NOVA "Dogs Decoded" on WXXI-TV

NOVA "Dogs Decoded" on WXXI-TV

Tue, 11/09/2010 - 8:00pm

Pictured: Dr. Lyudmila Trut with a domesticated silver fox in Siberia

Credit: Courtesy of Dan Child/©BBC

NOVA investigates new discoveries in genetics that are illuminating the origin of dogs—with revealing implications for the evolution of human culture as well.

Dogs have been domesticated for longer than any other animal on the planet, and humans have developed a unique relationship with these furry friends. We treat our pets like a part of the family, and we feel that they can understand us in a way other animals cannot. Now, new research is revealing what dog lovers have suspected all along: Dogs have an uncanny ability to read and respond to human emotions.

NOVA "Dogs Decoded" airs Tuesday, November 9 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).

NOVA also travels to Siberia, where the mystery of dogs’ domestication is being repeated—in foxes. A 50-year-old breeding program is creating an entirely new kind of creature, a tame fox with some surprising similarities to man’s best friend. "Dogs Decoded" reveals the science behind the remarkable bond between humans and their dogs and spurs new questions about what this could mean for our relationships with other animal species.



Dog Domestication

I am a senior in high school and I have a final project in which I am looking at the history and the development of dog domestication. This new silver fox experiment has been very helpful so I can get an insight into the process that may have happened so long ago, when the dogs and early humans first started bonding.

Dogs Decoded

I heard about this engaging program today and obviously missed the airing. Will it be repeated?

Dogs Decoded

NOVA "Dogs Decoded" is not on the schedule to be repeated as of now, but it may be in the future or you can purchase a copy at Thank you for your interest in our programming!

I loved this program!

Although I was not able to see the entire program - found out about it through my neighbor, and the program was already in progress! I have a chichuahua. Her name is Bambi. She's about 4 1/2 years old. She's a "rescued" dog - I got her when she was approximately 18 months old. I had another chihuahua (Missy). Sadly she passed away almost three years ago, from kidney failure at almost the age of 17 years! I don't know what would be of my life, if I didn't find Bambi! But it is very interesting, and your program seemed to address an interesting question that I had. Missy and Bambi's personalities are different. Both were very loving to me, but in different ways. Missy was an "omega" dog, she would even not dare to look at my eyes. She would always sleep at my feet - in the bed, of course! - but never even like to be too close to me, yet, always wanted to be close enough were she could watch me. She tended to be closer to me in the winter, seeking warmth from the cold. She was plushier in her hair than Bambi, but could not be classified as a long haired chihuahua. She almost looked like a miniature German Shepherd - her coat markings, but of course, with a chihuahua face. She was extremely tame with other animals, nothing would bother her.

Bambi lives under my skin (and I love it!) She follows me everywhere. Right now, I'm sitting on the Lazyboy, while typing at the laptop located on a small table. Bambi is by my side, her head leaning on my tigh! She always has to have physical contact with me while sleeping. She looks at me in the eye, straight in the eye, not for too long periods, but, she is really a little "alphita". When I take her to walks, she'll bark and run after everything, and everybody! Babies, joggers, cars, toddlers, birds, butterflies, God forbid - pit bulls, German Sheppherds .... the bigger and more ferocious their looks, the jucier her drama! And my heart plummets to the floor! Her hacks go up with everything! With Missy, I took her to outside coffee shops, I sat her on a chair (with a blanket under her ... so nobody can complain). Waiters would love her - and load her with treats, children would ask to pet her! I don't do this with Bambi, or the customers will fly out! She's like Mr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ... so unbelievably loving, yet can transform herself to the point she almost looks like a pit bull whan enraged (she's white, shorthaired, a replica of Chloe, the chihuahua who played in the movie Beverly hills chihuahua)!

Interesting something you mentioned in the program. At the beginning, I even wondered if she was a full-blooded chihuahua. I was even thinking, she could have terrier, and Italian Greyhound genes. Her speed of running wasn't like Missy's. I mean, for example, she would jump to the bed, it wasn't just jumping enough to get into it. Her jump was taller than was needed to reach the bed - like a rocket or a grasshopper! Her paws were more silent, her nails not sounding on the floor, like Missy's would. She is shorter on the torso than Missy was, and much more leggier. Dresses that Missy would wear, would be dragged to the floor with her shorter legs. Bambi wears dog's clothes like a leggy Barbie doll. Bambi's movements are swifter, and her chest deeper - that's where my theory of the Italian Greyhound came about - in addition to her high prey instinct of running and barking to everything that moves. Missy, I used to carry her like a baby -her back in my arms, face up. Bambi, I carry like Italian Greyhounds like to be carried .... almost feels like I carry her like a loaf of bread! That relaxed way of being carried like I did with Missy - she's not comfortable.... she cannot afford to do that!.... she has to be looking where is she going! And she has high leash aggression - even though I don't dare to trust her outside the house without a leash, or she'll dart after a pit bull (I was much more relaxed in that respect with Missy, I would let her go out unleashed with my supervision - any problems, I tell her to stop, she collapses to the floor, belly up, I pick her up easily. Bambi barks when I put her her leash. She has learned for me to put it, accepts it. But seems to be her war uniform. She walks outside, like advertising to everyone in the neighborhood, that a ferocious dog is out!

One thing you mentioned in the program, how dogs, according to their level of aggression, as the foxes started to become tamer through the generations, so did their morphology changed. Well, comparing Bambi and Missy, that might answer why, even though they were chihuahuas, even their body proportions were different. Bambi has gained weight through the 3 years that she's with me, and she weights the same that Missy used to weigh about 11 pounds (they both are not teacups!) Yet Bambi's body still shows her deep chest, is muscular, runs less, but still runs and darts quick. Her head is smaller in proportion to her body. Missy's head had really the proportions like in humans we would see the proportions of a baby. She was a "Senior citizen-dog", well in her advanced years, when people would still stop me and ask me "how old is your puppy"? Nobody asks that about Bambi. Bambi's head size looks more similar to the proportions of an adult human being, as opposed to a baby's. Missy's head used to be larger, and her eyes larger, too! Her body was more rectangular, a little bit like the Corgi dogs, no deep chest. Again, all this led me to the theory of the Italian Greyhound in Bambi. But, I had her DNA tested! I had to answer this question, because I thought her temperamental differences were DNA/breed-related! She's a pure chihuahua - per the DNA test! But seeing the program saying how more submissive animals can have more puppy-like looks, shows the morphological differences even when they are the same species/breeds! This was enlightening, and helped me resolve this questionmystery about the differences between my Bambi and Missy. Probably Bambi has more adrenalin, and her body is better prepared for fights - longer legs to run, more muscle, deeper chest to get more oxygen, etc. By the way, Missy was never tested with her DNA, was a "found" chihuahua, but the vet always said she was a chihuahua. Thank you so much for your program. I always like to read about dogs, yet this program had things I never knew about! Maria Elisabeth Mussenden

NOVA "Dogs Decoded"

We're so glad you enjoyed the program. If you'd like to watch it from the beginning, it's airing again tomorrow, Thursday, November 11 at 9 p.m. as part of our "Evening of Cats & Dogs" on WXXI World (cable 524/DT21.2).