We have two dogs. One is a middle-aged lady called Chloe. She is black. A little grey around the mouth reveals her age. Tiny grey spots around her head are marks of past battles.

Chloe does not always act her age. She is part poodle and part pit bull. The result of this mixture is that she is very loving to her humans, and a born killer when confronted by any wild creature or any other female dog. The smell of another dog of the same gender, the sight of a cat, a lizard, a snake or even a hedgehog, brings out the worst in her. It also sends Miriam and I rushing to the rescue of the creature in question.

Our other dog is Charlie, very small, of indeterminate parentage, and very winning in his ways. His fur is characterised by six little whorls such as you have never seen on a dog before. They are arranged symmetrically, two on the place his nipples would be if he was human, one on either side of his neck and one on either side of his ass. His tale is permanently curled up over his back.

Charlie came to us as a very little fellow and Chloe took a while to get used to him. He was so small that she seemed to be uncertain that he was a dog at all. Because we did not entirely trust her, we were careful to keep an eye on their interactions, but she never attacked him and in due course she accepted him as part of the family. These days they sleep close together, often touching each other on cold nights.

To our surprise they seem to share characteristics that we did not even realise dogs possessed. We first noticed these singular traits when we were out and they were inside alone. They always seemed to be waiting at the door when we came in, but we put it down to them hearing the car or even waiting at the door all the time while we were away.

But in due course we came to realise there was more to their readiness to greet us than we realised. To reach our house, you have to pass through two motor gates, the first into our wild piece of bushveld and the second into the patch of a couple of acres around the house. When any family member comes to visit we open both gates to let the visitor drive straight in.

We were surprised to see that on those days the dogs went down to outer gate, but only about half an hour before the visitor arrived, then raced the car up to the house. The singular factor is that they only go to meet family members that way and only once they come within about half an hour of our place. No one else receives that kind of welcome.

We have examined this behaviour in every way we can and have come to the conclusion that there is only one possibility: they know when a family member is approaching and they know half an hour before the visitor comes into view.  Our daughter, Tes, summed up the family’s feelings: “They make me feel so welcome.”

Things that Dogs Know