Amazing Dogs episode 2 review: America

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

Many strange and wonderful canines are scattered throughout America, as the middle episode of Amazing Dogs explores.

Amazing Dogs’ first episode explored the history of canines, particularly how we got the variety of domestic pet dogs we all know and love. The second episode of the Smithsonian Channel series brought the lens over to the wilder side, titled “America,” as host Patrick Aryee prowled across both North and South America to educate viewers on interesting canids.

The family tree of family Canidae contains 36 species spread across four branches – the true foxes, “the weird foxes” (this branch wasn’t specifically named during the episode, just what we thought of it as), the South American dogs and the true dogs.

The episode opened as Patrick spoke about what the canids have in common while playing with two-month-old wolf pups in the forest, wolves have a 98.8 percent DNA match to dogs, which are energetic, social and boisterous, just as ordinary puppies would be. They have a strong prey drive, chasing after dragonflies, but aren’t quite sure how to use all their legs together just yet.

The first spotlight was placed in the Arctic Circle looking at the Arctic Fox, which is part of the true foxes branch, a small (about half the size of the Red Fox) yet resilient critter that can resist temperatures as cold as -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) before they start feeling the cold. They range all around the Arctic Circle and have even been seen near the North Pole.

Arctic Foxes have stubby snouts because long noses lose more heat (why Salukis and Whippets have them) and the best-insulated fur of all mammals, in addition to a special set series of blood vessels in the paws.

They cache (bury) their food in the snow for lean hunting times, just like how squirrels store away nuts and seeds.

Next was a Gray Fox, part of the weird foxes branch. They can climb trees thanks to grippy claws, and usually live in forests. They still could learn a lot about gracefully getting down from the cats, though.

After that the episode moved on to the true dogs branch with the Gray Wolf, which likely developed along the Great Plains. Their speed was demonstrated as a trained wolf in Montana chased Patrick’s ATV at speeds up to 60 kilometers per hour (36 mph). A wolf pack might vary from three to up to 30 members, with a strict hierarchy of dominance to keep order.

This order is necessary so everyone knows their role on hunts (in this case bison), which generally consist of fleet-footed females whipping the target herd into flight, then the alpha selects the specific target while everyone else weaves through the herd in order to isolate the prey. The level of strategy and teamwork necessary is really breathtaking in an amazing, violent way.

Now it was time to move down to South America, where over a third of canine varieties live, to the Brazillian grasslands in search of the Maned Wolf, known as the “Fox on Stilts” to do its giraffe-like legs. They’re a meter long! (That’s over three feet.)

Maned Wolves use their ears as their main hunting tool, listening for rabbits and cavies (wild guinea pigs) rustling in the grass, then pouncing on them. They are very rare, with about 20,000 left in the wild.

Since most of South America is coated in thick jungle rainforest, it makes sense that some species adapted to that environment, like the Bush Dog, which prowls the Amazon in Peru. They live in groups of up to a dozen members, and have bear-like faces and otter-liked webbed paws for better swimming.

Bush dogs mainly live on rodents like agouti (mouselike) and capybaras (giant guinea pigs).

The final specimen examined lives somewhere in the rainforest, but is almost never seen. The Short-Eared Dog was first discovered in 1883, but hardly ever seen since, though researchers have been tracking their calls for over a decade.

Footage had to come secondhand, as Patrick watched rare footage on one on a laptop. They’re so rare that no zoo anywhere has them, and they’re omnivores, living off both meat and fruit scattered along the forest floor. They look a little like armadillos and are almost hairless.

“America” featured plenty of strange canids that we really want to learn more about now.

Next. Patrick Aryee talks the wonder of nature. dark

The final chapter of Amazing Dogs, episode 3, titled “Africa,” will air on the Smithsonian Channel on Sunday, August 11 at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific (7 p.m. Central and 9 p.m. Mountain).