Horizon – The Secret Life Of The Dog: Bona Fide Brilliance

January 6, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

4.5dog300HORIZON: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE DOG: Wednesday 6th January, BBC2, 9pm ALERT ME

Everyone knows that tired adage about dogs being man’s best friend. How many times have you heard that trotted out?

The Secret Life Of A Dog could have been one of those nauseating talking head documentaries where owners professed their sickly-sweet goggled-eyed love of their furry friends and insisted that their pet had nigh-on psychic powers.

Thankfully, it’s the opposite; it’s a detailed look at the roles dogs play in our lives and an examination of exactly how they came to have such a close relationship with humans.

There is a little bit of owner interview here, but only as a background to some hard scientific digging.

Anyone that’s ever owned a dog will realise that they are particularly good at picking up human moods. New scientific research reveals that dogs really can read moods as they tend to look at the right side of our faces first, the place where humans first look.

And correspondingly, humans can identify about seven distinct types of bark. Next time someone calls you crazy for talking to your pooch, you can tell them they’re wrong; we really can understand each other.

As all dogs’ common ancestor, the grey wolf, doesn’t bark at all; it seems that this is all a product of their domestication, something which we’ve been doing for thousands of years. It’s only recently that molecular evidence shows that this process has gone on far longer than we thought – 100,000 years or more.

It’s fascinating stuff; not only are dogs faithful companions but it seems that they were also essential to our move from hunter/gatherers to the development of pastoral society– we wouldn’t have been able to maintain control over large flocks without their help. Get this: No dogs, no civilization.

It goes even further than social interaction; the same chemical is released when mothers are breastfeeding babies when we pet our dogs.

This chemical has been shown to produce contentment by lowering heart rate and blood pressure. The programme makes a bit of leap by suggesting that this indicates having a dog will make you live longer – surely most people that own a dog have to walk it, which would account for healthier heart in dog owners anyway? It’s a minor gripe though, the information is constantly absorbing.

But what factors led to the transformation of wolves into dogs? This is examined in depth; various experiments (including a fantastic one which shows you can breed tame silver foxes) show that tameness is genetically hardwired and that upbringing has little effect on the base level aggression of dogs.

It’s a brilliant piece of television and explains why we’re constantly amused and delighted by them – as they get more tame, various physical “cute? features become more prominent, triggering an unstoppable urge to nurture. That explains why a video of a cute puppy falling asleep will get more youtube hits than Barack Obama’s Yes We Can speech.

Not only are they great friends and companions but dogs are even helping us understand ourselves medically – certain diseases have now been genetically identified simply because they’re easier to spot in dogs. Bloody amazing.

I’m sounding like a right spod now, so I should just say that if you have any interest at all in our slobbering chums, then you shouldn’t miss this absolute gem. Now, whosah-boyden?

Tara says:

I watched this last night and thought it was fantastic. It just goes to show how much dogs can pick up from humans and visa versa. We have problems with our rescue dog and he clearly picks up on our mood/feelings. I have heard before that dogs can also detect a rise or fall in you pulse. They are amazing creatures and I am sure we have a lot more to learn from them.

Coral says:

Thanks, it truely was an amazing insight into how dogs and humans read each other, and have a bond that really does exist scientifically now as well!

I didnt like the fact that the FANTASTIC experiment which started in 1959 to bread tame silver foxes means keeping wild foxes locked up in cages all their lives whilst being poked and prodded !! ANOTHER CASE OF HUMANS BELIEVING THEY ARE GOD AND CAN CHANGE NATURE TO SUIT THEMSELVES !! I found it distasteful and basically wrong, there were many sheds full of foxes Im amazed the RSPCA havent closed it down . Its like a mad experiment gone wrong and should be shut down, surely they have the necessary info by now and have no need to continue this. Is it just me but these so called scientist seem to get so carried away on tests they seem to forget that they are dealing with a life form with feelings and keep the experiment going for far too long when in effect no new facts are found just a repetition of what has been deduced already ! Move on.. let the foxes go ..a wild animal is more beautiful in the wild … Dogs are domestic and we dont need any experiments to tell us this !! Why cant these scientists go and do something useful .I love dogs I dont need someone to tell me this..or why . Stop poking and prodding the animals !! Im totally against these unproductive experiments .