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What Is My Dog Really Thinking?

By Edited Mar 15, 2014 0 2

Scientific Proof

The proof is here! Relatively new scientific studies into canine cognition are proving what all dog owners who lovingly and closely watch and interact with dogs every day, already know... that there is much more understanding and communication running between humans and our favourite quadrupeds, than much of society can even begin to realise. Not being a strong believer in the "domination over your dog" approach, but trying to find a fine line of keeping some control so your pet can fit in to society and not run completely riot, is a problem for many dog owners. When you know that behind those gazing soulful eyes, there are complexed thoughts going on, how can you ignore their own little issues and take the "I am your superior" attitude? 


Understanding Each Other

How many dog owners already have an understanding with their dog? A bond that stretches far beyond basic training and into acknowledging that they actually "get each other".  Maybe a concern that their non doggy friends will think they've totally lost the plot and have gained fruit loop status, deters many to admit it to too many people, but people who spend a lot of time with dogs and have cared enough to really notice, know the real truth. 

What We Notice

To someone unfamiliar or not tuned in with their dog, they may assume that a silent gaze when talking to it, indicates that the dog doesn't understand... but if they look a little more carefully they should see the signs that there is more going on inside of that brain. Cognition is definitely heavily involved. My dog glances to the side and then back at me, definitely thinks for a few seconds and then often seems to show her preference with a sneeze like a hmmph sound. Now this is not the only dog I have owned or known that reacts this way and whilst researching this topic, I have found many people have in fact noticed the exact same thing. Dogs cognitive abilities are much more involved than many give them credit for. Emphatic sneezes when hitting upon the thing your dog wants is just one thing. Scientific studies have also shown us that dogs are capable of counting[5]. Reasearch was completed using treats and these calculations, 1+1=1, 1+1=2 and 1+1=3 . They presented the dogs with treats and then proceeded to place the same treats behind a screen, thus allowing the people to manipulate the outcome. When the dogs knew the answer and were waiting for their expected outcome to be revealed, they spent the same amount of time looking at the result when the screen was removed, as they did when they were presented with the equation, however, when the result was manipulated and the outcome was unexpected, they spent significantly longer looking at the outcome. The moral behind this, don't try to diddle your dog out of his treats...He's on to you!

What's In A Word?

No matter how much people say dogs can't understand words and that it is the intonation and tones with which you speak that they are understanding...This is just not true!

Psychologist Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia states that an average dog can understand 165 words and an above average dog can have a vocabulary of 250 words. 
A particularly cleaver Border Collie named Chaser was involved in a recent long term study by John Pilley, which proved that simply by regularly and reliably talking to Chaser, it enabled her to learn a whopping 1022 words. If you think this is not possible watch the video below to see Chaser in action, Her toy identification skills are almost unbelievable. If you didn't see the proof of what she can do in this video, you would never believe it could be true. You'll also find out some other amazing things researchers are now realizing our dogs have the ability to do.

How Smart Are Dogs?


Whilst on the topic of language it is possible for a dog to learn different languages and be bilingual. My dog definitely understands both Chinese and English - how?  Easy, I just speak to her in both. People in the streets here get great amusement in testing her ability to understand their Chinese, knowing that me her owner, predominately speaks English. It never fails to make people go "WOW".

Even though a dog is better equipped to understand nouns and verbs, meaning anything too in-depth will likely go beyond their comprehension, you have to admit, that a dogs ability to use their aural skills to learn our oral language is still extremely impressive. 

Pack Behaviour

Yes, dogs are pack animals but it is not so much that they need to follow a pack leader, what normally happens in their packs is that they follow their friends. In fact isn't it true that whilst watching documentaries and such, that we view those pack leaders as aggressive, dominating and troublesome? So why do we wish to be like that with our dogs, it only brings in more problems with anxiety issuesYes, we need to have control...No we don't need to prove our superiority to do it. Much can be gained by working together in a more passive and understanding way. As you have seen from the above video, over time they have adapted to a domesticated human way of life and love nothing more than to be with us and want to give and please!

Dog Intelligence Science

Dogs Really Can Understand Us!

One of the dogs most impressive abilities is to not only learn from us, but about us. According to research[3] it is now believed that dogs can read humans better than chimpanzees. From the research and the video's included in this article, it has been proven that chimpanzees don't have the cognitive ability to be able to understand when we try to help them by pointing to a cup which has food hidden under, but dogs can easily understand what we show them with our pointing gestures. The even more amazing thing is that they can also recognize eye gestures. 

Dogs have adapted into our society and study humans better than we humans have studied them. It can be the explanation for their almost 6th sense that we often feel they have. How often do they seemingly know that you have just thought about taking them out for a walk or are going to feed them? The belief is that they study us so well they begin to know all of our gestures, movements and habits...maybe even more than we've realized and know about ourselves.

Training and Understanding

The more we interact and talk to our dogs, the more they understand. It is totally plausible as to why many people feel that their dog understands them better than anyone else... because that's what dogs do, learn by observing, watch and understand. Of course this by no means implies that we shouldn't train them. It is actually true that for most dogs, training is actually an enjoyable experience. It is to them yet another step towards building an understanding with us, which in turn leads to a pleasurable association for both the dog and owner. With all of the knowledge we now have, it also shows just how crucial it is to use good, gentle, and positive reinforcement training techniques when teaching your puppy.

In All Ways Dogs Are Good For Us

Science has already acknowledged the health benefits of owning a dog - physically, mentally and emotionally - but until now, has never really gone further to find out why it is that they are so good for us. With studies only now starting to realise how their brains work, we begin to understand just why it is that dogs really can be our most reliable and understanding best friends. Let's also not forget the qualities that we ourselves should learn from our fabulous four footed friends. I've learned many better ways about how to approach life by observing my canine companions.

Now... can someone try and do some research that finds out what dogs think when they get in an elevator? Anyone?

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Mar 28, 2013 9:41am
Great article---as an owner of MANY dogs, canine cognition has become a very interesting subject to me. I have read most of the references that you list. You should also read "The Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz...great book that would likely interest you
Mar 28, 2013 4:26pm
jindovina, big thanks to you for reading and taking the time to comment. I didn't know Alexandra Horowitz had written a book, thankyou for the recommendation. I most surely am very interested in reading it. It's a subject that I am very interested in because I see it happening all around me and often can't understand how other people can't notice! Before my current job I spent many years as a dog groomer...people where always amazed at how the dogs WANTED to come to me for hair cuts. I would go to pick them up and they would excitedly fly into my car. Dogs like it when people understand them and can communicate with them!
Thanks again!
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  1. Alexandra Horowitz "What Do Dogs Think?." Nova. 27/03/2013 <Web >
  2. Annie Murphy Paul "What Your Dog Is Thinking." Time Ideas. 11/10/2012. 27/03/2013 <Web >
  3. Katharina C. Kirchhofer, Felizitas Zimmermann, Juliane Kaminski, Michael Tomasello "Dogs (Canis familiaris), but Not Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Understand Imperative Pointing." PLOS ONE. 27/03/2013 <Web >
  4. "Why Study Dog Cognition?." Duke Univerity Evolutionary Anthropology. 28/03/2013 <Web >
  5. "Do Domestic Dogs Show Any Evidence Of Being Able To Count?." Springer Link. 28/03/2013 <Web >
  6. "Research With Dogs." Max Planck Department of developmental and Comparative Psychology. 28/03/2013 <Web >
  7. "Manners Mider : Train Good Behaviour At The Door." Dr SophiaYin.com. 28/03/2013 <Web >

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