Everyone knows at least a little about dogs, or they at least know they love them. But there’s probably a lot you don’t know about man’s best friend, including where that phrase comes from!
Read on to learn the answer, and 20 other amazing facts you never knew you didn’t know about dogs.
1. Every dog has a unique nose print, in the same way, that human fingerprints are unique.
There are even many apps tracking lost dogs by their nose prints.
2. Dogs were first domesticated 15,000 years ago – before humans had even developed agriculture
The domestication of the dog predates agriculture. Unlike other domestic species which were primarily selected for production-related traits (like how much meat, milk, or egg they produce), dogs were initially selected for their behaviors.
3. Dogs are a rare example of animal altruism
They are known to help people and other animals even when there is no immediate benefit to themselves – an example of animal altruism. This is exceedingly rare in animals, one of the few other known examples is the common vampire bat.
4. Rowlf the Dog was the first Muppet to make regular television appearances
Rowlf the Dog was the first Muppet to reach national stardom as a cast member of The Jimmy Dean Show (an hour-long variety show hosted by country singer Jimmy Dean) from 1963 to 1966.
5. Livestock guardian dogs have been bred globally
Livestock guardian dogs have been bred by cultures around the world to live with, protect, and herd cattle, goats, sheep, poultry, and other animals with no help from their farmer-owners.
6. There are over 350 dog breeds worldwide
Today, hundreds of dog breeds exist, ranging from tiny 4-pound (1.8 kg) Chihuahuas (the smallest dog breed in the world) to the huge English Mastiff (officially the world’s biggest dog breed, weighing as much as 200 pounds/90 kg).
7. In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the pilgrim Yudhishthira refuses to enter Heaven if it means abandoning his loyal dog
“The dog must come with me,” said Yudhisthira.
“That is not possible,” said Indra (the king of Devas -gods- and Svarga -heaven- in Hindu mythology). “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”
Yudhisthira replied: “In that case, I do not seek heaven. The dog was my faithful companion and I cannot abandon it. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven will mean nothing to me in comparison to its grief. It has done nothing to deserve abandonment and had none of the weaknesses of my wife and brothers. If it does not deserve to go to heaven, then neither do I.”
And so he turned back.
The story ends with a happy ending, though:
“Stop!” cried Indra. “None have the qualities that you possess, O Yudhisthira! The dog is Dharma [himself], from whom you have descended!”
And the dog had transformed into the God of Dharma (also known as Yama, the Hindu god of death and justice – Yudhisthira was a follower of Dharma) and blessed Yudhisthira for his complete lack of selfishness and dedication to righteousness in all circumstances.
8. Saint Bernard was originally bred by monks in the Swiss Alps to help rescue stranded travelers
However, they never carried barrels of whiskey (or any other alcoholic beverage) around their necks to revive them. It’s a myth.
The monks of Saint Bernard (The name of the breed originates from the Great St Bernard Hospice, a traveler’s hospice on the often treacherous Great St Bernard Pass in the Western Alps, between Switzerland and Italy) claim that their dogs never carried alcohol. Some of them were trained to bring milk from cowsheds, though, which is where the myth may have begun.
9. Two early film stars, Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, were German Shepherds
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin is an American children’s television program. Beginning in October 1954 until May 1959, 166 episodes originally aired on the ABC television network. It starred child actor Lee Aaker (September 25, 1943 – April 1, 2021) as Rusty, a boy orphaned in an Indian raid, who was being raised by the soldiers at a US Cavalry post known as Fort Apache. He and his German shepherd dog, Rin Tin Tin, helped the soldiers to establish order in the American West.
Strongheart was a male German Shepherd who was one of the early canine stars of feature films.
10. Crossbreeding dogs with wolves creates a shyer, more nervous animal, not a more aggressive one
A wolf-dog hybrid is called the “wolfdog”. They aren’t born aggressive by default, as most people believe. It’s a misconception. Aggressive tendencies, if any, can be seen in the hybrid which may be fear-induced. Because of fear, violence, or any other type of abuse, the wolfdogs can be unpredictable and hard to control – but that’s also the case for all the other dog breeds.
11. Stories of humans turning into wolves date back at least to ancient Greece
But most modern werewolf lore originated in a 1935 film called “Werewolf of London”, directed by Stuart Walker and starring Henry Hull as the titular werewolf.
12. The Rhodesian Ridgeback, named for the distinctive line of hair on its spine, was originally bred in Zimbabwe to hunt lions
They did not attack the lion outright, though, but harassed it by darting in and out with quick snaps and confusing the animal until the hunter shot it.
13. Dogs are not descended from modern wolves
The two species share an ancient, unknown predecessor species.
14. Snoopy made his Peanuts debut on 4 October 1950
Since his debut, Snoopy has become one of the most recognizable and iconic characters in the comic strip.
15. Man’s best friend
The phrase “man’s best friend” is credited to several sources, including Frederick the Great of Prussia, the French philosopher Voltaire, and American poet Ogden Nash.
16. An extinct British breed called the Vernepator Cur was used to turn roasting spits in 16th-century kitchens by running in a small wheel, like a hamster
It was a compact and strong dog that had a huge amount of energy and endurance.
17. In Homer’s Odyssey, only Odysseus’ dog Argos recognizes him when he first returns home
Excerpt from the Odyssey:
“As they were speaking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him.
In the old days, he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas.
As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master.”
18. Only 25% of the world’s dog population are pets
The rest are feral, stray, or community dogs.
19. An estimated 77 million people in the U.S. own at least one dog
So their number is more than most countries’ populations! It’s the most popular pet in the United States.
20. Many ancient European cultures explained howling winter winds as ghostly hunters and their barking dogs traversing the sky
21. TV hero Lassie was always played by a male dog
Despite Lassie being a fictional female dog!
- Animal Altruism? on the Psychology Today website
- “10 Best Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds” on the Marvelous Dogs website
- “Wolf to Dog: Scientists Agree on How, but Not Where” on the New York Times website
- Opportunity landed on Mars on January 25, 2004 - January 25, 2023
- The first Uranus flyby was performed by Voyager 2 on January 24, 1986 - January 24, 2023
- Neptune became the outermost planet on January 21, 1979 - January 21, 2023