The Secret Life of the Dog

2010, Nature  -   74 Comments
Ratings: 8.32/10 from 119 users.

The Secret Life of the DogWe have an extraordinary relationship with dogs - closer than with any other animal on the planet. But what makes the bond between us so special?

Research into dogs is gaining momentum, and scientists are investigating them like never before. From the latest fossil evidence, to the sequencing of the canine genome, to cognitive experiments, dogs are fast turning into the new chimps as a window into understanding ourselves.

Where does this relationship come from? In Siberia, a unique breeding experiment reveals the astonishing secret of how dogs evolved from wolves. Swedish scientists demonstrate how the human/dog bond is controlled by a powerful hormone also responsible for bonding mothers to their babies.

Why are dogs so good at reading our emotions? Horizon meets Betsy, reputedly the world's most intelligent dog, and compares her incredible abilities to those of children. Man's best friend has recently gone one step further - helping us identify genes responsible for causing human diseases.

74 Comments / User Reviews

  1. cjpiti

    Personally, I believe that somebody way back in time was quite simply dyslexic. Think about it, Unconditional love, always forgiving, just wanting to make you happy. I'm CERTAIN that if someone were to research it further they would find that " GOD" is, well DOG! If nothing else its a more believable
    story than the hundreds I've heard. Just a thought.

  2. gobacktobedamerica
  3. gobacktobedamerica

    A "very important guy" even says we're carnivores... this documentary is missing several important fact verifications.

    I aint very fond of the animal experiments aka. nazi fur farm wannabes (to get a "better understanding" of dogs) either. Poor foxes and the other animals they were using for fun facts.

    Some parts made me cry, most parts made me laugh, a few parts made me think.

  4. Guest
  5. Guest

    I haven't watch the doc yet but what you write caught my attention.
    You say: to say that we couldn't have become civilised without them is pure fantasy. It is because of our ability to domesticate dogs & other animals that we became civilised.
    I see a contradiction here, in both phrase you say that because of our ability to domesticate dogs we became civilised, which seem to agree with what you seem to disagree.

  6. Guest
  7. Guest

    They sure show the same qualities as described by humans. May be it is because of our raising of dogs that we invented the GOD we have. Apparently it goes way to watch this doc.

  8. Guest
  9. Guest

    Dogs and other Canine are the "most spread smart animals" in the world and some of the most dangerous non domesticated. Are we going from monkey to human to werewolf, sure a good plot for a novel!

  10. bb
  11. bb

    dogs domesticated themselves. it was a partnership that benefited them far more than us. there are now millions of them that nature would not naturally sustain. it was manipulation of man for self-preservation, not man-made.

  12. Guest
  13. Guest

    Possibly the most interesting doc i ever watched on dogs. Very interesting. Makes me think of all kind of hypothesis.

  14. Malaclypse_the_Younger
  15. Malaclypse_the_Younger

    This sounds almost exactly like the "Dogs Decoded" doc, which is also on this site... which was excellent.

  16. Alfredo Serra
  17. Alfredo Serra

    i would only like to mention that americans are really self centered. any relation with the word GOD and DOG its silly. first of all english word for GOD comes from the german GOTT (yes your old germanic ancestors) who spreaded to england from deutscheland and finland and etcland. and then to ameriland.
    second, americans as a culture didnt existed when dogs were domesticated so why whould the word GOD DOG be related.
    third dogs are only that way because of artificial selection... no matter how you try to sell it, it all comes down to that...

  18. kirastianity
  19. kirastianity

    This was "dogs decoded." A summarized version of it, but the content is the same. Anyways, I'm still very proud of being a dog owner.

  20. Nwttp
  21. Nwttp

    Um... When did someone mention America? Or is it that you always start any non related comment with "americans are really self centered"?

  22. Stephen Wood
  23. Stephen Wood

    Did ya hear about the dyslexic, agnostic , insomniac? He stayed up all night wondering if there really was a dog.

  24. Guest
  25. Guest

    Dog and God are not american words, they are english words.
    But you are right, God and Dog were most likely not named for their ressemblance in attitude, although in english a lot of words are descriptive of their meaning.

  26. Teddy Mcd
  27. Teddy Mcd

    Good plot for a novel no doubt. Also, check out crows for smarts - fascinating. And then towards the end of the novel the werewolf morphs into a crow that has escaped from Farmville into the real? world via your screen.

  28. Gary V
  29. Gary V

    My point was that it is our intelligence & our ability to domesticate animals that allowed us to become civilised. the person in the doc said that without dogs we could not have become civilised & I disagree because it is through our resourcefulness & intelligence that if dogs did not exist then we would have found another way to hunt & herd animals & still have become civilised. Although I think that dogs have been a very useful tool for man, this doc is trying to give them slightly more credit than they deserve & taking away some of the credit that Humans deserve for having the intelligence to use them to our advantage.

  30. Guest
  31. Guest

    If we came from chimp, wonder why we didn't domesticate them? Wouldn't that have been easier? Or were we the product of self domestication from chimp and became enemies of our mirror image and then grew apart completely?
    I am just questionniing myself?
    Any opinions?

  32. Jessica Lauren Tedder
  33. Jessica Lauren Tedder terms of pointing to the treat as proof that dogs understand gestures--dogs have a much more sophisticated sense of smell than apes or humans. The smell alone of the treat could have directed them to the right place

  34. cjpiti
  35. cjpiti

    Well Fredo, whould you believe that my ancestors spreaded from Italia. Whould you also believe that a dyslexic atheist believes there is no DOG. Lighten up whould ya. GOD DOG is a cool palindrome though it should be GOOD DOG. And by the way, I'm not proud to say I'm American, although I'm proud to say I am self centered. My GODs names are HERSHEY & LEO and they are telling me to take them out, silly as that may sound...

  36. Guest
  37. Guest

    it got started with the Dogma! lol

  38. tomregit
  39. tomregit

    Azilda: We did not "come from chimps". We share a common ancestor; you may think this is petty thing, but there is a big difference.

  40. tomregit
  41. tomregit

    Well, I heard about a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac who was awake all night wondering about the existence of Dog. ;0)

  42. Guest
  43. Guest

    Humans did not come from chimps, chimps, apes and humans had a common ancestor.

    Scientists estimate that humans branched off from their common ancestor with chimpanzees about 5-7 million years ago. Modern humans marched out of Africa around 50,000-100,000 years ago.

  44. Guest
  45. Guest

    I totally agree with the fact that what i wrote is debatable (some would agree with any of it). I first wrote if we come from monkeys and then switched to chimps and i also didn't forget to write IF as none of those fit my view anyway!
    I was just wondering why we didn't domesticate apes?
    and as i said i guess i expressed my question out loud.
    I realize we come from a common ancestor, may be an alien from some other planet (hard to prove or disprove), or may be from a grain of dot like a pearl.

  46. Guest
  47. Guest

    @Tomregit...when it comes to discovering my self, it is never considered petty by me, it is my definitive goal.

  48. Epicurus
  49. Epicurus

    @azilda, we didnt domesticate chimps for a number of reasons. first, dogs are more scavengers than chimps so they would be more willing, dogs are also less intelligent which would make them easier to train or manipulate with conditioning, and finally chimps are very very strong and when they disagree they can really hurt us.

    also chimps and man didnt live in such close proximity to one another like man and wild wolves.

    good question though.

  50. Guest
  51. Guest

    I believe humans are autocreated. This suggest that we are not only physically autocreated but also mentally autocreated, we have created this reality, this membrane surrounding us energetically.
    We either came from a dot and the dot came from nothing in which case God is Nothing as in "God is what was before was was".....OR nothing exist and i am a drop of GOD imagining this reality with you and you and you and you.
    I am simply GOD and so are you!


  52. Brandon Beaith
  53. Brandon Beaith

    i love dogs

  54. david121090
  55. david121090

    so do dogs have a soul?????

  56. kate
  57. kate

    The Border Collie in this docu is amazing. But our Border Collie, a normal sort of mutt, is just about as intelligent. We have to spell out lots of words otherwise he knows what we're talking about and acts on it. If he hears someone he knows on the phone, he'll 'ask' to see them (getting his collar and your coat for example). What's remarkable is his ability to choose to show sorrow and ask for forgiveness if he's been naughty. Even before we spot the wrong he's done, he'll pre-empt our possible annoyance with distinct body language and wanting to cuddle us. Something equally remarkable is that he will also understand when you're upset or hurt and will actively try to cheer you up by coming to cuddle you or putting his paw on your lap or bringing you his favourite cuddly toy. These empathic abilities are just in him, we had no expectations of such high level behaviour at all.

    This is a fascinating docu which shows how we are beginning to respect dogs far more via new research, accurate observation and understanding. The talking head who pontificates that puppies are parasitic on humans is totally missing the point though - he needs HIS head examined!

  58. Tim OLIVER
  59. Tim OLIVER

    True, except for the fact that they also pointed to the bowls with no treats in them and the dogs still obeyed.

  60. Gary V
  61. Gary V

    No & neither do Humans

  62. Gary V
  63. Gary V

    Me too hotdogs.

  64. alastair1
  65. alastair1

    i think it is amazing how the dog would learn language after 5 or 6 months when they learn all their other skills much before then. I wonder how deep the implications go

  66. PavolvsBitch
  67. PavolvsBitch

    Betsy the border collie was the star of this limited docu - borders are my favourite all time canine (although I've never had one as yet) as their innate intelligence shines through, engaging or even demanding human interaction. As for the rest of the docu, it always strikes me at how banal so-called 'scientific explanations' are for emotional/psychic intelligence. But then, mainstream is for dummies. Selective breeding in dogs reflects the same criteria for humans; we're being bred for docility and compliance and that's why the more aggressively intelligent genes in our pool are being targeted as 'terrorists' much the same as the natural fox is labelled 'a dragon' in this film. With humans, of course, being chemically koshed does produce base and primitive aggressive types, so we get the worst of both worlds via scientific engineering.

  68. Ann Patrone
  69. Ann Patrone

    All animals have their own innate intelligence. It's a damn shame we humans aren't more open to realizing that fundamental fact before we troll and slash and burn and experiment on and factory farm and all the other things we do to desecrate the inhabitants of this beautiful planet.

  70. Ann Patrone
  71. Ann Patrone

    I enjoyed this documentary well enough, but I was disappointed that the filmmakers didn't realize that they were trying to judge "intelligence" based on the human model - on living beings that aren't human.

  72. Ben Ji
  73. Ben Ji

    great documentary, dogs sure are smart and can read emotions, sometimes we just don't realize it

  74. Gunnar1961
  75. Gunnar1961

    If there is such a thing as an "immortal soul" (which I am more and more inclined to doubt), it is unconscionably arrogant and irrational to suppose that we humans are the only living beings to possess one. So, if we humans do indeed have immortal souls that survive the death of our physical bodies, it is a very safe bet that dogs have them also.

  76. Teddy Mcd
  77. Teddy Mcd

    WTF - sorry dude but take a look at your inconsistencies in your statement. No need for me point them out - rather obvious. But listen - us thinkers and lovers of the world must wrestle each thought - from glib to solemn. Ain't easy.

  78. Teddy Mcd
  79. Teddy Mcd

    Moi aussi

  80. Teddy Mcd
  81. Teddy Mcd

    ya - done on a grill. - LOL

  82. Teddy Mcd
  83. Teddy Mcd

    And the what?

  84. Gunnar1961
  85. Gunnar1961

    @Teddy Mcd

    No, it is not inconsistent at all. All I was trying to say is that either both dogs and humans have immortal souls or neither of them do. I think the latter is much more likely.

  86. Oneironaut
  87. Oneironaut

    I, for one, welcome our German canine overlords.

    Also, the pointing experiment was a joke. Dogs have a sense of smell that is something like 100,000 times the power of the human sense of smell. I doubt a plastic bowl accounts for that experimental confound.

    Otherwise, interesting stuff.

  88. Donna Jessie Lucy
  89. Donna Jessie Lucy

    Part 3 Interesting but incorrect statement that humans and dogs are both carnivores. They are not. Human are omnivores. Dogs are scavengers. That is how they evolved to be dogs, by scavenging from human waste piles. Biological changes accompnied that: smaller brains, small jaws and teeth etc.

  90. politicalatheist1
  91. politicalatheist1

    What about the agricultural societies that arose in the America's without dogs. It would appear non hunter- gatherer ways of life would arise without our canine friends.

  92. Guest
  93. Guest

    One of the best movies. My heart belongs to them..

  94. Ellenfrodo
  95. Ellenfrodo

    My heart belongs to them..infinately

  96. gatekeeper444
  97. gatekeeper444

    What a beautiful sentiment.


    hmmm dogs with a bit of mustard !!!!

  100. Francois Jobin
  101. Francois Jobin

    each dogs are so different. but each dogs have a true consienceness. they know who they are among us. they really see and feel our emotions and adapt themself on our mood. well I think dogs can see the human aura and they remember our colors patterns when by example someone do a heart attack the electical pattern will change on and in the victim body. and thats is the changing colors in the aura. its only a photon detector that posses dogs

  102. lex lexich
  103. lex lexich

    cripples with a bit of electricity, hmmm !!!


    Yes !!!!! I think we ve got a concept !!! What we need now is a good logo ..........

  106. Jacob On Tour
  107. Jacob On Tour

    The argument is not new! Dogs have been used as herders for a very long time. The Persian sheep dog goes back, literaly tens of thousands of years. It was also used as a guard dog, for hunting, for fur and eating! The point is that without the dog, humans would newer have devoloped beyond very simple hunter-gatheres. Well, just watch the documentary(as I now will), before making such bombastic statements!

  108. KooKookaChoo
  109. KooKookaChoo

    wow, I see a lot of similarities between Betsy's abilities and my dog. She is also (part) border collie (and chow -- weird mix, but she has a polka-dot tongue!). She has an excellent "vocabulary" and I have a few toys that are in multiples - if I hold one and tell her to get the other she does with no problem. I've never tried pictures. I think I'll start training her more in this area, I'm sure she'd love the mental exercise!

  110. Kameron Cregar
  111. Kameron Cregar

    Aphex Twin, Moondog, quite the soundtrack! Dogs are the best.

  112. Brandon Beaith
  113. Brandon Beaith

    I still love dogs...especially my mutts jorge,louie, and ben :)

  114. Rolf_copter
  115. Rolf_copter

    It's funny reading some of the comments. You are all agreeing that dogs are intelligent. Yet all in your own way. I don't disagree that dogs are really, really intelligent. I just believe it's not only dogs. Anyway, something i have come to realize. It could have been dogs that became the top of the food chain. Not us. I also know we are closely related to rats. XD

  116. ulickmcgee
  117. ulickmcgee

    Who is a good boy ,woof.Ha ha.Of course there is no doubt they are clever and intelligent,any animal that can worm there way into a persons bed and have there owners care for there every need is highly intelligent in my book.Or else its just humans are soft in the head ha ha.

  118. Tony
  119. Tony

    i think the dogs are sniffing the treat. under the bowl.

  120. dog catel
  121. dog catel


  122. Marty
  123. Marty

    the treat is under both bowls

  124. Mark Lysons
  125. Mark Lysons

    I watched this right after 'How Many People Can Fit on Planet Earth?' BBC Horizon. I fear with future water shortages, man's best friend might deplete future numbers of canines as we conserve water for ourselves.

    Try to keep them alive!

  126. DMacaoidhSelim
  127. DMacaoidhSelim

    The two border collies I've had have been the smartest of the group--around 15 dogs of various breeds over a 20 year period. They are also a bit nuts-- "busy brains," as my mother would say, in need of intellectual stimulation. Betsy has a blast doing those things. She probably wishes for a harder game, too. Could we be selling them short?

  128. anna miller
  129. anna miller

    Humans can't love each other, so we have animals. The science of relations between dogs and people. The genetics and evolution of the dog, and what it says about humans.

  130. Turnbull McGillicuddy
  131. Turnbull McGillicuddy

    Alfredo Serra you take random pattering too seriously. Try not to criticize until you are much more familiar with a region's idioms, folk lore, pop culture, etc., etc., etc.; it will make you sound more relevant. I doubt anyone in 'ameriland' believes god & dog are somehow intertwined in some kind of godhead. What you are reading is good-natured bantering.

    ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

    P.S.: I realized after reading my post that I too were taking things too seriously. I have counseled myself to purchase a life, but (alas) I was too late to stop the above comment from from entering the blogosphere. Curses, foiled again!

    ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

    P.P.S.: I realized after reading my addendum above that I could have just erased the original post and been done with the whole nightmare, however I an not that far thinking and am forced to live in my regressive hell.

  132. sharon smith
  133. sharon smith

    If this program does nothing else apart from help us understand dogs better so we can in turn care for them better then it can only be a good thing. They have nothing else to do other than to study us, it's only fair if we are going to take on the responsibility of a dog in our lives that we do our best to study them so we can make their lives happier. Too many dogs have rotten lives simply because their owners can't be bothered with them once the novalty has worn off or because they're abused. People should never get a dog "for the kids" ... they're not toys - HAVE DOG - BE RESPONSIBLE. Give them the kind and caring training, direction and care they need. That's what pack leaders do!

  134. Zakkaria
  135. Zakkaria

    Anyone that has never had a dog as missed so very much.

  136. Lovesallanimals
  137. Lovesallanimals

    Perfect comment well made Sharon Smith. Owning a dog is no less responsibility than your first child or even owning another domesticated animal. Don't have one if you aren't prepared to put in the hard work and learn how to look after them, giving them the life they deserve based on thier emotional, physical and environmental needs. That means time, money, love and devotion amongst other things for thier lifetime. Not to mention educating yourself before you have one and constantly learning to improve thier lives once they are with you. There is an overpopulation of unwanted and abused dogs in the world, so let's start there please and put our human intelligence to good use by helping the world's intelligent creatures of all kinds.

  138. Layla
  139. Layla

    Dogs are cool and u are training them really good

  140. Dalida
  141. Dalida

    It seems I'm fully alone with this feeling but I noticed the same tendency in so many documentaries and this one was no exception: the music and the trailer, etc all sound as if we will be going to find out some incredible new information about dogs when in fact the whole documentary said nothing, but literally nothing new. I understand that studies are important but I didn't pick up any remarkable information than the everyday dog owner does not know. What did this documentary actually reveal? I'm very disappointed. Someone mentioned part 3 so maybe this is just the first part in a series and if that's true, maybe the other parts will reveal more interesting and useful information, but I probably won't be watching more of this. For me it was a complete waste of time.

  142. Paula
  143. Paula

    Lots of good info but...they don't read eye movement in each other? News to me! They do it all the time! what in the world are these people talking about?

  144. Connor
  145. Connor

    There's a lot of interesting information in this documentary, but some of the conclusions they draw from observations of canine behavior is just baffling. All assertions are backed by the findings of "researchers" without mention of who those researchers are or where they work. An "experiment" you can perform at home where you show your dog two identical opaque cups, put a treat in one, and then let them find it is described as "proving your dog can understand concepts and use process of elimination."

    ...Yeah, maybe it proves that. Or maybe the dog can smell the treat. Dogs have a really good sense of smell. They can also see, and remember where items are located.

    This was an interesting documentary, but the cost of sensationalizing science often manifests as decreased accuracy of information. That's very apparent in some of these sequences.

  146. Cynthia Chan
  147. Cynthia Chan

    Love this show! It's so interesting, & love seeing all the beautiful dogs. I'm new to dog ownership & am learning some great information! Can't wait to see the shows each week

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