The Secret Life of the Dog
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The Secret Life of the Dog

2010, Nature  -   77 Comments
Ratings: 8.17/10 from 152 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.

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77 Comments / User Reviews

  1. José de Anchieta

    t is a pity that such a video does not have English subtitles so that foreigners have a complete understanding of the content.

  2. Civic space.

    tribes in the Amazon take all manner of animals as pets.

    please investigate outdoor dog lavatories. please pick up after your dog every time.

  3. Lynsey

    Very interesting but I found some of the experiments extremely cruel and infuriating!!! Stealing wolf cubs from their mum and raising them in the house to see if they would behave like dogs?! I could have told they wouldn’t behave like dogs - they are wild animals!!! And that awful farm with all those poor silver foxes locked in tiny cages? Absolutely disgusting! And for absolutely no real useful reason either! Why do we need to know how long it takes to domesticate animals? We don’t! I was quite appalled when I saw this.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. Layla

    Dogs are cool and u are training them really good

  9. 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.

  10. Zakkaria

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. dog catel


  15. Tony

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

    1. Marty

      the treat is under both bowls

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. Brandon Beaith

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

  19. Kameron Cregar

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

  20. 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!

    1. 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?

  21. 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


    hmmm dogs with a bit of mustard !!!!

    1. 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 ..........

  23. Ellenfrodo

    My heart belongs to them..infinately

    1. gatekeeper444

      What a beautiful sentiment.

  24. Guest

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. Teddy Mcd

    And the what?

  29. Teddy Mcd

    ya - done on a grill. - LOL

  30. Ben Ji

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

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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

  35. 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!

  36. david121090

    so do dogs have a soul?????

    1. Gary V

      No & neither do Humans

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  37. Brandon Beaith

    i love dogs

    1. Gary V

      Me too hotdogs.

    2. Teddy Mcd

      Moi aussi

  38. 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

    1. Tim OLIVER

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

  39. Stephen Wood

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

  40. 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.

  41. Malaclypse_the_Younger

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

  42. Guest

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

  43. 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!

    1. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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...

    3. Nwttp

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

    4. 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.

    5. 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...

    6. Guest

      it got started with the Dogma! lol

    7. 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.

    8. tomregit

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