LOS ANGELES — Did people domesticate dogs or was it the other way around? And why do these two species seem to think so much alike, act so much alike and get along so well?
The California Science Center has spent the past five years sniffing out the answers to those and hundreds of other vexing canine questions.
It will begin revealing the conclusions on Saturday with an ambitious, if somewhat lighthearted, new exhibition called “Dogs! A Science Tail.”
And, yes, real dogs will be there. (Just try hiding contraband from that drug-sniffing dog and see what happens.)
“It’s really not about just dogs and science. It’s really about how dogs and humans are both social animals. About how dogs and humans have evolved together over thousands of years,” said Jeffrey Rudolph, the center’s president and a devoted dog lover who worked for years to pull this show together.
As he spoke during a recent preopening walk-through of the exhibit, he paused briefly at what he imagines might be its most popular stop for the preteen crowd—a replica of a fire hydrant next to a button that you can push to smell what a dog smells.
Pee of information
“But we just smell pee,” Rudolph explained with a laugh. “A dog can tell what dog was there, what time they were there and actually which direction they were going.”
“They have an amazing ability to learn information,” continues Rudolph, noting the 300 million sensory receptor sites they carry in their noses far outnumber our 6 million.
Nine similar stations allow people to see like a dog does, determine what a person has just eaten by licking their hand and hear sounds so subtle we’re oblivious to them.
“In a bedroom they can hear a termite scratching on the wall,” Rudolph says.
Such skills allow an avalanche rescue dog to sniff out a person buried in snow in a minute’s time or sniff out bombs people would never find until they exploded.
But those are the highly trained working dogs, like those shown in the center’s Imax Theater, where the Cosmic Picture film “Superpower Dogs” will play throughout the exhibition’s run.
But do those dogs really love us or are they just trying to wheedle another treat when they open those big black eyes of theirs and give us that look?
“If you look a dog in the eye, a dog will look back at you and you will produce oxytocin,” Diane Perlov, the center’s senior vice president for exhibitions, says of the chemical known as the love hormone because of the feelings it evokes in people.
“And,” she adds, “the dog will produce oxytocin in his own body from looking back at you. It’s a mutual affection.” —AP
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