Dogs Decoded – Nova Video


One of my favorite evolutionary videos is this Nova production on dogs, called “Dogs Decoded.”   This is a great program to bridge the topic of genetics to evolution.   The program starts by examining the unique relationship humans have with dogs, and how dog evolution was shaped by that relationship.

Dogs are more in tune with human emotions than any other animal, including the chimpanzees.  A test is shown where a human uses hand gestures to reveal the location of a treat.  In all the tests, dogs are able to understand the gesture and find the treat.  Chimpanzees do not seem to follow human gestures or understand the game.

The film also spends time talking about how dogs became domesticated, and discusses how genetic changes in the dog changed their behavior.  One of my favorite segments shows a study where wolf cubs were raised in a household as if they were dogs. Wolves do not behave like dogs, are very destructive and do not respond to humans the same way dogs do.  This is a good place to pause and discuss why there are problems with keeping wild animals as pets.

Artificial selection is one way to introduce evolution in a non-controversial way.  Dogs have been bred over many generations. The breeds we see today are a produce of selective breeding.

Starting evolution with Darwin and the history of the theory can cause some students to automatically tune out. They already have preconceived, often wrong, ideas, about what evolution is. Dogs are a fun and neutral way to introduce the topic.

You can purchase the DVD from Amazon Prime (streaming).

I created two versions of the worksheet to go with the movie. A more advanced version that requires students to write complete answers to questions from the film. The simpler version has multiple choice questions.  Both versions have links to google docs if you want to save to your drive and make any edits.

Worksheet: Dogs Decoded (written)
Worksheet:  Dogs Decoded (multiple choice)

There is also an article from National Geographic that is a good complement to this video:  “We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.” You can also check out the history of dog domestication at

Also, check out the Video Worksheet collection for other worksheets I’ve created over the years to go with short videos we watch in class.