We all know how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is. In fact, smell is a dog’s primary sense; they interpret the world predominately through their olfactory system while humans interpret the world predominately through our visual system. Even so, both humans and dogs use senses to understand what’s going on around them. But did you know that, just like humans, dogs rely on more than just their senses to figure things out? Dogs are experts at reading body language, and not just each other’s. In the same way that humans have learned to read canine body language, dogs can read human body language. Our movements, posture and even our glances tell our canine companions a lot about what we are thinking and feeling.
Have you ever glanced over at your dog’s leash? If your dog sees you look at his leash, what does he do? My dogs jump up and run to the door, ready to go on a walk. I used to think their reaction was based on the time of day, because we usually keep a pretty regular walk schedule. To rule that out, I looked at the leash random times and got the same reaction. Because I didn’t say the tell-tale “w” word, I knew they were not reacting to my verbal cue. And because it was at an unusual time, I knew they were not reacting to a specific time of day. No. They were reading my body language!
Social cognition is a popular field of study, and research into a dog’s ability to pick up on human behavior signals is thriving. It’s long been understood that most social mammals are adept at reading cues from members of their same species, but the study of social cognition recognizes that dogs are amazingly good at reading human body language. A dog’s social cognition crosses species type.