Amazing Dogs episode 1 review: Man’s Best Friend

DOGS – An Amazing Animal Family. Host Patrick Aryee and a wolf. Photo provided by Smithsonian Channel.
DOGS – An Amazing Animal Family. Host Patrick Aryee and a wolf. Photo provided by Smithsonian Channel. /

The world holds an incredible array of canines, as the Smithsonian Channel’s Amazing Dogs episode 1, titled “Man’s Best Friend,” investigates.

There are a lot of wonderful and interesting canines in the world, which the Smithsonian Channel miniseries Amazing Dogs explores in its first episode, titled “Man’s Best Friend.”

Hosted by British biologist and TV personality Patrick Aryee, the first episode aired Sunday night, July 28, and focused on a quick general history of how dogs became dogs throughout history.

There are 36 species within the family Canidae, and they reach from the deserts to the Arctic and everywhere in between, with over 500 million dogs throughout the world and over 400 breeds (though not all breeds are recognized by governing organizations; for example, the American Kennel Club currently recognizes 196, with about a dozen on the waiting list in the Miscellaneous Class.)

Recent research in dog science means that it’s likely that dogs emerged from the middle of Asia, possibly in the snowy expanse of Mongolia around 30,000 years ago. Over time, some wolves gradually learned that humans meant food, which meant they didn’t have to work so hard hunting for it.

This led to the first domesticated dogs around 15,000 years ago, a process that’s dramatized in Alpha, one of the dog movies of 2018. According to The Atlantic, the cuter dogs appear, the more likely we’ll love them, so specialized facial muscles to control puppy eyes developed.

And it works, too – at six weeks old, 90 minutes of human contact is probably enough to create a lifelong bond with humans generally.

The scene then shifted to the deserts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a look at the Saluki, one of the earliest hunting breeds, part of the sighthounds subgroup, demonstrated by a female running on a training track.

Salukis were the main hunters of hares and gazelles, providing their Bedouin human families with sustenance, and acquiring a high degree of honor in the process.

Salukis can run at 37 miles per hour, due to their unique double suspension gait, where all four paws go airborne twice in a stride like a Thoroughbred racehorse. This stride acts like a canine supercharger.

They can also see 270 degree vision (humans and Toy Group dogs like Pugs have 180 degree vision) and see motion up to 800 meters (about half a mile) away, which is important, as temperatures regularly reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and dogs can’t sniff and pant (how they sweat) at the same time.

As pioneers expanded their territory into the far north, they needed to develop new traits in their canine companions to survive. So the pack element of the wolves and their immense strength were utilized to develop the sled dogs, which can pull over a ton, run at up to 18 miles per hour (30 kilometers) in deep snow and cover up to 1600 kilometers (almost a thousand miles) in eight days.

Patrick visits a Montana sled dog racer (“musher”) named Mark Sherke to learn more about the unique characteristics of the Canadian Eskimo Dogs, one of the dozen-ish breeds (including the Samoyed and the Siberian Husky) of the sled dog subtype.

What makes sled dogs unique is how similar they are to wolves, and since practicality took precedence in breeding over looks, they have a shaggy double-lined coat, stocky build, and fur-lined ears, which allows them to survive temperatures of up to -40 degrees.

Patrick got to take Mark’s team of six (led by Smash and Enzo) out for a training run, which looked, like rock climbing, entirely dangerous and very fun.

The Newfoundland, from the Canadian province of the same name, was featured next, emphasizing its water-repellant coat, webbed paws and tremendous strength. They, of course, were bred to help fishermen with their catch, though with their gentle personalities they’re often used as therapy dogs or companions instead.

The herding dogs got to shine with a focus on a Utah Border Collie named Paige, who works with a cowboy named Buzz Bates, who estimates she does the work of at least five humans.

Though Border Collies are highly rated as one of the smartest breeds on the planet, all herding dogs generally share athleticism, intelligence and bravery, guiding animals many times their size where they need to go. This herding instinct is similar to the wolf pack’s hunting style, getting the prey to mill around before isolating the weakest member of the group to bring down.

It’s possible that the ability to herd large groups of cattle led to towns and cities, since people didn’t have to constantly be on the move as hunter/gatherers.

Finally, tying everything together, the final moments of the show discussed how domestication and selective breeding have created the massive variety of domestic dogs we see today, humorously illustrated by a Great Dane playing with a Pomeranian on a beach. (Floppy ears are cute, thus why many breeds have them. Same thing with stubby snoots and big round eyes.)

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Patrick Aryee’s straightforward information, provided in a  thoughful and detailed manner, made this first episode of Amazing Dogs a very educational and enjoyable watch as viewers learned why dogs are “Man’s Best Friend,” and the cinematography was excellent, particularly the frequent slow-motion shots of dogs in action.

The second episode of Amazing Dogs, titled “America,” will air at 8 p.m. across all time zones on the Smithsonian Channel on Sunday, August 4.