How Karelian Bear Dogs Are Keeping Wildlife Out of Harm's Way

JT Humphrey
JT Humphrey

Rooster can’t see the bear, but he knows it’s close. He squirms beneath his collar, cocking his sharp-eared head back to twitch his nostrils toward the Sun, taking in as much mid-summer air as he can. The musky odor polluting the clearing stirs an instinct in him perfected by 12,000 years of selective breeding. When tracking a bear, Rooster can detect that scent from up to three miles away—but tracking isn't the reason he was brought out today.

Suddenly, shouts bounce off the pine trees edging the clearing in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A black bear lumbers out of the box on the flatbed truck parked there and Rooster's handler frees him. The dog shoots forward at the huge bear, barking and lunging, forcing it into the forest.

But then, the bear comes to complete stop. It turns and rises up on its hind legs to face its pursuer. Rooster stands face to face with the menacing predator, barking louder than ever, dodging the bear's swipes.

After less than a minute, the bear collapses to all fours and hurries into the woods, determined to get as far away as possible.

Rooster is a Karelian bear dog, a breed originating in Finland. “They have an innate ability to deal with a bear on the ground,” says Heather Reich, a game biologist and human-bear conflict specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “The breed has no desire to actually hurt or kill a bear, they just want to nip at it a bit.”

Rooster works with Reich at the NDoW. It's one of a handful of agencies in the U.S. with at least one KBD on its bear management team.

When someone in the state reports a bear that’s getting into trouble—maybe by visiting the same trash cans every night, or sleeping under someone’s front porch—it’s up to NDoW to remove it from the human-populated area and release it somewhere safe. But if the conditions of the release aren’t just right, the animal is likely to return to the same spot, putting people and itself at risk.

That’s where Karelian bear dogs come in. A bear is used to being at the top of the food chain, and when it’s confronted by a barking dog, even one a fraction of its size, it probably won't forget the experience for a while. Instead of associating the location near its release with easy-to-access food, it remembers the scary animal that chased it and finds a new place to hunt and forage.

Many dog breeds can be trained to track and chase big game. What makes KBDs unique is their fearlessness in the face of a predator that’s bold enough to fight back. “When that bear stops and turns on the dogs, most dogs are going to turn tail and run home, with a bear following behind it,” Reich tells Mental Floss. “The Karelians stand their ground and let the bear know they aren’t going anywhere.”

 

Conflict with bears falls into two categories: bears threatening or hurting humans and human property, and humans disturbing bears in their natural habitat. These clashes go back tens of thousands of years. In the Paleolithic era, both bears and humans sought shelter in caves and ate similar foods, possibly competing for those resources. Chauvet Cave in France, famous for its 32,000-year-old paintings, contains crude depictions of prehistoric bears. Bear fossils, including skeletons, paw prints, and a single skull someone had displayed on a high ledge, have been recovered from the site as well. The skull’s prominent placement could be an indication of an early human perception of bears as powerful, anthropomorphic beings. While revering bears, Paleolithic humans also hunted them for their meat and fur, and saved their bones to make weapons.

Dog chasing bear.
JT Humphrey

Bears disappear each winter for hibernation and reemerge in the spring, and in North America, they became symbols of life, death, and rebirth in Indigenous cultures across the continent. While some Native Americans (very carefully) hunted bears for meat, the practice was avoided by others out of awe and respect. Traditions among the Flathead people of Montana dictate that shamans receive their knowledge from bears, and according to a 1996 paper, members of the Blackfeet tribe, also from Montana, “would rather starve than eat the flesh of a bear.”

In Europe, however, bears were regarded as something to be conquered and exploited. In addition to traps and weapons, dogs were used to capture big game and eventually, people began breeding them for that purpose. Bears had been completely eradicated in some regions by first century CE.

When Europeans started arriving in North America, they brought their attitudes toward bears with them. The bear fur trade was a booming business in the 18th century, and bear meat was a common ingredient in recipes. In the early 19th century, residents of Medina County, Ohio declared a “war of extermination” on wolves, bears, and other predators threatening their livestock. Twenty-one bears were massacred in the span of a single Christmas Eve night in 1818.

While bears were being subjected to unregulated slaughter, humans were chipping away at their territory. Forests were leveled from coast to coast and replaced with settlements, forcing many bears to seek food and shelter in human-occupied land and thus increase their chances of getting shot. By the early 1900s, black bear numbers in North America had dwindled from approximately 2 million before colonization to around 200,000. Grizzly bears were hit hard by the Europeans' westward expansion: Between 1850 and 1920, the bears' distribution—which had once stretched from modern Alaska to the southern tip of Mexico—decreased by 95 percent. That population’s range shrank 52 percent in the next 50 years.

The trend began reversing in the 1970s as evidence mounted that native species were facing extinction due to human activity. President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in 1973. The ESA defined an endangered species as “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” and a threatened species as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” Under these definitions, black bears and grizzlies were considered endangered in some states, and federal agencies now had an obligation to protect them.

 

That didn’t mean the old perception of bears as vicious man-eaters vanished completely. These two schools of thought—one that said every bear that crossed paths with humans was dangerous, and another that said bears should never be harmed or disturbed—grew into equal and opposing forces that only made conservationists’ jobs more difficult.

“When animals come into conflict against humans, it can often create an attitude against the species, and it can reduce the support we have for conservation, especially when it comes to predators,” says Rae Wynn-Grant, a conservation biologist with the American Museum of Natural History who studies black bears in the Lake Tahoe Basin. “Even the mere threat that predators might cause conflict, especially in areas with a lot of ranching or a lot of livestock, can lead to policies that ultimately are put in place to decimate the population.”

There are many situations that prompt nuisance bear complaints: One of the most common is bears rooting through unlocked garbage containers. In parts of Florida—the nation’s leader in bear conflict reports, with an average of 5500 per year—residents are required to lock up their waste in special bear-resistant bins.

In other cases, bears aren’t content with searching for meals outside people’s homes. Last year in the Lake Tahoe Basin, which is home to a black bear population of roughly 500 today, 14 bear break-ins were reported in a single town, according to The Sacramento Bee. The trespassers did thousands of dollars' worth of damage, destroying furniture, raiding refrigerators, even breaking a gas line in one home. And when bears get too comfortable on human property, they pose a threat to people as well. When one Lake Tahoe City resident confronted a bear in his cabin last summer, he came out of the encounter needing 12 staples in his head and 20 in his stomach.

Houses and garbage cans can theoretically be kept safe from bears with better security, but free-range cattle are harder to protect. In 2015, a rancher from Island Park Idaho told the Capital Press that grizzlies had killed 14 of his cows in four years, and he blamed local wildlife officials for not doing more to stop them. “We need to have methods to protect our livestock,” Brian Mays told the Press. “This is my livelihood.”

But not every bear conflict leads to bloodshed, or even an overturned trash can. Wynn-Grant tells Mental Floss that most bear conflicts that are called in are actually just sightings: In other words, a person sees a black bear wandering through their backyard or crossing their street, but otherwise keeping to itself, and they decide to report it because they feel it doesn’t belong there.

Without assets like Karelian bear dogs at their disposal, wildlife officials have a few options when someone calls in a nuisance bear [PDF]: They can visit the site of the incident to check things out, capture the bear and release it some place far away, or they can euthanize it. That third option is a last resort for most agencies, reserved for bears that break into houses and act aggressively towards people. Capture and release is the preferred method for dealing with bears that have become a problem—by developing a taste for bird seeds or human trash, for instance—but haven’t proven to be dangerous, though this strategy presents its own set of challenges.

In the early days of bear management in the 1970s, wildlife officers relocated bears hundreds of miles away from the sites where they were found. That way, the thinking went, the bears wouldn’t return to the same trash cans that had attracted them in the first place.

But relocation didn’t really work. No matter how much distance was placed between bears and their problematic feeding grounds, many were able to find their way back—sometimes in a matter of days. The protocol for bears that return to the same spot after relocation was (and still is) euthanization. As for the bears that didn’t return, some had trouble finding food in their new environment, and many starved to death. It wasn't until the early 2000s that the first bear management groups added Karelian bear dogs to their relocation plans. And they were primed for the challenge.

 

Fossil records indicate that an ancestor of the Karelian bear dog first emerged in northeastern Europe around 10,000 BCE. An early member of the spitz family—cold-weather dogs characterized by pointed ears, curled tails, and thick coats—these pets lived alongside Vikings in Scandinavia and were even buried with their masters.

Handlers walking dogs.
Nils Pedersen, Wind River Bear Institute

As the centuries progressed, the dogs took on a specialized role as hunters of big game. Dog owners in Karelia (which is part of Russia and Finland today) bred them for traits such as speed, strength, shepherding ability, and most importantly, fearlessness. Like other hunting breeds, KBDs were trained to silently track prey alongside a hunter, and then, once they had picked up the scent, pursue it on its own. Loud barking or baying would indicate to the hunter that the game had been cornered and was ready to be claimed.

Karelian bear dogs are still used to hunt this way in Finland. In other rural parts of Europe where bears are common, they're used as guard dogs. It was the latter use of KBDs that in the early 1980s caught the attention of biologist Carrie Hunt.

After earning a masters degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, Hunt became was one of the first biologists to use aversive conditioning on wild bears, a method in which an animal is trained to associate a place or behavior with pain, fear, or discomfort. She help pioneer the rubber bullet and pepper spray conditioning methods, and was looking for new approaches when she learned of a certain dog breed protecting field researchers from polar bears in Norway. If KBDs were being used to scare bears away from people in Europe, Hunt thought, why couldn’t they do the same with nuisance bears in the U.S.?

In the 1990s, Hunt imported her first Karelian bear dogs to the U.S. from Finland. Those dogs became the foundation for the Wind River Bear Institute, a new facility where Hunt bred and trained the dogs for aversive conditioning. Today, the Montana-based organization connects dogs to wildlife management groups as local as Glacier National Park and as far away as Japan.

Not every puppy that’s born at Wind River grows up to shepherd bears. “People hear the name ‘bear dog’ and think this dog will be a good dog with bears, and it’s more the exception to the rule,” says Nils Pederson, the wildlife service dog program coordinator at the Wind River Bear Institute.

When the dogs are just a couple months old, they undergo a series of tests that determines the path they take.The initial trial may involve crawling through a confined area, something working bear dogs encounter frequently when chasing bears out from under people's houses or tracking them in their dens. Later, trainers may lead puppies to an upright metal barrel to see how they react in the presence of something large and imposing. Once they’ve graduated past that stage, which takes three weeks on average, the dogs are tasked with sniffing out animal carcasses. This gives trainers a chance to see which dogs are capable of tracking down wild animals, or at least which ones are willing to try. “We’re not only evaluating the pup’s personality in new and interesting situations, we’re also determining their level of boldness, what motivates them, and then, ultimately, how do they react in a frightening situation or a startling situation that involves bears,” Pederson tells Mental Floss.

A pup that whimpers when confronted with an object several times its size doesn’t automatically flunk out—the tests are just as much about evaluating instinct as they are about teaching the right behaviors. The process plays another role that’s vital in this line of work. When the top dogs move on to work with real bears, they’ll be expected to perform a job where the wrong move or the slightest hesitation could lead to serious injury or worse. By following such a rigorous training and evaluation process, the trainers at Wind River can be confident they’re not sending any dogs into the field that don’t belong there. Pederson says, “You need a dog that’s smart enough not to get itself killed.”

About 20 to 40 percent of every litter produced at the Wind River Bear Institute goes on to work as bear dogs, with clients shelling out $4000 per animal. Some of the few existing bear dog programs receive no state funding, so officials have to look else for their budget: Washington's program is "budget neutral," with funding coming entirely from outside donations, and Nevada relies on donors and money from department employee's own pockets to maintain its bear dog program.

Educating the public is also an important part of the Wind River’s commitment to reducing bear conflict. The institute brings the KBDs to places in need of a bear management plan, where they can raise awareness of the issue and show people what can be done to tackle the problem. The dogs at Wind River are trained to be friendly, which means they can be brought into elementary schools and meet kids who may be hearing about bear conflict issues for the first time.

Karelian bear dogs are still rare in the U.S., but Hunt's project has inspired more breeders around the country to raise the dogs with wildlife conservation in mind. Many of the KBDs that are placed with bear management groups are never used for aversive conditioning—in Alaska, for example, they locate grizzly bear dens in potential oil fields so companies know which areas to avoid. But in places like Nevada, Washington, and Alberta, Canada, federal agencies are using the dogs as a deterrent.

 

The Nevada Department of Wildlife Karelian Bear Dog program germinated in 2001, when the department's black bear biologist Carl Lackey took home Stryker, the grand-puppy of two KBDs from the Wind River Bear Institute who was bred by a biologist in Montana. During his time with the department, Stryker aided in the capture and release of over 500 bears and traveled by snowmobile, chairlift, and helicopter to reach vital dens.

Dog chasing bear.
Nils Pedersen, Wind River Bear Institute

When Stryker died in 2014 at age 13, he left a vibrant legacy. He sired Rooster, the 12-year-old KBD who's helped capture and release just as many bears as his father and is known as the "heart and soul" of the department's bear dog project. Rooster's own offspring have gone on to work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Yellowstone National Park.

Today the NDoW's Karelian bear dog program comprises seven dogs, with the division's two leaders—Lackey and Reich—caring for each animal as their own. "They are members of our families and are often the center of attention," Reich says.

The team includes three of Rooster's offspring (Orca, Dazzle, and Sputnik), along with three puppies purchased from a breeder in Ontario (Kondii, Gimbal, and Banjo). Rooster is approaching retirement age, but the next generation of dogs continues his work every year when hungry bears start crawling out of their hibernation dens and into people’s dumpsters.

When a problem bear in Nevada has been tranquilized, tagged, and caged in a barrel for transport, the NDoW uses a few aversive conditioning strategies upon its release. First officers create a frightening situation for the bear by shouting at it or using noisemakers—a barking Karelian bear dog helps amplify the confusion. Once the bear has left its barrel, it’s pelted with rubber bullets or balls. This pushes the bear into a sprint, which means the Karelian bear dog on the scene can be sent to chase after it.

Research has shown that the dogs are crucial to this process. For a 2002 study co-authored by Lackey, 62 problem black bears in the Lake Tahoe basin were captured and fitted with radio collars. The bears were either released without intervention (the control group) or released with common deterrents like loud noises or rubber bullets (the experimental group). Half of the bears in the experimental group were also chased by hounds or Karelian bear dogs during their release. According to the study, bears who were chased by dogs took approximately 100 days longer to return to the urban areas than the bears who weren’t. “The only significant variable … was the use of dogs,” the paper notes. When paired with other strategies, such as shooting rubber bullets, yelling loudly, or firing cracker shells, a barking, fearless dog on a bear’s tail is more effective at keeping it away.

The benefits of using dogs on top of other methods is obvious to those who work with them. Rae Wynn-Grant is a part of the longest-running black bear research project in the U.S., which studies the patterns of human-bear conflicts in the Adirondacks in New York and the Lake Tahoe Basin, and she gets to see releases in Nevada up close. “They run just as fast if not faster than the bear, and they’re super agile," she says. "There’s more accuracy [compared to rubber bullets] with the dogs being right up there with the bear. That’s something that only animals are able to do.”

Bear management programs are catching on to the benefits of having one or two KBDs on their team. The NDoW, which deals with a black bear population that straddles the Nevada-California border, has shown the California Department of Fish and Wildlife how to use the dogs on their bear releases. While the CDFW doesn’t have an official Karelian bear dog program set up yet, they’re looking into acquiring a few dogs of their own.

Thanks to a new emphasis on non-lethal management methods, bear populations are recovering. Black bear numbers in North America now approach 1 million, and grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park have rebounded to full capacity. But growing bear populations and the creep of human development means that conflicts are more likely to happen than ever, and though most black bears that wander onto residential property aren’t aggressive toward humans, one study found that 86 percent [PDF] of black bear attacks in North America between 1900 and 2009 have occurred since 1960.

This trend will likely mean good business for the Wind River Bear Institute. Nils Pederson predicts that states in the Northeast like Pennsylvania and New Jersey will eventually adopt bear dog programs to handle the black bear boom they’ve seen in recent years. He also sees the dogs being used to control polar bears in Arctic communities as climate change-related sea ice loss pushes the predators into populated areas.

The responsibility of reducing bear-human conflict ultimately falls with local communities, Lackey notes. For residents, that means keeping food in locked containers, taking down bird feeders after winter, and recognizing the difference between a nuisance bear and a bear that’s just passing through the neighborhood. For now, working dogs like Rooster still have a serious job ahead of them.

What Makes Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

iStock.com/JoeChristensen
iStock.com/JoeChristensen

By tilting its head slightly to the side, a dog can melt the heart of even the most hardened cat person. Most everyone finds this behavior adorable, but few people can explain what compels a dog to do it. Are dogs somehow aware of the effect they have on humans, using a cute trick to exploit us for affection?

Experts say the real answer has more to do with your dog's ability to empathize. Dogs are impressively good at reading and responding to our body language and vocal cues. When you're lecturing your pooch for taking food off the counter, they're taking it all in even if the literal message gets lost in translation. Same goes for when you’re giving your pup praise. Dogs are capable of recognizing certain parts of human language, so when they cock their heads as you speak to them, it's possible they're listening for specific words and inflections they associate with fun activities like meals and playtime.

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The head-tilt may also have something to do with how the canine ear is constructed. Even though dogs sense frequencies humans are incapable of hearing, their ability to detect the source of sounds is less precise than ours. A dog's brain calculates extremely minuscule differences between the time it takes a sound to reach each ear, so a simple change in head position could provide them with useful sensory information. When dogs tilt their heads, some experts believe they are adjusting their pinnae, or outer ears, in order to better pinpoint the location of a noise.

Stanley Coren of Psychology Today believes that vision also has something to do with this behavior. If you try holding your fist in front of your nose, you can get a fair sense of what it’s like to view the world with a muzzle. When watching someone speak, the "muzzle" will block the lower part of their face from view, and if you tilt your head to one side you will be able to see it more clearly. In addition to being able to perceive emotional cues in our voices, dog can also read our facial expressions. When cocking their heads to the side, Coren suggests that dogs are trying to get a better view of our mouths, where our most expressive facial cues originate.

If your dog is a frequent head-tilter, this could mean that they're especially empathetic. Some experts have reported that dogs who are more socially apprehensive are less likely to tilt their heads when spoken to. But if your dog doesn't display this behavior, there's no need to automatically label them as a canine sociopath (especially if they have pointy ears or a flatter snout). And even if the head tilt does come from instinct, the more owners respond to it with positive reinforcement, the more likely dogs are to do it in search of praise.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

25 Facts About Puppies

iStock.com/sArhange1
iStock.com/sArhange1

Everyone loves puppies, we know. It's scientifically proven that they're heart-meltingly cute. But there's more to the little fur babies than just those adorable puppy eyes. In honor of National Puppy Day (which happens on March 23), here are 25 things everyone should know about these four-legged snuggle buddies.

1. The word puppy has French roots.

A dog with a red beret and a scarf.
iStock.com/Sergii Kozak

Etymologists think the term puppy may come from poupeé, a French word meaning doll or toy. The word puppy doesn't appear to have entered the English language until the late 16th century—before that, English speakers called baby dogs whelps. William Shakespeare's King John, believed to be written in the 1590s, is one of the earliest known works to use the (super cute) term puppy-dog.

2. Puppies evolved to be blind and deaf at birth.

A newborn baby puppy
iStock.com/ilona75

Puppies are functionally blind and deaf at birth. On day one, their 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.

3. Puppies have baby teeth, too.

A puppy that still has its baby teeth
iStock.com/exies

Like many newborn mammals, puppies are born completely toothless. At 2 to 4 weeks of age, a puppy's 28 baby teeth will start to come in. Around 12 to 16 weeks old, those baby teeth fall out, and by the time pups are 6 months old, they should be sporting a set of 42 adult teeth.

4. Puppies take a lot of naps.

A puppy sleeps against a plush toy.
iStock.com/stonena7

Like children, puppies need a lot of sleep—up to 15 to 20 hours of it a day. The American Kennel Club strongly advises dog owners to resist the urge to disturb napping puppies, because sleep is critical for a young canine's developing brain, muscles, and immune system. Puppy owners should also establish a designated sleeping space on their pup's behalf so they can snooze undisturbed.

5. Certain breeds are usually born by C-section.

Three bulldog puppies
iStock.com/cynoclub

Purebred dogs can exhibit some extreme bodily proportions, which doesn't always make for easy births. Breeds with atypically large heads are more likely to be born by C-section than those with smaller skulls. A 2010 survey of 22,005 individual dog litters in the UK found that terriers, bulldogs, and French bulldogs had Caesarian births more than 80 percent of the time. The other breeds with the highest rates of C-sections were Scottish terriers, miniature bull terriers, Dandie Dinmont terriers, mastiffs, German wirehaired pointers, Clumber spaniels, and Pekingeses, according to the study.

6. Some breeds have bigger litters than others.

A Neopolitan Mastiff dog
iStock.com/Okikukai

As a general rule, smaller breeds tend to have smaller litters, while bigger dogs give birth to more puppies. The biggest litter on record was born to a Neapolitan mastiff that gave birth via Caesarian section to a batch of 24 puppies in Cambridgeshire, UK in 2004. In rare cases, very small dogs do give birth to relatively large litters, though. In 2011, a Chihuahua living in Carlisle, England gave birth to a whopping 10 puppies—twice as many as expected. Each weighed less than 2.5 ounces.

7. Some puppies are born green.

A golden retriever puppy wrapped in a green and white towel
iStock.com/yellowsarah

Sometimes, a puppy in a light-colored litter can be born green. On two different occasions in 2017, in fact, British dogs made the news for giving birth to green-tinted puppies. In January, a 2-year-old chocolate lab in Lancashire, UK gave birth to a litter that included a mossy-green pup. Her owners named her FiFi, after Fiona, the green-skinned ogre from Shrek. Just a few months later, a golden retriever in the Scottish Highlands also gave birth to a puppy with a green coat, a male named Forest. How did the puppies end up looking like Marvin the Martian? In rare cases, the fur of a light-haired puppy can get stained by biliverdin, a green pigment found in dog placentas. It's not permanent, though. The green hue gradually disappears over the course of a few weeks.

8. Puppies don't find your yawns contagious.

A puppy stands on a wooden walkway yawning.
iStock.com/Laures

Ever notice that when somebody yawns, other people may follow suit? Contagious yawning, thought to be a sign of empathy, affects humans, baboons, chimps, and yes, dogs. But as research published in Animal Cognition suggests, young canines aren't susceptible to catching yawns from birth. In the 2012 study, Swedish researchers took a group of 35 dogs between 4 and 14 months old on closely monitored play dates, feigning yawns in front of each individual animal. Dogs that were less than 7 months old didn't react, yet many of the older dogs would respond with a yawn of their own. This pattern mirrors what happens with humans—children don't pick up the habit of contagious yawning until around age 4, when they start to develop social skills like empathy. These results suggest that dogs, too, may develop empathy over the course of their puppyhood.

9. Puppies like "baby talk" more than their parents do.

A woman holds up a puppy.
iStock.com/jmalov

Like humans, puppies seem to grow out of baby talk, recent research has found. As part of a 2017 study, 30 women were asked to look at assorted photographs of people and dogs and utter this pre-written line: "Hi! Hello cutie! Who's a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!" To the surprise of no one, the human test subjects spoke in a higher register while looking at dog pictures, especially puppy photos. Afterward, the researchers played the recordings for 10 adult pooches and 10 puppies. Almost all of the pups started barking and running toward the speaker when they heard the baby-talk recordings. In contrast, the grown dogs pretty much ignored the recordings altogether.

10. Dalmatian puppies are born without spots.

A mother Dalmatian and her puppy snuggle together.
iStock.com/SolStock

Beloved by firefighters, Disney fans, and George Washington, Dalmatians arguably have the most recognizable coat of any dog breed. Or at least, full-grown Dalmatians do. As puppies, they're born white and spot-less. The markings usually begin to show up after four weeks or so. (A small subset of Dalmatian puppies are born with one or two large black blotches, known as patches, but those markings aren't allowed in most competitive show rings.)

11. Puppies know how to manipulate you with their eyes.

Cute pug with sad eyes
iStock.com/feedough

Those adorable "puppy eyes" aren't an inadvertent expression of canine emotion; they're a deliberate ploy to get our attention. Puppies (and adult dogs) have learned that raising their eyebrows, which makes their eyes appear bigger and sadder, makes them magnets for human attention. According to one study from 2017, dogs are more likely to make dramatic facial expressions like puppy-dog eyes when they know humans are watching. And it works. Research has shown that shelter puppies who put on such faces get adopted more quickly than dogs that show other behaviors, like wagging their tails.

12. Puppies can have identical twins.

Two identical puppies and their mother sit in the grass.

Scientists don't know how common identical twin puppies are, because until very recently, no one was able to prove that they existed at all. In 2016, Kurt de Cramer, a South African veterinarian, noticed something unusual while performing a C-section on a pregnant Irish wolfhound. Normally, every puppy gets its own placenta, yet de Cramer noticed that two of the seven pups in this litter shared a single placenta. Testing later verified that the puppies were genetically identical. It was the first confirmed case of identical twin puppies in the world.

13. Scientists have successfully cloned (and re-cloned) them.

Three puppies sit on a cushion.
Kim et al., Scientific Reports (2017)

In 1996, Dolly the sheep became the first successful mammal clone. Nine years later, geneticists in South Korea used the same process to engineer the world's first canine clone, an Afghan hound named Snuppy. While Snuppy passed away in 2015 at the respectable age of 10, his story isn't over yet. In 2017, researchers announced that four puppies had been cloned from his stem cells. Sadly, one of the pups died a few days after its birth, but the other three survived. Scientists hope that these young dogs will teach us how healthy cloned animals are compared to their naturally conceived counterparts.

14. Lin-Manuel Miranda's puppy inspired a song in Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

In the award-winning musical Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton sing a ballad called "Dear Theodosia" to their newborn children. The tender song's inspiration wasn't a newborn babe, though. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote it the week he adopted Tobillo, a stray puppy he and his wife found while on vacation in 2011.

15. A puppy destroyed half of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men manuscript.

A black-and-white portrait of John Steinbeck
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Of Mice and Men might feature one of the biggest animal lovers in American literature—the rabbit- and puppy-loving Lennie—but ironically, a puppy once jeopardized the novel's existence. In May 1936, John Steinbeck's Irish setter, Toby, was going through his teething phase. Left alone one night, he demolished half of his master's manuscript for Of Mice and Men, eating through two months of work ... and Steinbeck didn't have any backup copies. But the author found it hard to stay angry with the puppy. "I was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically," Steinbeck wrote. "I didn't want to ruin a good dog for a manuscript I'm not sure is good at all." He just buckled down and rewrote the shredded chapters.

16. Keith Richards once smuggled a puppy through British customs.

English guitarist Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, circa 1965
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While the Rolling Stones were on tour in the U.S. in 1964, a fan gave guitarist Keith Richards a collie puppy named Ratbag. When Richards returned to the UK, rather than subject the pup to quarantine, he smuggled the animal through British customs under his coat. The dog would become one of Richards's most beloved companions, and a biographer would later write that the star "appeared to identify [with Ratbag] more than anybody else."

17. Barack Obama's puppy has his own baseball card.

Bo Obama sits on the White House lawn.
Obama White House, Flickr // Public Domain

In April 2009, the Obamas adopted Bo, a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog. That summer, the White House put together an official baseball card loaded with fun facts about America's First Pooch. (For one: He can't swim.) You can still download the collectible card online.

18. The Soviet Union once gave JFK a very special puppy.

President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy. Dogs: Clipper ( standing ), Charlie ( with Caroline ), Wolf ( reclining ), Shannon ( with John Jr. ), two of Pushinka's puppies ( with Mrs. Kennedy ).
Cecil Stoughton White House Photographs, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Dogs can bring out the best in people, including political adversaries. While seated next to each other at a state dinner in Vienna in the early 1960s, First Lady Jackie Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev got to chatting about Strelka, the world-famous dog who had recently been sent into low-Earth orbit by the Soviet space program. Afterward, Khrushchev sent the Kennedys one of Strelka's newly born daughters. The puppy's name was Pushinka, which means fluffy in Russian.

19. A Boston museum has enlisted a puppy to find art-destroying pests.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
iStock.com/dosecreative

In early 2018, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts "hired" a Weimaraner pup named Riley to find unwanted pests that, if left unchecked, could harm priceless masterpieces. Riley is being taught to sniff out art-threatening insects like textile-eating moths and wood-boring beetles. "Pests are an ongoing concern for museums," deputy director Katie Getchell told The Boston Globe in January 2018. "It's exciting to think about this as a new way to address the problem." If Riley is able to do his job well, she said, other museums and archives that collect infestation-prone materials might be able to use trained dogs as a defense against bugs, too.

20. IBM's Watson is judging puppies now.

Guide dog puppies in training are led by their trainers.
Erik S. Lesser, Getty Images

Not all puppies have what it takes to become guide dogs. Guide dogs have to be healthy, confident, hardworking, and not easily distracted. At the end of the day, many pups just aren't cut out for this line of work—at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit that trains and places seeing eye dogs in New York, only about 36 percent of trainee dogs make it. That's where Watson, the IBM supercomputer famous for winning Jeopardy, comes in. IBM has developed a program for Watson that helps it predict how likely individual puppies are to graduate from Guiding Eyes's training school using data on the temperament, medical history, and genetics of the dogs as well as the personality traits of their trainers. 

21. Looking at puppies can make you more productive.

A poodle puppy sits on a desk next to a man working on a laptop.
iStock.com/ThamKC

That puppy portrait hanging in your cubicle at work might be a bigger asset than you realized. For a 2012 Hiroshima University experiment on productivity, participants were asked to look at pictures from one of three categories: tasty food snapshots, pictures of adult animals, or photos of puppies and kittens. Then, they were asked to play a board game that required lots of precision. As it turned out, people who'd just seen puppies and kittens had an easier time concentrating on the task at hand than study subjects who saw other types of images.

22. Our stone-age ancestors took good care of their puppies.

A canine jawbone
Janssens et al., Journal of Archaeological Science (2018)

In 1914, archaeologists in Germany discovered the fossilized jawbone of a puppy that lived 14,000 years ago. According to a 2018 study on the specimen, the jaw probably belonged to a 27- or 28-week-old pup—and a sick one, at that. The teeth showed signs of canine distemper virus, a life-threatening disease that still has no cure. Analysis of the bone suggested that the animal first came down with the sickness at 19 weeks old. "Without adequate care," study co-author Luc Janssens noted in a press release, "a dog with a serious case of distemper will die in less than three weeks," yet this pup survived for another eight weeks. Even though the puppy wouldn't have been very useful to its prehistoric human owners, they kept it clean, warm, and well-fed for months, helping it survive for longer than it otherwise would have.

23. There's a 17-ton puppy sculpture in Bilbao, Spain.

Puppy kissing the Iberdrola skyscraper at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
iStock.com/luisrsphoto

Since it opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has been home to Puppy, a towering, flower-covered sculpture that artist Jeff Koons modeled after a young West Highland terrier. The 17-ton pooch owes its shape to a fabric-covered mesh that is topped with 37,000 live flowers. The 40-foot-tall, puppy-shaped garden is now regarded as a mascot for both the museum and the city itself.

24. They're not running around the Puppy Bowl live. (Sorry.)

A puppy plays with a toy at the Puppy Bowl.
Animal Planet

The fur-rocious Super Bowl spoof known as the Puppy Bowl made its debut on Animal Planet back in 2005. Viewers might be surprised to find out that, unlike the real game, the Puppy Bowl isn't broadcast live. Instead, the contest is shot over the course of an entire week. The crew spends two days filming the dogs with the help of 100 or more canine wranglers. 

25. Hollywood's most iconic dog was a troublesome puppy.

Lassie
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first dog to play Lassie on film was really a "laddie." Specifically, he was a male Rough collie named Pal. As a pup, the dog had some behavior issues—little Pal was overly enthusiastic and drove his first owner crazy with nonstop barking. (Even more disconcerting was the puppy's habit of chasing down motorcycles, a pastime he never outgrew.) After animal trainer Henry Peck failed to make any progress with Pal, he referred the puppy's owner to a colleague by the name of Rudd Weatherwax, who was much more successful at training him. Pal's original owner eventually gave him to Weatherwax, and the rest is history. Under the trainer's guidance, Pal starred in seven Lassie movies, plus two episodes of the spinoff TV series. Decades after his passing, The Saturday Evening Post declared that Pal had enjoyed "the most spectacular canine career in film history."

This story first ran in 2018.

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