Start by identifying your dog’s waist when it’s standing in front of you. From above, you can view the shape of their body from the back of their rib cage and hips. If it looks like an hourglass, they are a healthy weight. If they look wider around the middle, no visible waist can indicate obesity. 

You can also press down on their rib cage, where you should be able to feel a thin layer of fat covering the ribs. Like the waist, the ribs should be reasonably visible. This healthy fat distribution should also occur on their spine, shoulders and hips. If the fat deposits are too thick and you can’t easily feel their bones, you should consult your vet to discuss how to get your doggie diet back on track. 

8. Do dogs dream?

After about 20 minutes of your dog falling asleep, they typically start to dream. This is especially true of smaller breeds. Twitching, shallow breathing and eye movements are signs your pup is firmly in the land of Nod. As for what they dream about? Experts think it’s all about their favourite routines and familiar behaviours like chasing a ball outside.  

9. How long does a dog’s pregnancy last?

A typically pregnancy lasts about 60 days or so, with each trimester approximately 21 days long. A female dog is only in heat every six months, so mating only occurs within this timeframe. 

10. How good is your dog’s sense of smell?

This is definitely a doggie superpower! Your pet can smell up to 100, 000 times better than you, with 300 million olfactory receptors. Because dogs breathe in and out through different parts of their nose, they are always perceiving new smells. The part of the brain dedicated to smell is extremely large in dogs, particularly in breeds like Dachshunds. 

11. Can your dog tell the time?

Many pet owners will have wondered whether a dog’s days pass in a blur of meals and walks and afternoon naps. However, dogs have circadian rhythms similar to humans, giving them a ‘biological clock’ that allows them to know when it’s night, day or feeding time. Studies seem to suggest that dogs can distinguish when longer blocks of time have passed, such as when they are left alone away from their owner for varying periods. 

However, don’t despair too much about what your pup gets up to when you’re not around. Unless they suffer separation anxiety, most dogs will simply sleep it off. A dog’s sleep-time routine is one aspect of time experience that differs greatly from humans. They tend to wake up frequently throughout the overnight period, with roughly 16 minutes of sleep to five minutes of waking repeated in a continuous cycle. 

12. Do dogs feel emotions like jealousy, guilt and love?

This is a complex question and the answer varies depending on the emotion at hand. When it comes to jealousy, studies have proven that dogs can get a little green-eyed when you show another dog affection. 

Many pet-parents may also think they’ve seen their pup in the throes of a guilty conscience. However, whether or not a dog actually experiences genuine guilt is doubtful. What may appear to be guilt in the moment is likely to be a learned behaviour that your dog adopts when it perceives it is going to be reprimanded. By hanging its head and giving you the full dose of puppy dog eyes, your pooch may hope to soften you up and avoid a scolding. 

And the $64 million dollar question…does your dog love you back? While dogs clearly have a different emotional range to humans, scientists believe that they experience physiological changes when in contact with their owners, including an increase in oxytocin (the ‘love’ hormone). Other studies have shown that the scent of a dog’s owner can activate their caudate nucleus. This is a typical response when dogs, like humans, anticipate or experience things we enjoy. 

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