Dog Features and Traits: Everything You Need To Know

How well do you know your dog? You are probably familiar with their playful antics, wagging tail, and unwavering loyalty. But have you ever wondered about what physical dog features and traits make up your furry friend?

I mean, their:

  • Sharp, strong teeth
  • Human-like digestive system
  • Powerful senses
  • Exceptional skeletal structure
  • Elegant coat

….and much more.

Chances are that you know little about these dog features. If that’s the case, then don’t worry.

This ultimate guide explores everything you need to know about your canine companion.

Just relax and enjoy learning more about these amazing animals.

Table of Contents

What Is a Dog?

A dog, scientifically known as Canis Iupus familiaris, is a domesticated mammal with:

  • A long snout
  • Non-retractable claws
  • A howling or barking voice
  • An incredible sense of smell

Dogs are also mammals that belong to the Canidae family, which includes wolves, foxes, and jackals.

They descended from gray wolves, becoming the first animal that humans ever domesticated.

These mammals have lived with humans for over 20,000 years, developing a close mutual bond.

Over the years, humans have selectively bred dogs for purposes, such as:

  • Hunting
  • Guarding
  • Herding
  • Companionship

In addition, dogs are:

  • Mammals as they have hair, produce milk for their young, and have a backbone
  • Vertebrates as they have a skeleton that supports their body
  • Carnivores as they eat meat, but they can also eat other foods such as grains, fruits, dairy products, and vegetables

Physical Dog Features & Traits

Dog features: An image showing the various dog body parts

Pups have many physical traits that make them functional and help them survive and thrive in different environments.

Here are some of the common dog features you should be aware of:

Dog Size

Dogs exhibit an extensive range of sizes and shapes. The world’s smallest dog breeds are:

  • Chihuahua
  • Toy Poodle
  • Shih Tzu
  • Papillon

They typically weigh about 5 to 10 pounds (2.3 to 4.5 kilograms) or even less.

Medium-sized dog breeds, like Terriers and Spaniels, usually weigh between 10 and 50 pounds (4.5 to 23 kilograms).

Larger breeds, such as Retrievers, Setters, and Shepherds, weigh around 65 to 100 pounds (30 to 45 kilograms).

Mastiff, Komondor, and Saint Bernard are the largest dog breeds in the world, weighing up to 200 pounds (91 kilograms) or more.

It’s important to note that dog sizes may vary even within specific breeds, with males generally larger than females.

But, most mixed-breed dogs can posses various sizes, encompassing all the categories above.

Dog Teeth: How Many Teeth Does an Adult Dog Have?

A dog dental chart

A typical adult dog has 42 teeth in their mouth:

  • 12 incisors
  • 4 canines
  • 16 premolars
  • 10 molars

Each tooth has a specific role or function in their daily lives. For instance;

  • Incisors – help dogs groom and bite or nibble food.
  • Canines – ideal for grasping, piercing, and holding prey. They also enable dogs to tear and rip meat from bones.
  • Premolars – help dogs slice, chew and grind food.
  • Molars – enable dogs to crush and grind bones or hard food for easy digestion.

Just like humans, hounds have two sets of teeth in their lifetime:

1.       Deciduous Teeth

An image showing dog deciduous teeth
Puppy’s milk teeth

Milk or deciduous teeth are the first teeth that appear when puppies are about three weeks old. They are 28 in total: 6 incisors, 2 canines, and 6 premolars on each jaw.

These teeth are often smaller and fall off when puppies are around four months to pave the way for adult teeth.

2.       Permanent Teeth

An image showing dog permanent teeth.
Credit: Photo by Alexas Fotos

Adult or permanent teeth replace milk teeth. These teeth emerge when puppies are about four months old and finish growing when they are about six months old.

Dog permanent teeth are usually larger and stronger than milk teeth and are 42. They last for the rest of the dog’s life.

Canines also need to keep their teeth clean to avoid unhealthy dog teeth problems such as:

  • Plaque
  • Tartar
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis
  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth loss
  • Rotten dog teeth
  • Bad breath

They chew on bones or toys regularly to remove food particles and bacteria from their teeth.

Moreover, dogs need to have their teeth brushed by their owners or a veterinarian at least once a week to keep dental problems at bay.

Digestive System of Dogs: What Type of Digestive System do Dogs Have?

A dog digestive system diagram
A simple dog digestive system diagram

Like humans, dogs have a simple digestive system that consists of the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Rectum
  • Anus

A dog’s digestive system breaks down food into nutrients the body can absorb. The digestion process starts in the mouth, where dogs chew food.

Saliva moistens the food, and enzymes break down starch for swallowing. The food then travels down to the esophagus and enters the stomach.

Here, digestive enzymes and acids like gastric juices further break down fats and proteins. The stomach also stores food temporarily before it moves to the small intestine.

Most of the food digestion and nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine, which consists of the:


The duodenum receives:

  • Bile from the gallbladder and liver to digest fats
  • Pancreatic juices from the pancreas to digest proteins and carbohydrates

Jejunum and Ileum

The jejunum and ileum continue to digest food with the help of bacteria and intestinal juices.

They also absorb nutrients such as sugars, amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, and water into the dog’s bloodstream.

Undigested food then passes into the colon or large intestine. The colon absorbs more electrolytes and water from the food waste and forms stool or feces.

These feces then move into the rectum for storage until their elimination through the anus.

Dogs have strong stomach acids and enzymes that can break down food efficiently. However, they cannot digest some foods that humans can, such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Onions
  • Garlic

These foods may be toxic to dogs and cause digestive problems, seizures, and even death. So, avoid giving them to your dog.

Instead, feed them a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs to maintain a healthy digestive system.

Ensure they have access to clean water at all times and eat on a regular schedule to avoid overeating or under-eating.

Dog Skeletal Structure

An image showing dog skeletal structure

Canines have a unique skeletal structure that consists of the following:

  • Bones
  • Cartilage
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons

 A dog’s skeletal structure provides shape to its body. Their bones offer support, protect vital organs, and facilitate movement.

Dogs also have a flexible spine that allows them to change direction quickly, making them adept and agile at running. They also have a tail, which helps them to balance and communicate with other dogs.

Their strong and sturdy bones contribute to their endurance and strength, enabling them to jump, dig, run, and play.

How Many Bones Do Dogs Have?

An image showing dog bones anatomy

According to DTUA, dogs have about 319 to 321 bones in their body. The exact number of dog bones depends on their tail length. This means dogs with longer tails have more bones than pups with shorter tails.

Dog bones also vary in size, shape, and function.

Here are some of the major bones in the dog’s body:

  • Dog skull – protects the brain and houses the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
  • Spine – supports the body and connects the head to the tail. It consists of 50 vertebrae: 7 cervical, 13 thoracic, 7 lumber, 3 sacral, and 20-23 caudal.
  • Ribs – form a cage around the chest and protect the heart and lungs. Dogs have 13 pairs of ribs:
    • 9 true ribs that attach to the sternum
    • 3 false ribs that attach to the last true rib
    • 1 floating rib that does not attach to anything
  • Pelvis – connects the spine to the hind legs and supports the abdominal organs. It consists up of three bones:
    • Ilium
    • Ischium
    • Pubis
  • Limbs – allow the dog to move and run. Dogs have four limbs: two forelimbs and two hindlimbs. Each limb has:
    • Five Parts: shoulder or hip, upper arm or thigh, elbow or knee, lower arm or leg, and wrist or ankle
    • Five digits or toes, except for some breeds that have dewclaws or extra toes on their legs

Is Dog Skeletal Structure Similar to that of Humans?

Yes, a dog skeletal structure is quite similar to that of humans. However, there are a few differences.

For example, dogs have longer spines and shorter pelvis than humans.

They also have more bones in their tail and fewer in their wrist and ankle than humans.

These differences reflect the different functions and adaptations of dogs and humans.

Dog Metabolism

A dog’s metabolism refers to the chemical processes that occur within its body to convert food into energy.

Dogs have a unique metabolic rate that varies depending on factors such as age, breed, size, and activity level.

Generally, dogs have a higher metabolic rate than humans, meaning they burn calories more quickly.

Dogs are also classified as omnivores, meaning they can digest animal and plant-based foods.

Their digestive system breaks down nutrients from food, such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, to provide energy for various bodily functions.

Dog metabolism also helps maintain a pup’s weight, as a balanced diet and exercise are essential for a healthy metabolism.

Temperature Regulation

Dogs have different mechanisms to regulate their body temperature and keep it within a comfortable range.

Unlike humans, dogs cannot sweat excessively to cool down. Instead, they primarily rely on panting as a means of heat dissipation.

Panting allows moisture on their tongue and respiratory tract to evaporate, releasing heat from their bodies.

Additionally, dogs have sweat glands in their paw pads, which help with minimal heat dissipation. They may seek cool surfaces to lie on or find shaded areas to avoid direct sunlight.

Some breeds have specific adaptations to temperature regulation, such as thick double coats that insulate them in cold weather or thin coats that keep them cooler in hot climates.

As a dog owner, be mindful of your pup’s temperature regulation needs.

Provide access to fresh water, shade, and appropriate shelter during extreme weather conditions to ensure their well-being.

Monitor and combat signs of overheating, such as excessive panting, drooling, or lethargy, as dogs can be susceptible to heatstroke.

Dog Senses: How Many Senses Does a Dog Have?

An image showing the 5 dog senses.
The 5 dog senses

Dogs possess five remarkable senses that help them perceive and interact with their environment and other living beings. These include:

  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch

Each sense has its organs and receptors that detect stimuli and send signals to the brain for processing. Let’s now examine the organs and receptors involved in each sense:

1.       Sight

Dogs have two eyes with types of cones: blue-sensitive and yellow-sensitive. This means they can see blue and yellow colors, not red and green ones.

They also have more rods than humans, meaning they can see better in dim light.

However, dogs have less visual acuity than humans. This means they cannot see fine details as well as humans.

2.       Hearing

Hearing is also one of the most powerful dog senses.

Dogs can detect sounds up to 45 kHz (kilohertz), compared to humans, who can only hear up to 20 kHz.

This means they can listen to high-pitched noises that humans cannot hear, such as dog whistles.

Dogs also have better directional hearing than humans. They can move their ears independently to locate the source of a sound.

3.       Smell

Smelling is the strongest dog senses. Scientists say dogs possess around 2 billion olfactory receptors, compared to human’s mere 40 million.

This heightened sense of smell is 100,000 times more potent than that of humans. It allows dogs to detect scents and track trails with astonishing precision.

Dogs also have a special organ called the vomeronasal organ (VNO, Jacobson’s organ) in their nose. The organ helps them accurately detect pheromones or chemical signals from other animals.

This helps them identify and communicate with each other. It also enables search and rescue dogs to locate missing individuals by following their scent through complex environments.

4.       Taste

Dog’s tongues have around 1,700 taste buds, compared to human’s 9,000. This means that dogs have a less refined sense of taste than humans.

However, dogs can still distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes. They also have a preference for meaty flavors over plant-based flavors.

5.       Touch

Dogs have a rich sense of touch all over their body, but especially on their face, paws, and belly.

These regions contain touch-sensitive cells called mechanoreceptors that respond to:

  • Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Pain
  • Vibration

Dogs also use touch to:

  • Explore their surroundings
  • Groom themselves
  • Bond with their owners


Dogs have coats or fur that cover most of their body. These coats serve many functions for dogs, such as:

  • Insulation
  • Protection
  • Camouflage
  • Communication

They vary in color, pattern, length, texture, and density among different breeds and individuals of dogs.

However, the type of coat a dog has mainly depends on its breed and environment.

Dogs that live in cold climates have thicker coats to keep them warm.

A dog with thicker coat in winter climates.
A thick coated dog in snow surrounding

In contrast, dogs that live in hot climates have thinner coats to keep them cool.

Two Dalmatian dogs with thinner coats

Dogs also shed their fur to remove dead hair and keep their skin healthy.

Some of the types of coats that dogs have include:

1. Smooth Coat

A smooth coated Collie dog
Smooth Coated Collie Dog

This short and sleek coat lies close to a dog’s skin. It is easy to groom and sheds moderately. Examples of breeds with smooth coats are:

  • Beagles
  • Boxers
  • Dachshunds

2. Double Coat

what is a double coated dog?
A double coated Golden Retriever

Some dogs have double coats, consisting of a soft undercoat and a coarser outer coat. The undercoat provides warmth and insulation, while the outer coat repels water and dirt.

Double-coated dogs shed heavily twice a year, usually in spring and fall. Examples of breeds with double coats include:

  • Huskies
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers

3. Wire Coat

A cute wirehaired Fox Terrier
A wirehaired Fox Terrier

This is a coarse and wiry coat that gives a rough appearance. It is usually curly or wavy and requires regular trimming or stripping to maintain its shape.

Wire coated dogs are often hypoallergenic and shed minimally. Examples of breeds with wire coats include:

  • Terriers
  • Schnauzers
  • Wirehaired Pointers

4. Long Coat

An image showing a long-coated German Shepard Dog
A long-coated German Shepard Dog

It’s a long and flowing coat that can reach the ground. This coat type is often silky or fluffy and requires frequent brushing and grooming to prevent mats and tangles.

Long-coated dogs are prone to getting dirty and wet, so they need regular bathing and drying. Examples of breeds with long coats are:

  • German Shephard
  • Maltese
  • Shih Tzus
  • Afghan Hounds

5. Curly coat

A curly coated Retriever dog
A curly coated Retriever

It’s a curly and tight coat that forms ringlets or cords. The coat is usually soft and wooly and requires regular clipping or shaving to prevent matting.

Curly-coated dogs are also hypoallergenic and shed very little. Examples of dog breeds with curly coats are:

  • Poodles
  • Retriever
  • Bichons Frises
  • Komondors


A bitch breastfeeding her puppies
A bitch breastfeeding her puppies

Understanding the female dog reproductive system or cycle is essential for breeders and dog owners alike.

It helps you determine when is the right time for your dog to reproduce and how to better care for them and their unborn babies.

Let’s explore the key aspects of their reproductive cycle.

Sexual Maturity

Dogs attain sexual maturity when they are 6 to 15 months old. However, this may vary depending on their breed, development, and size.

At this stage, male and female dogs can reproduce and produce offspring.

Mature male dogs are called studs, while adult female dogs are called bitches.

Reproduction Cycle of Dogs

Dog reproduction cycle chart
Dog Reproduction Cycle/Illustration

Female dogs undergo a reproductive cycle called estrus or heat, marked by changes in their behavior and physiology.

During this period, the bitch is receptive to mating and can become pregnant.

The estrus cycle occurs twice a year but can vary between individual dogs. It involves four stages:

1.       Proestrus

This initial stage lasts about 9 days, but may vary by two or three days. It involves symptoms such as the swelling of the vulva and the release of bloody discharge. During this stage, the bitch is not yet receptive to mating.

2.       Estrus

Following proestrus, estrus begins and typically lasts 4 to 11 days. The discharge becomes lighter in color, and the bitch becomes receptive to mating. It’s the optimal time for successful breeding to occur.

3.       Diestrus

Diestrus occurs when the bitch doesn’t get pregnant after estrus stage. It lasts approximately 60 to 90 days and is a period of reproductive inactivity as estrogen levels are low.

The female’s body prepares for a pregnancy if conception takes place. However, if conception does not occur, hormone levels start declining.

4.       Anestrus

Anestrus is the last stage of the estrus cycle and is a period of sexual inactivity. It lasts 4-5 months, during which the female’s reproductive system rests and prepares for the next proestrus phase.

Understanding these stages of the estrus cycle can help you determine the appropriate time for breeding.

It also allows you to manage the reproductive health of your female dogs so they produce viable puppies.

Gestation: How Long Is a Dog Gestation Period?

A Pregnant Street Dog sniffing the ground.
A Pregnant Street Dog

If a bitch mates during the estrus cycle, she becomes pregnant.

According to Star Vet Clinic, a female dog carries the puppies for about 56 to 70 days, or 63 days on average. This period is called dog gestation.

During gestation, the female dog may experience some physical changes. Her abdomen will gradually expand as the puppies grow, and she may gain weight.

It is advisable to monitor her weight gain and ensure it is within a healthy range. Schedule regular check-ups with a vet who can help:

  • Monitor the progress of the pregnancy
  • Assess the health of the mother and the developing puppies
  • Address any potential complications
An example of a well-balanced diet for a pregnant dog
An example of a well-balanced diet for a pregnant dog

Proper nutrition is crucial during gestation to support the growth and development of the puppies. Ensure you give your female dog a well-balanced diet that includes essential nutrients such as:

  • Protein
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

Look for a high-quality, specially formulated dog food designed for pregnant or nursing dogs. These foods are rich in nutrients and minerals an expectant female dog needs to stay healthy and give birth to incredible puppies.

Visit a qualified vet so they can provide specific dietary recommendations based on your dog’s individual needs.

Dog Whelping

Dog whelping
Two Aspin puppies during dog whelping

As the due date approaches, the female dog enters the whelping stage. It’s a process where an expectant bitch gives birth to puppies after dog gestation period.

Create a comfortable and safe whelping area for the mother and the puppies. Ensure this area is clean, quiet, and warm.

A bitch inside a dog whelping box with her puppies
A bitch inside a dog whelping box with her puppies

Alternatively, invest in a quality dog whelping box with soft bedding. This special box offers a secure and comfortable space for the mother to give birth and care for her puppies.

The bitch may exhibit nesting behaviors, restlessness, panting, and seeking seclusion during whelping. These symptoms are common and shouldn’t worry you much.

Each puppy is typically born within intervals of 15 to 60 minutes. However, the bitch can rest for 2 hours before giving birth to another puppy.

The mother dog will instinctively clean the puppies and stimulate their breathing by licking them.

Give the mother dog privacy and space during this process. But stay around to assist the dog if needed.

After the whelping process, the mother dog will continue to care for her puppies.

She will nurse them, keep them clean, and provide them warmth and comfort.

Monitor the puppies’ growth and ensure they are nursing properly.

Schedule regular vet check-ups for the mother and the puppies to help address any health issues and ensure their overall well-being.

Bringing new life into the world through gestation and whelping is a remarkable experience.

All you need is to support the mother dog throughout this journey by providing them with proper diet and safe environment. This will enable them give their puppies the best start in life.


Dogs are social animals that have a complex system of communication and behavior. They communicate using different body postures, vocalizations, and scents with other dogs and humans.

As pack animals, canines have a strong instinct to form social bonds with their family or group.

Dogs have many different behaviors, such as:

  • Barking
  • Growling
  • Wagging their tail
  • Licking
  • Jumping
  • Digging
  • Chewing

Some dog behaviors are natural and instinctual, while others are learned or reinforced by their environment and experiences.

Range and Territory

A Boxer dog breed marking his territory by urinating
A Boxer dog breed marking his territory by urinating

Dogs have an instinct to mark and defend their territory. This trait helps dogs establish their dominance and protect their resources.

Some of the methods dogs use to mark their territory include:

  • Urinating
  • Defecating
  • Scratching
  • Rubbing their scent on objects or surfaces

Dogs also have a natural range that they like to explore and patrol. This range can vary depending on the dog’s breed, size, and environment.

Some dogs are more territorial and prefer to stay close to their home, while others are more adventurous and like to explore new places.

Final Words: Dog Features & Traits

Dogs are incredible creatures with many physical traits, reproductive systems, and behaviors.

They are marvels of nature, from their unique teeth and digestive system to their versatile skeletal structure and powerful senses.

Understanding these dog features and traits deepens your appreciation for canines. It also helps you provide them with the care and support they need.

You nurture a loving and strong bond with your pet dog, creating a fulfilling and joyful life of companionship.


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions to help you understand your dog features and traits:

What Are 10 Characteristics of A Dog?

The 10 characteristics of dogs include loyalty, intelligence, adaptability, sociability, playfulness, protective instinct, scenting abilities, agility, communication skills, and trainability.

They are also known for their ability to learn and solve problems, flexibility in adjusting to various environments, and social nature.

How Long Does Digestion Take in Dogs?

The duration of digestion in dogs can vary depending on several factors, including the type of food consumed, the dog’s age, size, and overall health. On average, digestion in dogs typically takes around 8 to 10 hours. However, this can vary from as little as 4 hours up to 12 hours.

What Physical Traits Do Dogs Have to Help Them Survive?

Dogs have several physical traits that aid in their survival. These include:

  • Sharp teeth for tearing and chewing food
  • A keen sense of smell for detecting prey, tracking scents, hunting, or identifying potential threats
  • Powerful jaws for biting and holding prey, objects, food, or toys
  • Agility and speed for chasing prey and evading danger
  • Keen hearing to detect sounds
  • A versatile digestive system allows them to consume a wide range of foods.

Which Is the Most Powerful of a Dog Five Senses?

A dog’s sense of smell is considered the strongest of their senses. They have an incredible olfactory system that surpasses that of humans in terms of sensitivity and range. Their noses possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to approximately 6 million in humans.

This heightened sense of smell allows dogs to detect vast scents far beyond what humans can perceive.

Dogs can detect odors at low concentrations. This makes them invaluable in various fields such as:

  • Search and rescue
  • Detection of drugs and explosives
  • Medical applications like detecting diseases or cancers

What Behavior Do Dogs Have?

Dogs exhibit various behaviors influenced by their instincts, breed characteristics, and individual personalities. Common behaviors include:

  • Barking
  • Tail wagging
  • Playfulness
  • Digging
  • Chewing
  • Licking
  • Scent marking
  • Protective instincts

Canines are also social animals and often form strong bonds with their human families or other dogs. They communicate through body language, vocalizations, and scents, expressing happiness, fear, excitement, or aggression.

What Is a Dog Tail Made of?

A dog’s tail consists of a series of small bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae connect to each other by muscles, tendons, and ligaments, giving the tail flexibility and mobility.

The tail has skin, which may vary in thickness and texture depending on the breed. Some dogs have long, bushy tails, while others have short or docked tails. The tail also contains nerves and blood vessels that allow sensory perception and circulation.

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