Dog Psychology is a fascinating field and we all want to know more about dog psychology. Why? Because we want a good, well-mannered, kind and intelligent dog. As dog lovers we know they are very intelligent and loving animals.
And, dog psychology training can help your intelligent dog to become street smart.
Welcome to Wholistic Dog Training. Our goal is to bring you the best dog psychology facts and information available on the web. Many dedicated people have spent a significant time of their life to work on this field to explore what works best and what doesn’t. The whole idea is to improve the quality of life for your dog. Knowing about dog psychology helps in gaining a better understanding of our furry friend. What they like and what they don’t like? What triggers certain behaviors? How can a dog become more friendly and calm? How to be proactive so your dog does not adopt aggressive behavior? How do you understand a dog’s body language? And dog breed also affects the temperament and their overall behavior.
Do not expect a dog bred for sheep herding to be your best companion in an apartment setting. Please don’t do that. Get the right dog. It will be good for the dog and you.
Editor Wholistic Dog Training
A dog doesn’t misbehave or become aggressive just like that. There is a reason. In most cases, it is the humans who are on the wrong side. Do not get me wrong. Get a sheep dog for sure, but do meet their needs in every way, and you will have the best dog ever.
I visited the local ASPCA yesterday, and it brought me to tears. Some one fancied a ‘Beautiful Black Labrador’ so they got a puppy. After three years they realized, it was not for them. The beautiful dog was tied up all day long and it had to be rescued by ASPCA. How good is that?
I think as dog owners we really need to explore more and educate ourselves. So we become better dog owners. Because it is not just about your dog. It is about you, your family, your dog and everyone around you. Dog is a member of your family, so there has to be a nice fit.
Psychologists and dog experts are continuously studying the behavior of dogs to know more about them. When we know them better and understand them more, we will be better equipped to do things which works well. Surely we know all about Cesar Milan. Cesar stands out the most because of his celebrity status. And his famous National Geographic Channel dog show called Dog Whisperer. I know you might be going, hang on “There are lot of other people as well who have contributed significantly to this field”.
You’re right, in this website we will explore the works of all the experts who have immensely contributed to the field of Dog Psychology. I hope you will find the information useful and share with us your own experience because you’re the greatest expert for your dog. No one knows better than you do, so welcome again.
Table of Contents
I want to share with you few Dog Psychology Facts and research based information that will amaze and fill you with awe. We all know dogs are very sensitive animals. They have feelings. They love and they care for you and me. As dog lovers we can feel their heart. We don’t care what Science says (maybe we do, but you know what I mean) because we love our dogs to bits. Isn’t it so? I do. And I am sure you do as well because they are our life. We communicate at another level with our dogs. Do you agree with me? Dogs have an uncanny sense or power. What we sometimes call a sixth sense.
Science has already started to recognize some of those things, I just mentioned. But off course in a more systematic, structured and scientific way, so let’s take a closer look what science has to say.
Many dedicated people have spent almost their entire life studying dog behavior and facts about dog psychology. Why? Because they wanted to understand why dog’s do what they do. Or, why they behave in a certain way. And, that’s the whole purpose of dog psychology. So, let’s take a quick peek at few interesting dog psychology facts below.
#1 My Dog Dreams a Lot – Really?
If anyone says to you: my dog dreams a lot. Will you trust them? Believe it or not, they do. You might have noticed when your dog sleeps they twitch or move their paws. They huff, cry or make sudden whining noises. And, you wonder what that is? Yes, they are having a dream. Maybe they are dreaming about you giving them a tasty treat. There is nothing wrong with that. Is there?
So, they do things just like us. When we dream we experience sudden muscle movements, little bit of shaking etc. Through observations and various research experimentation it has been proved that our furry friends do dream.
Dogs do have different stages of sleep like we do. So, they go to a dreaming state where they can see and experience things such as running, playing or actively doing things. I am sure you have done the same in your sleep many, many times in your life. I do the same, and often times I am called by someone in the family, asking if I am OK? Well, I had few occasions where I saw a thief breaking in to my house and even though I tried my best I could not do anything. Did you have such interesting things happen to you? In the same way, dogs do experience such situations in their dream (don’t know about thieves though). But, who knows? I am just using my imaginations here. Isn’t that interesting?
Well, scientists at top universities such as MIT say that animals have complex dreams. So, what I have mentioned above is not just my ‘fairy tale’.
#2 What does it mean when your dog barks at you?
There is a whole science behind the barking of dogs. So, if you’re questioning yourself: What does it mean when your dog barks at you? Then, you’re on the right path on connecting with your furry friend at a finer level. Why? Because that’s how dogs communicate, it is their language. Understanding why dogs bark is the key to decoding what they are telling you and others around you.
Does your dog talk to you?
If I say dog’s talk, you may nod your head and say ‘no way’ or you will say yes I know this already. Actually, a lot of work is being done by the scientists, so that you can talk to your dog soon. No it is not science fiction. It will be a reality soon with these advanced pet translators. So what do dogs hear when we talk to them? Obviously, their responses will be based on what they hear. Let’s say if you don’t know Chinese, and someone says something in Chinese and expects you to respond correctly. Think what you are gonna do? The same principle applies to your dog as well. You will get the same reaction from your dog if you don’t know their language. Why do dogs respond well to seasoned dog handlers or experts? Yes you are right they know how to communicate with them. Cesar Millan or Ian Dunbar are great examples.
This is another area of dog psychology where a lot of time has been spent studying the behavior of dogs. Why do dogs bark? And, what does different types of barking mean? Dog psychology facts about barking prove that dogs bark for a reason. Barking is similar to taking. Believe it or not, I always talked to my dogs even as a child and I still do. And, I love it. Trust me, they understand us more than we may realize.
A dog’s bark may sound like nothing but noise, but it encodes important information.
Now what does scientists, researchers and dog experts say about barking? This is an interesting article in Science Mag. Compulsive barking should never be taken lightly. Because it maybe a sign of bad behavior or some underlying issue. This is a good article on using dog collars to control barking, is it cruel to do so?
#3 How long is your dog’s memory span?
Dogs have great memory. This is another interesting dog psychology fact that will blow your mind away. Yes you will be surprised what your dog can remember. And, I don’t have to prove this to you, do I? I will tell you my very own story. We had a beautiful German shepherd dog called Steffi. So when I left home for doing my Master’s degree, I returned back after a long spell of one year. The day when I came back home, my parents went to the airport to pick me up. Before they left for the airport, they told Steffi that I was coming home that day.
What happened next is unbelievable?
Upon reaching home, I found Steffi sitting patiently at the gates for my arrival. Yes she was super excited and greeted me with her special charms. I had my grandmother with us that time. She told me later that Steffi never entered home and sat there waiting for me all the while. My grandmother tried various tricks and treats but it was of no use. So, what would you call that? Magic, memory, sixth-sense or dogs have a special sense of understanding, which we really do not understand well.
Now, if you are going: will my dog remember me after 5 years? Then, please do not under estimate your canine buddy. This is a true story of a dog named ‘Hachiko’ – he continued to wait for his owner over nine years following his death. Yes, the famous Hollywood movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale starring Richard Gere.
But, there is on-going debate in the scientific community as to how much dogs can actually remember. There is a term called ‘episodic memory’ which means the ability to remember personal and specific moments. So, does your dog remember specific events? And, how much can they remember?
Here is another example. It is unfortunate that we often hear about dog abuse, right. And a lot goes unheard for sure. But, when we come across an abused dog for example, we see the trauma and the stress in them. This shows that they can remember various experiences either good or bad. Dogs are intelligent animals and they can relate to situations and things.
#4 Do Dogs Grieve the Loss of another Dog?
Yes they do. Dogs have feelings like we do. Dogs do grieve the loss of another dog. You have seen in the above example of Hachiko how he went to the railway station every day and waited for his owner to come back. Hachiko missed his owner. In the same way, if a dog loses its own pack member they will look for the other dog or miss them. As you know already, dogs live in packs and they have a pack structure. When a member goes away for whatever reason they can see and the destabilized pack structure. This causes stress and anxiety. Experts suggest few strategies to help dogs grieve.
#5 Dogs intelligence compared to humans
That is true. Dogs intelligence has been compared to humans. And, it seems dogs are as smart as a two year old baby. So, how does it really compare? Yes, they have a great sense of smell. It is fascinating to know that your dog has the capability to count. According to American Psychological Association, dogs can understand more than 150 words. Wow!
What else? Interesting find: In the United States and Canada, data were collected from 208 dog obedience judges. The results were fascinating, it showed the differences in working and obedience intelligence of various dog breeds.
“Border collies are number one; poodles are second, followed by German shepherds. Fourth on the list is golden retrievers; fifth, dobermans; sixth, Shetland sheepdogs; and finally, Labrador retrievers.”
Stanley Coren, PhD, University of British Columbia
Source: Stanley Coren
Stanley says, your dog will be able to count up to four or five. Do you want to try that? I bet, it will be lot of fun for sure. No just that. Your dog also has a basic understanding of arithmetic and he or she will notice errors in simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3. Is it not awesome?
#6 Is tail wagging always an indication of something positive?
Whenever we see a dog wagging his tail, we assume that the dog is happy and friendly. We even try to pet the dog in response to his tail wagging. But, before you make your move, just pause for a moment. Not all types of tail wagging indicate something positive. In fact, certain types of tail wagging can also be a sign of aggression. If you approach a dog in this state, then the dog can bark at you, growl at you or even bite you. You wonder; hey what did I do wrong? Well, according to science, a lot!
A study was conducted to infer the meaning of tail wagging in dogs. The conclusions of the study can really amaze you.
According to the study, right side tail wagging means that the dog is feeling comfortable around you and you can play with him without any fear.
On the other hand, left side tail wagging is an indication of stress and aggression. Approaching the dog in this state can have negative consequences for you. This type of tail wagging suggests that the dog is unsure of his ground and would rather back off.
The height at which the tail is wagging can also mean different things. When the tail is low, it will mean that the dog is feeling fearful and submissive. When the tail is up, it will suggest dominance. A horizontal tail means the dog is feeling peaceful and calm.
So, the next time you approach a tail wagging dog, make sure the tail wagging is actually friendly.
#7 Dogs and feelings
As dog owners we can vouch for our dog’s feelings towards us. We know our dog loves us to bits. But, what about other complex emotions like compassion or jealousy? Do dogs display these emotions too?
Have you ever tried petting another animal in front of your dog? Or, even a stuffed toy? Well, scientists have done a similar experiment, where the owner was asked to pet a stuffed toy in front of their pet dog. When the owner ignored his pet dog and petted the stuffed toy instead, the dog tried to get his owner’s attention back to him. He would touch his owner by his nose or even try to push the toy away from his owner’s hands. This definitely showed that the dog did not like his owner petting another animal instead of him. The pet dog showed signs of jealousy.
Similarly, studies have shown dogs showing compassion not only towards their owners but also towards complete strangers. When strangers cry in front of dogs or show any signs of distress, the dogs immediately try and comfort them. They would sniff the stranger and even attempt to lick him. The dog showed empathy and concern for a complete stranger.
Not only do dogs display complex feelings but they also mirror the feelings of their owners. Have you noticed that if you dislike a person, your dog also shows certain unfriendliness towards that person? The reason is that dogs eavesdrop on the emotions of their owners. An insightful article in National Geographic describes how dogs are continuously observing their owners interactions with others. If they find a person is acting mean towards their owners, then they also turn their back to that mean person. By nature, dogs are not only observant about actions but also about the feelings involved in the actions.
#8 Can dogs smell danger and disease?
There are stories about dogs behaving differently before a storm. Then there are owners who vouch for their pet’s ability to detect diseases like cancer and diabetes. There are also cases where a dog will suddenly get up and station himself at the door at the exact time his owner prepares to leave office for home. So, does that mean our furry friends are blessed with some psychic powers? Is it a dog’s intuition that lets him warn you of an impending doom? Is it his strong attachment to his owner that makes him aware of his owner’s activities even when his owner is away from home? Well, scientists think differently.
Scientists attribute a dog’s ability to warn people of any danger to their strong sense of smell. Dogs can pick up chemical changes in urine and sweat, thereby making it possible for them to detect certain diseases. They can also pick up subtle changes in weather conditions. These changes can be in temperature or atmospheric pressure. This ability of dogs makes them aware of any upcoming thunderstorm.
Regarding the ability of a dog to sense the time of his owner’s homecoming, scientists are still undecided upon it. Some attribute it to routine whereas some even attribute it to powers of telepathy.
#9 Dogs and social behavior
Dogs are certainly one of the friendliest of animals. Probably, this is the reason they work well as therapy animals. They are able to tune in to human emotions better than other animals. So, what makes them so friendly? How come they are more social than other domestic animals? The answer to this lies in their genes.
Dogs are blessed with a specific gene that makes them so social and friendly. The absence of this gene in humans results in William’s syndrome. Because of the presence of this gene, dogs pay more attention to their human companions. This makes them follow the instructions more closely and accurately.
This ability of a canine to pay attention to its surroundings also helps in its training. Owners have found that it becomes much easier to train a puppy when there is already a well-trained older dog in the house. The puppy is extremely aware of the presence and movements of the other dog and hence learns faster by imitating him.
Hence, timidity or unfriendliness in a dog is not actually its normal nature. By default dogs are social and love interacting. An exception to this can be the result of some traumatic experience or inadequate training.
#10 Dogs behave according to their breeds
Another important aspect of dog psychology that helps in understanding dogs better is that dogs behave according to their breeds. Since dogs have been a man’s companion for thousands of years, they have been bred according to labor type. There are certain breeds of dogs that helped fisherman catch fish, hence such breeds are good swimmers. Then there are breeds that helped in herding cattle and sheep, hence these dogs are good herding animals.
With change in the work profile of humans, we no longer require dogs to work as herders or hunters. But, the herding tendency or swimming tendency of the dog has remained with him. It is inbred. When we keep such dogs in apartments or locations where they cannot utilize their inborn qualities, then they can become a little restless. Since they are unable to perform according to their natural instincts, they might become frustrated. This frustration can make them aggressive and make them do things which might seem abnormal to their human companions, like nipping the ankles of any walking person or digging the garden or tearing things apart at home.
By understanding the needs of the dog, the owners can become more empathetic towards their pet dogs. They can even try and find ways to satisfy the natural tendencies of their pet dogs. And this is where knowing facts of dog psychology help.
Why understanding dog psychology is important?
As you can infer from the above facts related to a dog’s psychology, a lot of a dog’s behavior is because of his genes or his physiological strengths. Knowing these facts helps us to interact in a better way with our canine friends. We can even take advantage of these facts and apply them while training our pet dogs. This will definitely speed up the training process and lessen failures and frustration.
A classic example of applying dog psychology to training is that of the Pavlov experiment. In this experiment, Pavlov observed that dogs would salivate at the appearance of people wearing lab coats. He found out that since food was given to the dogs by lab assistants, the dogs started associating food with lab coats. Pavlov used this knowledge to test if dogs would salivate to the sound of bells. Every time dogs were given food, a bell was rung. After some time even when the dogs were not given food and only the bell was rung, the dogs would start salivating. This was a major breakthrough in understanding dog psychology. It helped trainers design training using conditioning methods.
It helped to introduce reward based training methods that used treats and appreciation to make dogs learn new tricks. If a dog can be made to realize that a desired behavior will be rewarded, then he will be inclined to exhibit that behavior. The dog will then be so conditioned that he will display the desired behavior even when he is not offered a treat in return.
Pavlov’s experiment has also been useful to treat certain phobias in humans. Does that mean human and dog psychology is similar? Do dogs and humans exhibit same psychological behavior? Well, sometimes they do.
How similar is dog psychology to human psychology?
As we know that dogs were domesticated thousands of years ago. Some studies put the domestication timing to 16000 years whereas some suggest that a dog human relationship could date back to more than 32000 years. What all studies point out is that the relationship is pretty old. Probably it is the oldest amongst any human-animal relationship.
The significance of this fact is that humans and dogs have gone through a somewhat similar evolution process. According to an article published in Nature Communications, the genes related to disease, diet and digestion in humans and dogs have evolved in parallel over thousands of years. The probable cause of this parallel evolution is the sharing of the same living conditions. Dogs even share certain diseases with humans like obesity and cancer.
Similarly, dogs and humans have some common psychological behavior. Some of the similarities between human and dog psychology are:
- Dogs also experience feelings of jealousy like humans.
- Similar to humans, dogs are also able to learn quickly by copying the behavior of an older partner.
- Dogs react differently to different facial expressions of humans.
- Dogs exhibit compassion like humans and offer help when they see someone in distress.
Because there are so many similarities between human and dog psychology, dogs get affected by the human environment they live in. If their owner suffers from depression or anxiety then it will affect the dog too. Such a negative environment can make the dog aggressive or insecure or fearful. Hence, it becomes imperative to study the dog’s environment before you apply any behavior modification techniques. By first studying the dog’s environment and then preparing any training or treatment plan the chances of getting positive results increase. Understanding dog psychology is useful in the following areas of training too.
Applying dog psychology for training
Once we understand the basics of dog psychology, it becomes easier to understand why a dog is behaving in a certain manner. As Pavlov experiment suggests, you can easily condition dogs to respond in a certain way by giving them something (like food or praise) in return. This helps to train dogs by giving them a reward that they are expecting in return of the desired behavior.
Similarly, if a well-trained dog suddenly starts exhibiting undesired behavior, then the cause can be found in his environment. For example, if a potty trained dog starts peeing inside the house, then this could mean many things. He is doing this because he is feeling fearful, jealous or insecure. Such feelings could be the result of changes in his environment like house shifting, arrival of guests or a baby in the house and so on. By tuning in to dog’s psychology we become aware of the probable causes and are better able to provide solutions.
Since dogs are non-verbal animals, understanding dog psychology greatly helps in communicating with your pet. Chances of misunderstanding greatly reduce which in turn help to improve an owner-pet relationship.
Dogs have interests. They have interest sniffing each other, chasing squirrels. And if we don’t make that a reward in training, that will be a distraction. It’s always sort of struck me as really a scary thought that if you see a dog in a park, and the owner is calling it, and the owner says, you know, “Puppy, come here, come here,” and the dog thinks, “Hmm, interesting. I’m sniffing this other dog’s rear end, the owner’s calling.” It’s a difficult choice, right? Rear end, owner. Rear end wins. I mean, you lose. You cannot compete with the environment, if you have an adolescent dog’s brain. So, when we train, we’re always trying to take into account the dog’s point of view.