What is Your Dog Thinking? Part 1
Dog psychology is a tricky area for a lot of pet owners. On one hand, dog psychology is certainly
more complex than a lot of other animals and they experience a lot of more complex emotions.
On the other hand, despite their intelligence, we sometimes apply more complex human
emotions onto them than we should. Knowing a bit more about how dogs think, and how they
don’t think, is vitally important to better understanding how to make them happy and keep
them in a good emotional place that’s best for everyone.
Let’s go over some of the positive ways a dog’s mind works that can help you get a better sense
of how you can better help them. First, dogs learn a lot from other dogs. If you have a mature,
well-trained, and well-behaved dog in the house already, he or she can serve as an amazing
mentor for younger puppies. Dogs don’t just learn the basics of survival from older mentors,
they learn how to behave around people and what kind of “manners” are acceptable.
Dogs also thrive on discipline and structure. Of course, when we talk about discipline we’re
talking about the right kind of discipline with a lot of positive reinforcement – not cruel and
harsh punishments. Structure in a dog’s day helps him feel safe and secure. Just like with small
children who receive too much independence and no direction, what seems like freedom can
quickly devolve into anxiety and a lack of coping skills.
Two of the most common negative human emotions that we often think dogs also feel are guilt
and vengeance. Guilt is something we think we see in a dog’s eyes when we have caught them
in the act of doing something especially naughty. Vengeance, on the other hand, we ascribe to
dogs when we’ve come home to find they’ve made a mess in the house when they were left
alone too long. In both these cases, we are feeling strong emotions ourselves as a result of
what’s happened and imagine the dogs must also be feeling something similar. In reality when
we swear we’re seeing guilt in a dog’s face, we’re simply superimposing our own assumptions
on to them.
Of course, there are many complex “human” emotions that dogs do experience. One of these
that many dog owners have experienced first-hand is jealousy. Their version of jealousy might
not be exactly like humans, but studies have shown that dogs do understand the concept and
can become visibly upset or agitated when they perceive themselves to be treated less fairly
than a competitor (whether it be another dog or person). It may be important to note that dogs
don’t seem to care much about what is being rewarded – attention, a treat, or a toy. They’re
more concerned with if they’re getting the same reward or not.
Understanding how dogs think and what kind of things trigger their emotions is an important
skill for any owner or handler to have. You’ll find that with a better grasp of dog psychology
your training methods can be more effective. Perhaps more importantly, a new perspective on
why a dog acts the way he does, regardless of if you couple it with training, may give you
newfound patience and insight. That alone can go a long ways in making your relationship with
your best friend all the more better.