We know dogs are loyal and lovable, but they’re so much more than that. They serve as search-and-rescue heroes, as therapy animals in hospitals, as aides for the disabled, and they are even able to detect the presence of disease, thanks to a keen sense of smell that alerts them to changes in the human body. The Nat Geo Wild special, “The Secret Life of Dogs," premieres on Aug. 25 and highlights some of these canine abilities, highlighting amazing animals such as a Springer spaniel named Jess who works on a sheep farm and bottlefeeds lambs. (And you thought your dog was smart.)

But strangely enough, “There is no such thing as a smart breed — they all have different types of smarts,” says dog expert and writer Julie Hecht, a canine behavioral researcher at Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College and adjunct professor in the Anthrozoology Masters Program at Canisius College. She shares some fascinating facts in the special, which she calls “part natural history, part science and pure celebration of man’s best friend.”

For example, “Did you know that a dog is more likely to be calm, confident, and self-assured if it’s right-pawed, with the swirl of its hair falling counterclockwise? Or that dogs communicate at least six different emotions through their barks? You might be shocked to learn that a dog’s brain is one-10th the size of humans, but the part that controls smell is 40 times larger.”

Following the growth of a dog from birth through her own pregnancy, the special explores the bond between humans and canines. “They are getting a lot from us and we are getting a lot from them,” notes Hecht. “They seek our contact and our attention. They gravitate towards humans more than any other species.”

Those contemplating canine adoption should consider “your lifestyle, what do you like to do and don’t like to do. People tend to focus on the physical aspects of the dog rather than their own behavior and personality, which is very important in selecting a dog,” Hecht points out.

Need another incentive to get one? Do it for your health. Dog owners live longer, are less likely to have heart attacks, and more likely to survive one.

Inside 'The Secret Life of Dogs'
Nat Geo Wild special explores man's best friend, from nose to tail.