What really goes on in the mind of a dog has been a great topic of discussion for many years. What do they think? Why do they think this way? How did they develop this manner of thought and behavior? While we may never be able to have a conversation with our furry companions, we have made several amazing advances in the study of dog psychology that help us understand them a little better. Here are ten of the most interesting facts about dog psychology.
#1 – Dogs Can Dream
Many dog owners have probably noticed their dogs twitching, moving their paws, gently barking or crying and huffing in their sleep. It was usually a minor musing that the dog may be dreaming, and the thought of whether or not an animal can actually have dreams was commonly discussed among dog owners. However, several studies in dog psychology now say with certainty that our canine friends do actually experience dreams. Dogs share similar sleep patterns as humans, and their brain activity while sleeping also resembles that of a human brain when asleep. Due to such similarities, it’s strongly believed that dogs actually can dream. In fact, they likely do it as much as any normal person does. Researchers also believe that the most common dreams are happy and involve activities such as playing, chasing an animal or simply running around. Studies also show that smaller breeds tend to dream more frequently than bigger breeds, and that recent events such as playing, seeing an old friend or going someplace new can prompt dreams when the dog goes to sleep.
#2 – They Understand the Power of Barking
Many forms of dog psychology can be linked to the world of human psychology. For example, in much the same realm as a baby understanding that its cry draws the attention of its parents, a dog also understands that a bark elicits a reaction from its owners. In addition, like an older child who gets rewarded after tantrums to get them to stop making noise, dogs also tend to become stuck in their ways and behaviors if this is consistently reinforced. Owners who tend to give into their dog’s barking, such as in instances where an owner will take a dog barking near the food bowl as an indication that they want to be fed, commonly experience difficulty in controlling their dog’s barking.
#3 – They’re as Smart as a Toddler
Even those without a minute of experience in studying dog psychology know that dogs are smarter than people tend to give them credit for. They may not be solving complex math equations, but they’re usually not easily fooled, and they learn very quickly. Exactly how smart do they commonly get in comparison to humans? Research indicates that many dogs have intelligence and understanding on par with a human toddler of about two years old. They have the capacity to learn how to count, understand around 150 words and they can solve problems as well as devise tricks to play on people and other animals.
#4 – They Understand Vocal Tones
While their vocabulary may never reach the complexity of even a young child, our understanding of dog psychology indicates that they can easily understand a wide range of vocal tones. For example, your dog may understand their name and react when called, but the tone of voice used when calling the dog can change their behavior when they come to you. Happy tones make a dog excited and playful while angry tones make dogs feel sad or frightened. If there is fear in your voice, the dog may believe that you’re being threatened and rush to protect you. Sharp tones of pain may prompt comforting behavior from the dog.
#5 – There’s More to Tail-Wagging Than Meets the Eye
One of the most basic and accepted pieces of dog psychology is introduced through the signal of the trademark tail wag. It’s widely accepted by nearly everyone from people who have never owned dogs to authorities in dog psychology that a wagging tail means that a dog is happy, but it’s a more complicated matter than you may think. It is true that when a dog is happy, they wag their tail. However, this is only true when the tail is being wagged to the right. If it’s wagging to the left, it’s indicative of fear. Low tail wags mean nervousness, and rapid tail wags mixed with tense muscles can be a sign of aggression.
#6 – Dogs Experience Jealousy
Another commonly known fact about dog psychology is that dogs have emotions just as people do. They obviously experience basic emotions like happiness, fear and sadness, but what about more complicated feelings such as jealousy? Studies show that dogs do show signs of experiencing jealously. Not in the exact same way as humans experience it, but they still show signs of dealing with the green-eyed monster.
Researchers put dogs side by side and gave them commands. Both dogs would perform the same given command and only one would get a treat. The one who was not given a treat showed signs of agitation, avoided contact with the rewarded dog and scratched more often. This was further attributed to jealously as these signs of agitation appeared more frequently in the experiment with pairs of dogs than in times when a dog was alone and was refused a reward.
An interesting aspect of their feeling of jealousy is in the lack of importance of what’s being offered as a reward. If one dog is being given something great as a treat such as a piece of steak while another is given something like a small dog biscuit, the signs of jealousy are not present. They only care that they get rewarded, not what the reward is.
#7 – No Guilt in a Dog’s Eyes
It’s a familiar scene for every pet owner to walk into a room and see something destroyed or used as toilet. It’s also a familiar scene to spot your beloved furry friend sitting near the area with a big sad expression on their face. It’s easy to believe that this is the dog expressing remorse for their actions, but that’s not technically the case. When a dog sees the look of disapproval on their owner’s face or hears anger and disappointment in their voice, they react negatively with expressions of sadness. It’s also possible that they realize there will be negative consequences for their actions and become sad because of it. It’s more of a situation in regretting getting caught and not that they feel guilty for doing the bad act.
Interestingly, dogs react the same way no matter if they performed the act or not. While it’s unlikely that one dog could actively frame another dog for a misdeed, there are the circumstances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Merely seeing or hearing the negativity from their owners or anticipating punishment is enough to bring on that sad puppy dog face.
#8 – Dogs Learn from Canine Mentors
Many people turn to dog psychology books and guides to help them in training their dogs. However, the presence of a trained older dog may be the easiest way to teach them how to behave and react to commands. Puppies commonly model their behavior from older dogs in their household. If the older dog is trained well and behaves, the puppy can adopt the behavior of the dog quite quickly.
When the older dog is given a command, performs it and gets a treat, the puppy may be able to more easily understand what this command means and what to do when it is given through a form of mimicry.
#9 – No Need for Revenge
There are several times in a dog owner’s life where they could swear that their dogs are behaving badly as a way to get revenge for something. For instance, a dog making a mess on the carpet while its owners are gone all day or chewing up a pillow because its owners didn’t want to play outside can easily be viewed as vengeful acts. However, these behaviors can easily be explained through other more likely reasons.
For example, the first dog could have gone to the bathroom on the carpet because it was stressed out from being home alone all day or having a drastic change in routine. The second dog could have been frustrated due to pent up energy from not being played with and released the energy through tearing something up.
The major issue with the idea of vengeance in a dog is the fact that it requires some form of premeditation that dogs don’t seem to be capable of. Dogs can act in immediate retaliation such as when they’re attacked, but they don’t appear to have the mental capacity to purposely plan out and perform acts of vengeance against anyone. The bad acts should be addressed through proper methods such as stress management and alternative play time not punishment.
#10 – Dog’s Thrive on Love and Discipline
While giving your dog plenty of love and attention is an important aspect of raising a happy dog, studies in dog psychology state that this alone is not good enough to raise an emotionally and mentally healthy dog. Dogs need a healthy balance of affection, attention and discipline in order to feel secure, safe, happy and like a true part of the family.
If they don’t receive some form of discipline through effective and consistent training and their owners taking a dominant stance, they can easily become unhappy, confused in what is and is not acceptable behavior, emotionally unstable and insecure.
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