Inside the canine mind
As a dog owner, you don’t have to be told your dog has an interesting inner life. Sometimes he even seems to know you better than some family members.
You’d love to know what he’s thinking about when he’s dreaming, or when he looks at you with those big brown eyes.
But how do you know what he’s thinking, or whether it’s just you projecting human emotions onto your pooch? We look at some common scenarios to help you better understand how your pup thinks and feels.
Does my dog feel guilty?
Not in the way humans feel guilt. When he’s torn up a teddy bear while you were away and acts all guilty when you get back, it’s because he’s picking up on your vibes.
He knows there will be consequences, based on your body language and tone of voice.
By making himself look smaller, he’s showing you he accepts your dominance and isn’t challenging your authority. And he’s making an association: last time there were teddy innards all over the floor, you reacted in an angry way.
The trick here is to focus on the behaviour: training him not to shred those soft those when he’s home alone.
What emotions do dogs feel?
While dogs don’t experience complex emotions like guilt, as we just saw, they are capable of feeling emotion. We can safely say that dogs experience:
More complex emotions like guilt, shame, pride and contempt only start appearing in human children at about three years of age, and dogs are about as intelligent as a two-and-a-half-year-old child.
Did you know? Dogs have the same brain structure that produces emotions as humans.
Does my dog care about me?
You probably don’t have to be told this one – of course he does – but you may be surprised at the tiny ways in which your dog shows this.
Your pooch can probably tell if you’re being snubbed by someone and will, in turn, act coldly towards that person.
That’s right, in an experiment done by Kyoto University, dogs watching their owners ask for help picked up when their humans were being rudely ignored and would, in turn, ignore food offered by the rude person person. Dogs truly are loyal friends.
Did you know? When he’s around you, your dog experiences an increase the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps with bonding in both dogs and humans.
What’s my dog thinking when we Skype or FaceTime?
This one is up for debate. Your pup might recognise you, but, then again, dogs rely heavily on smell for recognition.
We do know that dogs have a specific part of the brain that processes faces, which does activate when they’re looking at humans. But we don’t know yet whether dogs can recognise their owners by face and voice alone.
Still, it makes you feel better to see that doggie face when you’re away from home, so keep up the Skype and FaceTime chats.
Can my dog understand me?
You’ve probably picked up that your dog is very much in touch with how you’re feeling from one day to the next. He seems to know when you’ve had a bad day and need some affection. He jumps for joy when you’re excited about something.
Dogs do understand us, but not in the way humans understand each other. That’s because we have language to communicate ‒ and sometimes obfuscate things.
Dog pick up on other cues ‒ our body language, tone of voice and even our smell. When you’re acting all nice around someone you actually can’t stand, your dog can probably pick up that this is not a favourite person. When you say you’re doing very well, thanks, but you’re actually feeling down, your dog will know you’re not feeling your best.
Because they’re so good at reading our non-verbal cues, hand signals work very well in dog training; something we’ll look at in the next article.