Dogs have rarely if ever had so much good publicity as in the lead-up to the Year of the Dog. Glowing testimonials to man's best friend abound, including one in this newspaper today. Only a few weeks ago we lamented the existence of dog-unfriendly laws governing open spaces in our urban areas that exclude pets and their owners. Man reciprocates canine loyalty by acting as a devoted public relations agent for the qualities of dogs as companions and their uncanny insights. Politicians would love to have the kind of positive publicity dogs have been getting. Their advantage in being able to speak for themselves can backfire and what they say often gets them into trouble, resulting in unfavourable coverage. This prompts the question, what do our agile four-legged friends and politicians have in common? They can both put their foot in their mouth at any moment. To be fair, dogs are not as smart as politicians - not even standard poodles and German shepherds which, according to research in the United States some years ago, appeared more intelligent than other dogs. People with other kinds of dogs should not be concerned. Dogs offer unconditional love. What they think, as opposed to what they know, does not matter. This raises the question, how well do you know your dog? To which the answer is: not half as well as he or she knows you. It is hard to say what a dog 'knows' because we think of knowing in terms of ability to express it. A dog can show it in other ways. Most dog lovers know that their pets are alert to behavioural signs in their owners that humans are unaware of. More than that, dogs have a nose for things, a nose that the police, for example, find useful in detecting concealed illegal drugs, or in helping to find people who are lost or in distress. That is nothing compared with the discovery by scientists that man's best friend can be trained to distinguish, with uncanny accuracy, between breath samples from someone with lung cancer and from people without. In all these examples they can express their knowledge only by sitting or standing as they have been trained to do. But it is still remarkable. Sadly, for politicians again or the media, no dog has yet shown a nose for sniffing out public opinion or how people will vote, or important information that ought to be revealed in the public interest. But that is, perhaps, because we do not know how to train them to do it. We tend to take the dogs we live with for granted. Yet we might be astonished at how much they learn about their owners just by coming up and sniffing us. None of this will change the comfortable relationship between man and his best friend. But we should remember, the next time we are out walking with just a dog for company, that it might know us better in some ways than any human does.