Inside the Matchmaking Service for Cheetahs

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Even from 10 feet away, Pancake's purr is loud. The 4-year-old feline is taking her daily morning walk around the fenced-in cheetah section of Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. I trail behind her with Mikaely Riley, one of her keepers, and holding Pancake's leash is another keeper, Maddy, who has a small white bucket attached to her belt. The buffer zone around Pancake is required: She may be one of Wildlife Safari's cheetah "ambassadors," encountering the public daily in educational sessions and photo-ops, but she's still a cheetah—75 pounds of muscle, claws, teeth, and speed. Maddy periodically reaches into the white bucket, grabs a chunk of raw steak, and throws it to Pancake.

"Just like you put in your stir fry," Riley says.

Pancake was born alone—a single cub, with no brothers or sisters, and her mother abandoned her. In the wild, that would've been a death sentence. But this lucky orphan was born far from the African savannah, at the most successful cheetah-breeding program in the world outside of Africa. At Wildlife Safari—a drive-through animal park located on 600 acres in southwest Oregon that is home to 80 species and hundreds of animals, many of which roam free—the cheetah keepers hand-raised her, tenderly bottle-feeding her milk, affectionate snuggles, and chunks of raw meat. When she was 6 weeks old, they got her a companion: a Rhodesian ridgeback puppy named Dayo, who had been born the same day as she was. As Pancake passes by their joint enclosure, Dayo whines at her. They spend virtually every moment of their lives together. But Pancake is into her walk, and there are a lot of other big cats to see.

She spots a Sumatran tiger in another enclosure and whine-growls, her tail curled between her legs. She's not scared, Riley explains—she's annoyed. "'Hey, that is in my space,'" Riley says. "You can see she’s not running away. If Pancake was scared, she’d run." The tiger barely deigns to acknowledge her, regally indifferent.

Cheetahs have been endangered for decades. Since the early 20th century, the population has declined about 90 percent, from about 100,000 animals to less than 10,000. (One recent study estimates there are just 7100 animals still in the wild.) Its range has been reduced by an equivalent percentage. Cheetahs once roamed nearly all of Africa and much of Asia, but now they're limited to a handful of countries in south and eastern Africa, and in Iran, where the population is thought to be 50. Habitat loss, poaching, and hunting by farmers protecting their livestock continue to reduce their numbers.

That's why cheetah-breeding programs like Wildlife Safari's are so important. Since the 1970s, 214 cubs have been born in Winston. They've found homes in zoos all over North America. There's a good chance that if you've seen a cheetah at a zoo in the United States sometime in the past 40 years, it may have been born at, bred in, or passed through Wildlife Safari.

Two years after cheetahs landed on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's endangered list in 1970, and a year before the Endangered Species Act of 1973 banned their trade, Frank Hart opened Wildlife Safari. Hart was a married California native and father of four daughters who worked in real estate. After repeatedly witnessing poaching on safaris in Africa in the 1960s, he was inspired to create a conservation refuge. "By my third trip, I knew the animals were in trouble," he told the Associated Press in 2003, four years before his death. "The poaching was terrible. It came to a point where you'd be lucky to find these animals in the zoo."

His wife, Barbara, thought the enterprise would be interesting but short-lived: "This was fun, something different and exciting. And of course we always considered it temporary," she said.

Cheetahs were the first animals to arrive at Wildlife Safari, and were soon joined by 30 other species. A year later, in 1973, the first cheetah cub was born.

Today there are 18 cheetahs at Wildlife Safari. The youngest are a pair of cubs that just turned a year old. Cubs stay with their mothers for 18 to 24 months. After that, sisters strike out solo for the rest of their lives, whether in the wild or in a zoo. Brothers stay together for their entire lives, forming incredibly strong bonds called "coalitions." Sometimes unrelated males will form coalitions, too. By pairing the female orphan Pancake with Dayo, the keepers came up with an arrangement that wouldn't be seen in the wild. On the other hand, in the wild, she would've been left to die.

The cats spend most of their daily five hours of consciousness in their large enclosures, sniffing, walking around, and doing enrichment activities like playing ball, solving puzzle toys, or chasing a large slab of meat rapidly yanked by keepers along a wire-pulley system for 300 feet. (Why so little time awake? Because while cheetahs may be the fastest land animals on Earth, they are also one of the planet's sleepiest; like other big cats, they rest about 19 hours a day.) They rotate among the many cheetah enclosures pretty frequently to keep things interesting; exploring new smells and sights is exciting for them.

For a cheetah, Pancake is petite, but she's about average when it comes to her bony frame, which is "just perfect," says Riley. Cheetahs are built to flee, not fight, and a lean weight keeps them fleet of foot. Cheetahs may look fierce—and I recommend you don't mess with one—but if any feline deserves the name Scaredy Cat, it's the cheetah. In the wild, lions take up to half of the kills cheetahs make, and even large birds can scare them off. "They're just not willing to pick a fight," Riley says. "If they get hurt, they can't run, and if they can't run, they can't eat, so it's better for them to give up their food and run away."

Cheetahs mostly hunt antelope and gazelles, but they'll go after a hare or smaller livestock if food is limited. Here, they get one meal a day—dinner—after the keepers have cleaned their pens.

The cheetahs get daily walks on the roads that border the cheetah compound—a fenced-in collection of large enclosures visitors can drive next to see the cats. Each one regularly gets to run free in this space. The keepers close the main gates to the compound, open one enclosure, and let out a single cat, who then visits all the other cat enclosures, sniffing through the fence. They're also taken on strolls through nature trails in the nearby hills, where many additional cheetah pens are located. It's from these hills that the cats can see herds of animals they might spot on the African savannah, among them elephants, brindled wildebeests, Damara zebras, and scimitar-horned oryxes, which are extinct in the wild.

"It's a very calming position for them to be in, just sitting up on the hill and looking out on everything that's around," Riley says. "We think that's why we've had such success with our breeding programs."

Pancake's day is a little different. Because she's one of three ambassador cheetahs at Wildlife Safari—the other two are a pair of 5-year-old siblings named Khayam and Mchumba—she is involved in daily contact with the visitors to Wildlife Safari, who can take a picture near her after learning about cheetah conservation and biology. She often travels for outreach events, including a Boy Scout sock fundraiser held in December 2016 in a K-Mart in nearby Roseburg.

A zookeeper befriends Felix the cheetah on September 30, 1930. Location unknown.
A zookeeper befriends Felix the cheetah on September 30, 1930. Location unknown.
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The first cheetah reportedly born in captivity made an appearance in India in the court of the 17th-century Moghul Emperor Akbar, who hunted with cheetahs the way European royals hunted with dogs. (Imported from Persia, the practice continued in India well into the 20th century.) Cheetah comes from the Hindu word chita ("spotted").

Akbar was reportedly surprised by the cub's birth. His surprise itself seems surprising; he was said to have kept as many as 1000 cheetahs, so it seems reasonable to assume some would mate.

But Akbar was more insightful about cheetahs than he may have realized. It is notoriously difficult to get cheetahs to breed in captivity. (In the wild they seem to do well enough; it's loss of habitat and prey that have ruined their populations.)

The cheetah made its first zoo appearance in London in 1829, but the animal died within a year. Nearly 50 years later, cheetahs first came to America as exhibition animals in New York City's Central Park Zoo, where they debuted in 1871. By 1954, 139 cheetahs were exhibited in 47 facilities in Europe and North America. Captivity apparently did not sit well with the cheetahs, because most did not live more than one year, and no new cheetahs were born.

Much of cheetah reproductive biology remains puzzling and unknown. But judging from what we do know, their biology doesn't make breeding a sure bet for them.

Some 10,000–12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, cheetahs nearly became extinct; some estimate that as few as a dozen cheetahs survived the climate change that killed off so many other large animal species. The legacy of that population bottleneck lives in their genes today. Compared to other big cats, cheetahs have far less genetic diversity, and they're more susceptible to a host of diseases.

Male cheetahs have poor-quality semen, with a low sperm count and an unusually high number of deformed sperm. Female cheetahs have a rare kind of estrus. It's spontaneous and unpredictable, with no known regular cycle. "They can go into estrus for one day and then be done, and then go into estrus four days later," Riley says.

A few things can trigger a cheetah to start ovulating, according to Riley. One is hearing a male call. Another is a big geographical move. In the wild, female cheetahs have larger ranges than males, so one theory is that a cheetah might go into estrus when she enters a new territory to increase the chances that a male might sniff out her hormonal changes. "Apart from that, it's just what their body wants to do, I guess," Riley says.

A cheetah pregnancy can't be detected by a hormonal test, as ours can. The only way to determine a cheetah pregnancy is to do an ultrasound or x-ray after 51 days—more than halfway through the gestation period of 90–95 days. That's a long time for impatient biologists to wait before confirming a pregnancy is even there.

And then there's parenting. Cheetahs aren't known for their stellar parenting skills, and there's a great deal of individual variety among mothers. Some dote; others are middling to indifferent; and still others seem to be completely overwhelmed and stressed out by their cubs—a feeling many new human parents can sympathize with. Fathers aren't around at all.

And even potentially caring cheetah moms are likely to walk away from a lone cub because their bodies can't produce milk unless they have multiple offspring.

On top of all of that, when it comes to mating, cheetahs are exceptionally choosy animals. They won't breed with just any old cheetah they happen to encounter. Compatibility matters.

So how does cheetah mating go down at Wildlife Safari? Cheetahs like to sniff and be sniffed. They leave scent markers with feces and urine, and rub their bodies against surfaces, "making everything smelly," Riley says. If the keepers suspect a female cheetah is ovulating—which is difficult to know since they rarely exhibit behavioral indicators, but sometimes they spray urine, and they can test feces and urine for traces of estradiol, a hormone produced during ovulation—they remove her from her pen and put a male cheetah in there and let him sniff around. (Mirroring life in the wild, male and female cheetahs at Wildlife Safari only come together to mate.)

The highly sensitive male cheetah nose is generally the most reliable tool cheetah keepers have to know whether a female is ovulating. "If he's interested—if he smells those estrus hormones in her—he will start calling to her," Riley describes. "They do this hilarious call—it's called a stutter-bark, because that's exactly what it sounds like. It's really loud. You can hear them clear across the park."

She continues, "If he's reacting really strongly, we'll put her in the pen next door or along the fence line so they can talk to each other and see if they're going to get along." A positive sign is if she stutter-barks back. "If she's getting what we call flirty—she'll act all slinky, she'll roll around on the grass, she'll flick her tail a lot—we'll take that as a good sign. If they look really happy and they look like they're going to like each other, then we put into the same pen, and then we watch, and hope for the magic to happen."

The male will follow the female, calling after her, and at a certain point she'll carefully lay down in front of him, and he'll mount her.

Like all cats large or small, cheetahs have barbed penises. "It can't be comfortable," Riley says. "If there's yelling at the end, that's actually a good sign, because that means it's gotten where it needs to go."

If the cheetahs get along especially well, they might spend the night together and have several breeding sessions, which increases the chance of conception.

But sometimes the magic doesn't happen at all. In that case, "we put them back home and call it a day," Riley says. "And we try the next day with someone else."

cheetah at Oregon's Wildlife Safari stretching on a log
Wildlife Safari

When it comes to making cheetah cubs, the cats have some help. Cheetah matchmakers have been quietly working behind the scenes for decades at zoos and breeding centers across North America to increase cheetah populations. The biologists behind the matchmaking don't call it that, of course. They call it a Species Survival Plan (SSP).

An SSP is a cooperative effort by member institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. (Only 10 percent of the animal facilities in the U.S. that the FDA licenses have animal welfare standards high enough to be part of the AZA.) The goal of an SSP is to increase genetic diversity and manage the demographic and long-term sustainability of specific species. More than 500 animals have SSPs, which are managed cooperatively by the 230 member institutions.

Founded in 1984, the cheetah SSP looks after 340 cheetahs spread across 57 institutions; they're a mix of zoos, holding facilities, and dedicated breeding centers closed to the public, of which there are about a half-dozen, Dan Brands, the general curator of animals at Wildlife Safari, tells Mental Floss.

Some have a single cheetah. Others have many more. The biggest population is currently in Florida's White Oak Conservation, which as of early September had 31 cheetahs.

Breeding centers like White Oak and Wildlife Safari are important because zoos often simply can't give cheetahs the space they need to accommodate their selective mating practices. "Your typical zoo doesn't have 10 acres to dedicate to a breeding program that's quite this space intensive," Brands says. "Breeding facilities have an ample amount of space that's able to offer that mate selection that's healthy for these animals."

One zoo that has seen a lot of cheetah cubs is Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), located in Washington, D.C. Right now there are 13 males and 15 females, 10 of them cubs. SCBI's resident cheetah expert is Adrienne Crosier, who, for the past four years, has been the project leader of the cheetah SSP, coordinating cheetah-breeding efforts across the 57 member institutions. The group holds conference calls eight times a year and one annual planning meeting, this year being held in Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Texas in October.

The breeding centers also have in-person meetings, Brands says. "We sit down at a table and say, ‘OK, here's where we're at, here are our goals, and how do we meet the needs of the SSP? What's working? What's not working? How can we improve upon what we're doing?' That communication is just invaluable."

The overarching goal of the SSP is simple: make more cheetahs. (More formally, it's to "develop a self-sustaining North American population" of cheetahs, Crosier says.) But the matchmaking services needed to reach this goal are far more complex. The trick is not only to match cheetahs in a way that will increase the population's overall genetic diversity, but also to pair up cheetahs that will actually like each other, at least for the times it takes to mate. 

On these conference calls, the zoologists have long talks about individual cheetahs: their personalities, their behaviors and tendencies, their likes and dislikes, how previous mating attempts have gone, and any problems or issues. The zoologists have this information at hand because each facility keeps a detailed history of every single cat's life.

"We try very carefully to match temperaments, so if we're working with a zoo that has cheetahs housed kind of close to lions and there's also a train going by every day, we want to find some cheetahs that are extremely mellow and are used to lots of different experiences so they do well in that kind of environment," Crosier tells Mental Floss.

If there's a good match, a cat's keepers take it by van or plane to the new facility. "The SSP arranges wherever they will go for the good of the species," Riley says. "For example, if we have a ton of females that are coming of age, then we send them out to a facility that has a ton of males but doesn't have any great females. And we’ll kind of shuffle around like that. And in the same way, we'll have other facilities send in other females or males [to us] depending on who we have and who's related to who, so that we have a really great, genetically variant population."

Each cat's biography is included in what might be considered the cheetah breeders' matchmaking bible: the International Cheetah Studbook [PDF]. The global managed cheetah community reports cheetah metrics to the studbook, Crosier says.

Compiled annually by the Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund, the studbook is a global tally of every known cheetah in captivity on the planet. Each cat is assigned a unique four-digit number. Associated with that number is an animal's entire personal and family history: sex, name, date and place of birth; previous owners and dates of transfer of ownership; cubs they've had and who they mated with; and the names, studbook numbers, date of birth and origins of both mom and dad, if they're known.

In 2015, the most recent report year, there were 1762 cheetahs in captivity worldwide, in 283 known facilities in 48 countries. (There are likely a small number of cheetahs being illegally held, but for obvious reasons, they aren't being reported.)

Despite all these efforts at matchmaking, there's often a subset of the 340 cheetahs in the North American population that simply don't seem to be interested in making more cheetahs. Some females won't mate, and some males show no interest. "So for those animals in our population that either can't or won't breed naturally, we're attempting to develop reliable assisted-breeding techniques," Crosier says.

Some techniques are similar to those used in human fertility clinics, including artificial insemination. "In human medicine, artificial insemination is timed, so that the female receives hormone injections at the right time," Crosier says. "The doctors know exactly when to put the sperm into her reproductive tract to have a successful insemination. We are attempting to do those same things in cheetahs."

Crosier's own research focuses on cheetah reproductive efficiency. "We study physiological traits, fertility issues, cryopreservation in males, ova quality in females, and pregnancy establishment," she says. One of her recent studies looked into the hormonal manipulation of cheetah ovarian cycles. They slipped into the cheetahs' food a short-term supplement of the hormone progestogen, which helped improve the ovary's response to an injection of altrenogest (a synthetic progestin commonly used in horse breeding). The technique also decreased the cats' level of the hormone cortisol, which is associated with stress. A relaxed, non-stressed cheetah has a far better shot at successful reproduction.

At SCBI, they have a recent example of this truth: Six months ago, a mellow-by-nature cheetah named Hope gave birth to five cubs. Born at SCBI herself in 2013, Hope got pregnant during her first-ever encounter with a male. "She has been an absolutely amazing mom," Crosier says. "Just really easygoing." Her cubs are as chill as she is, which, according to Crosier, makes sense: “If mom is really nervous, that will translate to the cubs."

cheetah relaxes at oregon's wildlife safari
Wildlife Safari

Back at Wildlife Safari, Dayo eagerly awaits Pancake's return to their enclosure. Like brother cheetahs, Pancake and Dayo will spend the rest of their lives in a coalition; unlike the others, she's female and her brother is a dog. As they age, the two will stay relatively the same size, making it easier for them to wrestle, chase, and play without seriously injuring each other. Considering that Rhodesian ridgebacks and cheetahs in captivity have about the same life expectancy (into their teens as opposed to seven to nine years in the wild), they probably have about another decade of companionship ahead.

Riley suggests I take a photo with Pancake. Maddy gently leads her towards me on the leash. Pancake sits in front of me, her tail a spotted C curling in the grass, eyeing me up in profile, her mouth hanging gently open as she gathers the scent of a new human in her world. This close, her purr sounds like powerful motor. I stay still: Pancake may be bony, but she still has teeth and claws the size of switchblades. Riley takes my phone and snaps some photos of us.

Another keeper pulls up in a pickup truck, and they put a crate on the ground. Riley opens the crate door. They are going to put Pancake into the crate and drive her back to Dayo. Surprised, I ask why they don't just walk her back. After all, she's intimately connected to the keepers who hand-raised her. If any cat were going to follow human marching orders, it would be Pancake. She loves when the keepers talk to her, and she shows her affection by grooming them. (Cheetahs don't groom for hygiene.) She'll give them little kisses on their hands or rub up against their legs. That's when they know they can reach down and touch her.

Despite that bond, if Pancake were to decide she'd rather not walk back but instead linger outside, taking in the fresh scents, they'd have to wait too, Riley says. They have their methods to encourage the cats to behave in certain ways, but in the end, they're still wild animals—even Pancake. 

Nevertheless, she slowly lopes inside the crate. Riley closes the door. The keepers load the crate onto the truck.

Riley says they haven't decided yet whether they'll try to breed Pancake. Her affection for humans—and one dog—is established, but she's as choosy as any other cheetah, so it's unclear at this point whether she'd even be interested in mating. While the cat's unusual family structure may be settled, her potential love life remains a question mark.

Invasive Snakehead Fish That Can Breathe on Land Is Roaming Georgia

Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A fish recently found in Georgia has wildlife officials stirred up. In fact, they’re advising anyone who sees a northern snakehead to kill it on sight.

That death sentence might sound extreme, but there’s good reason for it. The northern snakehead, which can survive for brief periods on land and breathe air, is an invasive species in North America. With one specimen found in a privately owned pond in Gwinnett County, the state wants to take swift action to make certain the fish, which is native to East Asia, doesn’t continue to spread. Non-native species can upset local ecosystems by competing with native species for food and habitat.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is advising people who encounter the snakehead—a long, splotchy-brown fish that can reach 3 feet in length—to kill it and freeze it, then report the catch to the agency's fisheries office.

Wildlife authorities believe snakeheads wind up in non-native areas as a result of the aquarium trade or food industry. A snakehead was recently caught in southwestern Pennsylvania. The species has been spotted in 14 states.

[h/t CNN]

42 Amazing Facts About Dogs

fongleon356/iStock via Getty Images
fongleon356/iStock via Getty Images

Does this even need an introduction? It's cool facts about dogs, so you're already sold. Cuddle up with your best friend (or borrow a best friend's best friend) and detox from the world with interesting items about the animal that American humorist Josh Billings called "the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself."

1. DOGS LICK PEOPLE AND OTHER DOGS FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS.

A small dog licks the nose of a woman while lying in bed.
Fly_dragonfly/iStock via Getty Images

Puppies will lick their mothers or owners as a sign of affection or to indicate that they're hungry. As adults, licking becomes a sign of submission to an authority figure. So if your dog licks you, they're probably trying to let you know that they want something—probably food and/or attention.

2. Licking ALSO MAKES dogs FEEL BETTER.

Licking your face releases endorphins that calm and relieve your dog's stress. But if a dog is constantly licking itself, they might be bored or have a skin problem you need to have checked out by a vet.

3. DOGS CIRCLE UP BEFORE LYING DOWN ON INSTINCT.

If we spun around three times before taking a nap it would seem like a waste of time or adherence to ancient superstition, but for dogs it's a matter of old habits dying hard. Dogs do it as a behavior evolved from their wild ancestors. Their nightly routine entailed (ahem) pushing down tall grass which scared off bugs or snakes while forming a small bed. Turns out spinning achieves a lot.

4. YOU SHOULd NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE IN A CAR.

According to the American Kennel Club, a dog should never be left alone in a car—with no exceptions. Not only will your dog miss you but, according to Bright Side, the temperature inside cars increases rapidly regardless of whether or not the car is parked directly in sunlight, and dogs overheat extremely easily!

5. PUPPIES ARE FUNCTIONALLY BLIND AND DEAF AT BIRTH.

On day one, a puppy's eyes are firmly shut and their ear canals closed. Why? In brief, it’s part of an evolutionary trade-off. Since pregnancy can hurt a carnivore's ability to chase down food, dogs evolved to have short gestation periods. Brief pregnancies meant that canine mothers wouldn't need to take prolonged breaks from hunting. However, because dog embryos spend such a short time in the womb (only two months or so), puppies aren't born fully developed—and neither are their eyes or ears.

6. dogs understand the power of "puppy eyes."

A black and white dog's head resting on a dining table, its eyes looking up.
fotyma iStock via Getty Images

According to a study from 2017, dogs raise their eyebrows (to make “puppy eyes”) and make other dramatic facial expressions when they know humans are watching. Shelter dogs have learned this trick, too; pups who employ the puppy eyes trick tend to get adopted more quickly than dogs that show other behaviors, like wagging their tails.

7. DOGS IMPROVE YOUR ATTITUDE.

That feeling of happiness you get while watching a bunch of puppies fall all over each other is genuine. Studies have found that spending time with dogs, especially in high-stress situations, can ease tension in humans. They can also lower your blood pressure (and they like going on walks, which helps you, too).

8. ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE BREEDS HAS BEEN POPULAR SINCE THE RENAISSANCE.

Löwchens are a petite, long-haired dog that have been a popular breed since the Renaissance, and even showed up in some paintings from that period. As they're rare today, a Löwchen will cost you around $10,000 in some parts of the world.

9. DOGS CAN UNDERSTAND UP TO 250 WORDS AND GESTURES.

Young girl talking to her dog
shironosov/iStock via Getty Images

The average dog is estimated to be as intelligent as a 2-year-old child.

10. A WET NOSE being a sign of a dog's good health is a myth.

It's a common misconception that your dog’s wet nose is a sign of good health, but the real reason for the moisture on Fido’s nose is a little murkier. One explanation is that dogs repeatedly lick their nose throughout the day to keep it clean. Another is that the moisture helps them cool off. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do, so they pant and let off extra heat through their noses. A special gland in the nose produces a clear fluid that helps them cool down faster.

11. dogs KNOW HOW YOU FEEL.

A red-haired woman holds a sleepy black Dachshund dog.
IanaChyrva iStock via Getty Images

Dogs can read your mood. A 2016 study from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paolo found that dogs can read and respond to the emotions on human faces, even in photographs.

12. dogs have an amazing sense of smell.

A dog can smell anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the average human. Canines have 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly 6 million. Moreover, the part of the brain dedicated to smell is 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

13. dogs BREATHE DIFFERENTLY than humans.

While people breathe in and out the same way, canines breathe in through their nostrils and out through the slits found on the sides of the nose. This system circulates air so that the animal is always bringing in new smells. Breeds like the bloodhound also have the advantage of floppy ears that push up new smells.

14. DOGS GET JEALOUS.

Anyone with two dogs will probably tell you that dogs definitely feel jealousy—and it’s true! A 2014 study confirmed that your pet gets a little miffed when you start petting other dogs on the side.

15. THEIR FEET MIGHT SMELL LIKE POPCORN.

If you think your dog’s feet smell like popcorn or corn chips, you’re not alone! Dogs have a lot of bacteria and yeast that grow on their paws as a result of moisture that gets caught in the many folds and pockets between their toes. These microorganisms create a variety of smells. The bacteria Proteus or Pseudomonas are the likely parties guilty of giving your hound’s feet that distinct tortilla smell. There’s no need to go wash your pet’s paws just yet, though—a subtle smell is completely normal.

16. GUIDE DOGS DO THEIR BUSINESS ON COMMAND.

A black and red sign that says "Clean Up After Your Pets"
amanalang iStock via Getty Images

Guide dogs are extremely well trained and only go to the bathroom on command. Usually the owner will have a specific spot for the hound and use a command word like, “go time” or, “do your business,” so they’ll know when and where to clean up.

17. DOG NAMES HAVE CHANGED A LOT THROUGHOUT THE YEARS.

In 2018, the most common dog names were Bella, Coco, Charlie, Lucy, Becks, and Max. If you’re curious about how much dog name trends change, here are some popular ones from Medieval times: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus, and Mopsulus.

18. DOGS DIG TO BEAT THE HEAT.

A Dalmation dog digs a hole in the san on a beach
boschettophotography/iStock via Getty Images

When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to cool down.

19. DOGS ALSO DIG TO HIDE THEIR STUFF.

Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. Note: If your dog Smylfeste's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem.

20. DOGS BOW TO SIGNAL ATTACK PRACTICE.

Wondering why dogs bow? In many cases, it serves an important evolutionary function. A prime example is the play bow: If you've ever seen a dog crouch forward with its elbows on the ground and its rear end in the air, wagging tail and all, then you know what it is. The position is the ultimate sign of playfulness, which is important for a species that often uses playtime as practice for attacking prey.

21. SEVERAL dog BREEDS ARE CAT-FRIENDLY.

A grey kitten sleeps in the paws of a Golden Retriever dog.
chendongshan iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a cat owner looking for a dog that won’t fight with your feline, look for one of these breeds: Japanese Chins, Golden Retrievers, Papillons, Labrador Retrievers, and Beagles. Of course, every dog has its own personality—so just being one of the above breeds doesn't guarantee that Fido and Fluffy will become instant BFFs.

22. LABRADOR RETRIEVERS ARE THE MOST POPULAR PUREBRED DOGS IN AMERICA

According to the American Kennel Club’s official list, labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and golden retrievers have been the most popular purebred dogs, in that order, since at least 2014. Labs have taken the top spot in the organization's rankings of most popular breeds for 24 consecutive years—the longest reign of any breed in AKC history.

Coming in at spots 4 and 5 for 2018 were French bulldogs and bulldogs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mutts are pretty popular, too.

23. THE NAME BEAGLE could HELP EXPLAIN THEIR LOUD BARK.

The word Beagle most likely comes from the French word begueule, which means “open throat.” The name is pretty accurate: Beagles have impressive vocal cords that are much fuller and louder than those of other dogs. Beagles are so talented at vocalizing, they do so in three different ways: There’s the standard bark for everyday things, like the doorbell or getting a new treat. Then there’s baying, which sounds a lot like doggy yodeling. This throaty yowl is used on the hunt to alert fellow dogs that they've picked up an interesting scent. Finally, there's the forlorn howl. Beagles will howl if they are sad, bored—or if others are howling first.

24. HUNTERS IN THE MIDDLE AGES HAD TINY BEAGLES.

A beagle puppy against a blue background
Sreborn/iStock via Getty Images

Hunters in the 13th century employed pocket beagles, which are exactly as tiny and adorable as they sound. These miniature pups were only about 8 to 9 inches tall. Today, beagles are about 13 to 15 inches tall.

25. FRENCH BULLDOGS CAN'T DOGGY PADDLE.

French bulldogs’ origins are murky, but most sources trace their roots to English bulldogs. Lace makers in England were drawn to the toy version of the dog and would use the smaller pups as lap warmers while they worked. When the lace industry moved to France, they took their dogs with them. There, the English bulldogs probably bred with terriers to create bouledogues français, or French bulldogs.

As a result of their squat frame and bulbous head, French bulldogs can’t swim, so pool owners should keep a watchful eye on their pups.

26. HOT DOGS ARE NAMED AFTER WEINER DOGS, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

A Dachshund in a hot dog costume.
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The deli product hawked by street vendors was originally known as a dachshund sausage because it resembled the short-legged hound. How the name switched is up for debate, but some believe the name was shortened to hot dog when a befuddled cartoonist could not spell the original name.

27. DOG TAILS HAVE THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.

A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. A loose wag from side to side means the dog feels relaxed and content. More fervent wagging with hip movements means the dog is happy or saying hello to a loved one. If the tail is straight up, it is a sign of confidence or aggression; down and curled between the legs usually means fear or submission.

28. TESTING DOG INTELLIGENCE IS BASED ON LEARNING NEW COMMANDS QUICKLY.

Border collies, poodle, and German shepherds are considered to be among the smartest breeds of dog. To be placed in the top tier of intelligence, breeds must understand a new command after only five repetitions and follow the first command given to them 95 percent of the time.

29. SOME DOGS WILL LOOK LIKE PUPPIES THEIR WHOLE LIVES.

Although rare, some dogs can have pituitary dwarfism, just like humans. As a result, the dogs are puppy-like forever, keeping their puppy fur and staying small in stature. While this condition makes them look like adorable teddy bears, it comes with a whole slew of health problems.

30. SOME DOGS CAN HOLD EGGS IN THEIR MOUTHS WITHOUT BREAKING THEM.

A yellow Labrador Retriever lying in a field of wheat.
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Golden Retrievers have “soft mouths,” meaning they can carry things in their chops without damaging them—an important skill for canines tasked with retrieving their masters' hunting trophies. They’re so gentle, in fact, that some can be trained to hold a raw egg in their mouths without breaking it.

31. DOGS SMELL Each others' BUTTS TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR NEW ACQUAINTANCES.

Dogs sniff rear ends as their way of asking, “Who are you and how have you been?” Canines can find out a whole slew of information from just a whiff. The secretions released by glands in the rump tell other animals things like the dog’s gender, diet, and mood. It’s sort of like talking with chemicals.

32. LABRADOR RETRIEVERS AREN'T FROM LABRADOR.

They actually come from Newfoundland. In the 18th century, Greater Newfoundland dogs bred with smaller water dogs to produce St. John’s water dogs. These smaller canines looked a lot like modern day Labs, but with white muzzles and paws. The St. John’s water dog eventually went extinct, but it served as the ancestor for the Labrador retriever.

33. YOU CAN GET ALL FLAVORS OF LAB FROM ANY FLAVOR OF LAB PARENTS.

Regardless of the parents’ color, a single litter of Labs can include black, yellow, and chocolate puppies. There are two genes that cause the pigmentation of the coat, so the variation can be just as common as different hair colors in a human family.

34. CORGIS ARE GREAT FOR HERDING CATTLE.

A Corgi runs toward the camera.
Lisa_Nagorskaya iStock via Getty Images

The Welsh used the short dogs as herders as early as the 10th century. In those days, pastures were considered common land, so there were no fences. In order to keep a farmer’s cattle together and separated from other herds, corgis would nip at their legs to herd them. Because of their closeness to the ground, corgis had easy access to the cows’ ankles and were difficult targets of the retaliatory kicks of cattle.

35. DOGS HAVE LEFT- OR RIGHT-DOMINANT PAWS—JUST LIKE HUMANS.

They also have different blood types, and they can get laryngitis from barking continuously.

36. DOG'S MOUTHS AREN'T "CLEAN."

A common myth is that a dog’s mouth is a magically clean place. This is not the case: A canine mouth is brimming with bacteria. Fortunately, a lot of those germs are specific to the species so you don’t have to worry when your pup goes in for a wet kiss. That said, there are some similar bacteria, so make sure your pet has up-to-date shots.

37. DOGS HAVE DREAMS.

Smaller dogs also tend to dream more than larger dogs, and older dogs more than midlife dogs.

38. WE'RE LEAVING A LOT TO OUR DOGS.

An estimated 1 million dogs in the U.S. have been named primary beneficiary in their owner's wills. (Humans are still in charge of the money, though.)

39. THERE IS A DOG WITH SIX TOES.

A Lundehund standing on green grass.
CaptureLight iStock via Getty Images

Meet the Lundehund—which translates literally to puffin dog—has six toes on each foot. They're helpful for climbing the jagged, slippery rocks were puffins like to make their homes.

40. BLOODHOUNDS ARE THE MOST SKILLED SMELLERS.

A bloodhound’s sense of smell is the strongest among any dog breed. In fact, a bloodhound’s sense of smell is so strong and impressive that it's admissible as evidence in a court of law.

41. THE LABRADOODLE'S BREEDER THINKS IT WAS A MISTAKE TO CREATE THEM.

Sad Labradoodle dog.
dmbaker/iStock via Getty Images

In 2019, Wally Conron —the 90-year-old dog breeder who developed the Labradoodle— said that creating the designer dog breed was his "life's regret." "I opened a Pandora's box and released a Frankenstein['s] monster," he added. We'll add: An adorable, playful Frankenstein's monster.

42. RATES OF EUTHANASIA ARE DOWN.

In 2019, The New York Times examined data from shelters in 20 major American cities and discovered that rates of euthanasia—the practice of terminating the life of animals, often by lethal injection—has dropped by an average of 75 percent in recent years. In Houston, for example, 57 percent of animals brought into shelters in 2012 were put down. In 2018, that number dropped to just 15 percent. In Philadelphia, the rate decreased from 36 percent to 13 percent in the same timeframe. Phoenix went from 46 percent to just 4 percent. Other cities, including Los Angeles and New York, demonstrated similar declines.

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