With over 400 recognised breeds, dogs can be found in more shapes, sizes and varieties than any other mammal on the planet. During the last few years, scientists have delved deeper than ever before into the canine mind and body and the results are mind-blowing. This one-off, heart-warming and revealing documentary narrated by Martin Clunes, explores the truth behind dogs’ super powers, their undying loyalty and the incredible intuition of man’s best friend.
Using intimate macro photography, thermal images and slowmotion footage, Secret Life of Dogs examines how dogs see, smell and experience their world. We learn why dogs bark, how they curve their tongues to drink water, whether they are left or right-pawed, why they lick your face, whether they dream, how a husky avoids frostbite – even at temperatures of minus 60, why they pant after a run and how they appear to understand what you are thinking.
The documentary follows the development of immensely cute Labrador puppies, from birth through to their own pregnancy, including training to be a Guide Dog for the Blind and also hears personal accounts of dogs that have saved lives, rebuilt marriages and detected diseases.
Dogs can hear noise from four times further away than humans and they owe their super-powered noses to the fact that the part of their brain that controls smell is 40 times larger than a human’s. Putting these abilities to good use is Max, one of the most successful search and rescue dogs in the country. Max is a wilderness air-scenting dog, trained to pick up human scent so that he can find missing people. Max recently saved the life of 79-year-old Margaret Haverson from Exeter, after she became lost in overgrown woodland trying to find a short cut home after missing her stop on the bus. Margaret lay under a tree in the woods for three days and two nights in freezing conditions. She explains: “I kept getting tied up with the brambles, then it got cold and dark so I laid under a big tree…” The police, volunteers and helicopters combed the area trying to find her, before Max was called in. Margaret says: “I was very cold and very relieved when I was licked all over by a dog. He was so happy.” Max’s handler Alex Lyons explains: “The dogs are very, very efficient. They are probably equal to about 10 people searching.”
Navy officer Allen Parton suffered a severe head injury while on active duty in the Gulf war. It left him confined to a wheelchair, unable to talk and with half his memory gone – he didn’t recognise his wife or children. But a chance meeting with a one-year-old Labrador called Endal changed everything. The pair became 24-hour companions, with Endal aiding Allen with day-to-day life and even reconnecting him with his family. However, it was when Endal and Allen were shockingly hit by a car in the dead of night that Endal showed his true devotion, earning him the Victoria Cross for Animal Bravery. Allen explains: “Though I was knocked unconscious out of the wheelchair and Endol had been stunned by the vehicle as well, he got up, pulled me into the recovery position, he retrieved his blanket from under my wheelchair and covered me with it. And in the dark he found my mobile phone and he bought it to my face and then he made the brave decision to limp off and go to a nearby hotel and raise the alarm.”
It is proven that people live longer if they have dogs and the documentary also explores the positive impact dogs have on our physical and mental health. We meet Magee who makes weekly visits to patients at a London children’s hospital to aid their recovery and wellbeing.
Dog owner Maureen Burns firmly believes her collie cross Max detected her breast cancer before the doctors did. She describes his odd behavior: “He would come up and touch my breast with his nose and back off, so desperately unhappy, with such a sad look in his eyes.” Maureen had a lump in breast but both a scan and a Mammogram result were negative. However, a surgical biopsy later detected cancer. Maureen had it removed and on her return from hospital Max returned to old self instantly. She says: “It was unbelievable, the change in him. Instant. I love Max so much, and I owe him so much.” Research confirms that dogs can smell the tiny volatile chemicals given off by cancerous tumours. Remarkably, dogs can even be taught to let diabetics know when their blood sugar levels are low and to detect the early warning signals of severe allergic reactions.
Tonight, 9pm, ITV1.