Understanding the mind of your dog! Part 1

Easily figure out what your puppy or older dog is thinking, wanting, feeling, and even dreaming!

As pet owners we all wonder what our pets are thinking. Are they happy or hungry? Do they need to go outside? Are they feeling guilty abuot something? And it doesn’t apply to just dogs. Cats, assumed to be much smarter than dogs, are very hard to ‘decode,’ however they too have similar wants, desires, and emotions as dogs. Probably all animals, in one way or another, display varying needs and emotions. In this article I am focusing on dogs, mostly because I think I ‘understand’ them better. (insert unsure smiley face!)

Looking up at you longingly, is your dog trying to tell you she wants to walk, she’s hungry, she has to go outside, or she’s mad and trying to make you feel guilty for lack of constant attention. Does she feel guilty about knocking the cup off the table and are her exaggerated glances over at the cat trying to convince you, “the cat did it!” What’s happening when she wiggles on the floor while she’s sleeping? Does she like watching TV? According to Discover Magazine, the answers may surprise you.

Years of research have been put into answering these questions by neuroscientists, giving us access to the once-secret inner lives of our canine companions and even translating their barks and wags so mere humans can comprehend them.

Do Dogs Experience the Same Emotions as People?

Dogs have the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans. They have the same hormones and undergo the same chemical changes that humans do during emotional states. Dogs even have the hormone oxytocin,  which in humans is involved with love and affection. So it seems reasonable to suggest that dogs also have emotions similar to ours. However, it is important not to go overboard: The mind of a dog is basically equivalent to a human 2-3 years old. A child that age clearly has emotions, but not all possible emotions, since many emerge later in the path to adulthood.

Dogs go through their developmental stages much more quickly than humans do, attaining their full emotional range by the time they are 4 to 6 months old. Much like a human toddler, a dog has the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, contentment, distress, and even love. A dog does not have, and will not develop, more complex emotions, like guilt, pride, contempt, and shame, however.

You might argue that your dog has shown evidence of feeling guilt. In the usual scenario, you come home and your dog starts slinking around and showing discomfort, and then you find her total destruction of a small log that left bits of bark all over and in the rug. It is natural to conclude that the dog’s actions show a sense of guilt about its transgression. However, this is simply the more basic emotion of fear. The dog has learned fear…that when you appear after she tore apart something she shouldn’t have, you will be upset with her. What you see is your dogs fear of punishment. She will never feel guilt. She will also never feel shame, so feel free to dress her is that ugly Christmas sweater or that ridiculous party costume.

Barks, Wags, and Laughing!

First, do dogs actually smile? In the minds of most people, the equivalent of a dogs smiling is when she is wagging her tail. But there is actually one canine facial expression that comes close to what is meant by smiling in humans. A slightly opened jaw reveals the dog’s tongue lapping out over her front teeth. Frequently the eyes take on a teardrop shape at the same time as if being pulled upward slightly at the outer corners. It is a casual expression that is usually seen when the dog is relaxed, playing, or interacting socially, especially with people. The moment any anxiety or stress is introduced, the dog’s mouth closes and you can no longer see the tongue.

Dogs are also capable of laughing, and they typically do so when they are playing. Canine laughter begins with the doggy equivalent of smiling but also includes a sound that is much like panting. Several years ago, animal behaviorist Patricia Simonet, recorded those sounds while dogs played. On analyzing the recordings, she found that they involved a broader range of frequencies than does regular dog panting. In one experiment, Simonet noticed that puppies romped for joy when they heard recordings of these sounds: in another, she was able to show that these same sounds even helped to calm dogs in an animal shelter.

So you want to make your dog laugh?

Humans can imitate sounds of dog laughter, but it takes conscious monitoring of your mouth shape to get the sound pattern right. Producing dog laughter correctly, says Stanley Coren, noted animal behaviorist from the University of British Columbia, can make your dog sit up, wag her tail, approach you from across the room, and even laugh along.

  1. Round your lips slightly to make a ‘hhuh‘ sound. Note: the sound has to be breathy with no actual voicing. If you touch your throat while making this sound, you shouldn’t feel any vibration.
  2. Use an open-mouthed smiling expression to make a ‘hhahsoucd. Again, breathe the sound. Do not verbalize it.
  3. Combine steps one and two to create canine laughter! It shoudl soudnd like ‘hhuhhhuhhhuhhhahhhuh.’

Don’t laugh before you try it! Maybe your dog will laugh too=D

Anyway, there is so much to learn about our pets! We want health and happiness for them always so keep an eye out for Part 2 of this post. I will discuss why dogs prefer HDTV, whether or not they dream, and what their wags and barks really mean.