Barkley Says

Barkley Gets Sciencey | Reflections On Dog-ness

Barkley Gets Sciencey | Reflections On Dog-ness

       A gazillion or so years ago, a fish gazed upon nature and asked, “May I be gifted feet? I’d like to walk on land, man.” Nature tilted its head downward, bristly with newfound headgear, moss, fungi, ferns, the works, and said, “Ok. But don’t expect me to do it just like that. I need like, a million-ish years.”

       Fast forward a million-ish years (don’t correct me. I’m a dog, not Bille Nye the science guy) and the fish didn’t just get the feet they wanted, they got paws, claws, pointy headgear that hears literally everything; they became frickin’ wolves with frickin’ fur, except the wolves had a question of their own for nature… “Can I become a couch potato?” Nature tilted its head downward again, this time with a funny looking furless monkey on its back and a body spiked with trees, and said, “Sure, just make friends with this nakey monkey and nature will do the rest. Oh, and what’s a couch?”

       *Record scratch* *Freeze frame* A bunch of years passed and here I am, a wolf in Shih Tzu’s clothing, the couch potato they asked for, except way smaller than they expected with a barracuda-like underbite and a penchant for licking feet. I don’t need to fight for my food. It comes freeze dried inside a refrigerator inside a zippy package, one whose rustling I can hear a mile away (thanks wolves). Gone are the days where I wander in search of a place to sleep; I get a cushy mattress warmed by the sleeping bodies of snoring humans.

       You’re like, I get it; you live a charmed life. But just think how much more charmed of a life you have with another version of me by your side. Our “dog-ness” is the everything nice to your sugar and spice. I mean, we’re the only beings on this planet who can say, “Just think where you’d be without me” without sounding self absorbed.

     In the spirit of reflecting on dog-ness, I'm going to embark on a journey where I put my sciencey headgear on and do a Bill Nye-esque exploration of the coolest parts of dog-ness. I'd cue the theme song, but "Barkley! Barkley! Barkley" doesn't quite have the same ring as "Bill!" times three.


Scientists fact checked the bond you have with your pet, and it's as real as you think.

       I know that I love my pawrents, but there are scientists who think we're fakes, so much so that they decided to quantify our bond by putting us into these noisy tunnel-like things, making us smell rags. Ok, I'm making this sound way worse than it actually was, but *adjusts glasses* I'll describe it like I'm certified to talk about the stuff.

        Scientists discovered that when we're put inside MRI machines and presented with a rag that smells like our person, a distinct area of our brains light up, one that's involved in emotional attachment: the caudate nucleus. Dogs & their humans also take part in what's called the oxytocin loop. Oxytocin is what has been referred to as the "love hormone," a brain signal we fire when we're faced with the animate objects of our affection. And so the oxytocin loop is when your dog looks at you and your oxytocin goes up; and then your dog looks back at you and their oxytocin goes up. The loop never ends and as you know, the love never stops.

 Dog Mom Looking At Her Fur Baby 

Dogs exhibit "pawed-ness," preferring to use one paw more than the other.

     As humans and their dogs know, canines live in a world of preferences. I have a friend who will only eat if you hold the door handle (video here) adjacent to his food bowl (he's a Pointer... Pointers are goofballs). I have another compadre who will let you rub his belly day and night but if you touch his paws, it's game over. It turns out preferences go even farther beyond a pet's quirky habits; most dogs favor one paw over the other and so display "pawed-ness" rather than ambidextri-pawedness. And, get this: female dogs are more likely to be right-pawed, while male dogs tend to favor their left. It's even thought that the side dogs favor is a sort of emotional barometer, the left being linked to feelings such as fear and angst, while the right is a reflection of more pawsitive emotions like the overwhelming joy a dog feels when he destroys a toy advertised as "indestructible."

Dog Licking Window with Paw Up

As dogs evolved with human intervention, they acquired the ability to generate a wide array of expressions and so have more robust facial muscles than wolves.

      You've gotten the eyebrow before. The stink eye. The I'm-going-to-stare-through-your-soul-until-you-feed-me gaze. Your best furry friend is brimming with expressions that put their emotions on full display. So even though we may not talk, we speak through a cacophony of facial twitches. Putting us dogs and our wolfy counterparts in comparison, dogs tend to raise their eyebrows far more intensely than their grizzly forebears do. It's thought that humans may have needed this mode of facial communication to know if their canine companions were in need of help; Eye and ear wiggles are where dogs signal to their owners that something's amiss. And because of certain shifts in pups' facial anatomies that arose as they evolved alongside humans, canines yield a more childlike appearance and so when humans look at them, reading their loving facial expressions like the doting eyes of a child, they can now know they're onto something when they call them their fur babies.

Your furry friend is thought to have an internal compass, a 7th sense called magneto-reception wherein dogs interpret Earth's magnetic fields as directional signals... Am I sounding like a scientist yet?

       You've heard the story: Scruffy Jake Gyllenhaal finds his way home after a harrowing month of worried humans pasting lost dog posters all over town (If you were confused, Jake is the name of a dog. And he doesn't like to take baths either). One would think that it is simply Jake's sense of smell that led his way home, but scientists may have found another tool at pups' disposal: magneto-reception.

       Dogs may actually be able to read Earth's magnetic fields and use it to distinguish north from south and so on. And I don't mean to sound like Keith Morrison on another episode of Dateline (well maybe I do), but that's not all. *ominous music* Your pooch might be putting those fields to use as they're pooping on fields (inception). It's thought that many breeds poise themselves along the magnetic north-south axis as they do their squatty potty thing and poo. So the next time you're at a party and run dry of things to say, there's a factoid you can pull up.

Dog Gazing at a Beach


       Now that I've laid your dog's idiosyncrasies bare, you can gaze down at your dog (or up... If you have a Great Dane) and fully appreciate them like a watch-maker acknowledges the fruits of his craft. Caninekind is the harvest of humankind and an uncommon harvest at that, one that forged a relationship unlike any other observed in the animal kingdom. It is one thing for a subset of beings to carry on their own species by procreating; it is a whole other for them to author a unique animal that's distinct from themselves so they can live in symbiosis with it. So the next time your dog is pooping along the north-south axis, eyebrows furrowed, staring straight at you with eyes twinkling of oxytocin, just know that some far away ancestor of yours is to blame for their greatness and think how lucky you are to be able to experience it.

Dog sitting on skateboard

       Stayed tuned for another episode of "Barkley Gets Sciencey." I woof you, friends!