Category Archives: do dogs think

How Do Dogs Think?

By Linda Cole

Dogs aren’t usually thought of as problem solvers. However, they are pretty good at manipulating us to get what they want. They definitely are not dumb. Dogs do think and can remember things. It’s hard not to wonder what your dog is thinking about when you catch him staring off into the distance or watching TV. Of course they don’t process information the same way we do – or do they?

Researchers believe the canine mind processes images in their mind via their senses. Dogs think using smells, sounds and images. It’s really not unlike how we process information. When you talk to a friend on the phone, you can visualize that person’s face. Our minds are full of images, smells and sounds we’ve learned throughout our lives. If you’re thinking about buying a new car, you see the image of that car. Growling and hissing outside your bedroom window conjures up an image of two cats fighting. The smell of a neighbor’s steak cooking on his grill lets you see that steak cooking. Like dogs, we get a mental picture in our mind associated with different smells, sounds and images. Although our thought process is more sophisticated, a general observation would entertain the notion that dogs think like we do.

Take for example, a dog waiting for his owner to return home. Researchers believe dogs think about us while we’re gone. Since our smells are everywhere in the home, it’s easy for dogs to have a mental picture of us in their minds. Look at it from your dog’s point of view. Before you walk out the front door to go to work, you’ve engaged in a specific routine. Your dog knows you are getting ready to leave. He watches and learns what you do, and pays attention to what you’ve touched whether you know it or not. That’s why the remote may have chew marks on it or you find your favorite book in shreds in the middle of the living room floor. It smells like you and it gave your dog a positive feeling, especially if you sat on the couch last night with him by your side as you read or watched TV.

Your dog’s favorite smells are everywhere around the home, allowing him to think in images of things you do every day. In order to make himself feel better, especially if you are running late, he may “borrow” something of yours. This could act as a sort of crutch to help him get through until you arrive home.

When most dogs think of their owners, their thoughts of us are positive, which is what we want. A combination of positive and negative images can begin to confuse a dog, who then starts to exhibit behavioral problems. Yelling at your dog for something he did wrong while you were gone does nothing except to begin a reinforcement of negative feelings in him associated with you coming home. Any punishment after the fact is useless because he has no idea why you are yelling at him or punishing him. The only fair punishment is at the time the infraction took place. Dogs don’t hold grudges and neither should we.

As responsible pet owners, it’s up to us to understand how dogs think in order to understand how our reaction to finding something destroyed while we were gone will affect the dog. The last thing you want to do is give your dog negative thoughts connected with you returning home. The best thing to do is to count to ten, clean up the mess, and try to think like a dog and see his environment from his view. He doesn’t understand how expensive your new CD was or the sentimental value of the book that was handed down to you from your great-great grandfather, or the importance of the photo album you were looking at last night that was left on the coffee table.

Your dog will search for anything with your smell on it, and it makes him feel good and happy while he waits for your return. It really isn’t his fault if you forgot to put something important or expensive away. So instead of getting mad and dishing out punishment that means nothing to your dog, provide him with appropriate items he can safely snuggle with or chew on while you’re gone. Give him a break. Your home is filled with your smell which keeps you in your dog’s mind.

Dogs think, even though it’s not on the same level as a Rhodes scholar. Most people will admit that their dog has them wrapped around their little finger. If you don’t believe dogs think, then how were they able to train us so well?

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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Can Dogs Think On Their Own?

By Linda Cole

We teach dogs how to do tricks, retrieve things, herd sheep, flush out birds and wrangle geese. Dogs learn how to lead the blind, assist the disabled so they can live in a home environment, and use their incredible noses to find those who are lost. We know dogs can be taught, but can dogs think on their own?

Research has shown that dogs have the mental capacity of a 2 to 2-1/2 year old. We know dogs understand up to 165 words. They also understand the body language we use along with our words. Compared to 100 different breeds of dogs, the Border Collie tops the list in intelligence, followed by Poodles and German Shepherds. The Afghan Hound sits at the bottom along with the rest of the hound group, but where do dogs who aren’t purebreds fall? Regardless of whether a dog is purebred or mixed, if dogs have the intelligence of a 2 year old, it’s reasonable to believe dogs think.

Ethologist (scientists who study animal behavior in their natural habitats) can rank different species according to how they survive in and react to their environment, if they use tools, or can figure out how to overcome a specific problem in order to obtain food. Chimps and parrots are at the top of the list. Both species have learned our language and communicate with us verbally or with sign language, but other animals and birds have reacted to situations showing their ability to think. Ravens have learned how to pull a piece of string up to retrieve meat at the end of it. Otters use rocks to break into clams, their favorite food.

Trying to determine how dogs think is more complicated because they are not studied in the wild. A wolf pack is the closest cousin we can compare dogs to, but dogs aren’t wolves. A dog’s natural habitat is someone’s home or backyard. Ethologists have a difficult time trying to determine dog intelligence for that reason, and they know far more about other animals than they do about dogs. The emotional bond we share with our dogs creates conditions that make it challenging to accurately test how smart dogs are.

Years ago I had a male dog, Bear, and female, Mindy. They were siblings, a Collie/Shepherd/Irish Setter/Great Dane mix. My dog pen is behind my house with inclines outside a 5-foot fence on the east and west sides. Bear and Mindy invented a game they loved to play. My office window and kitchen window overlook the pen. One day, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw them on the outside of the pen. Frantic to get outside before they ran away, I raced out the front door and ran to the side yard. The dogs were gone. I tore back inside to get their leashes, preparing for an afternoon or longer searching for them. Bear and Mindy were waiting in the basement.

Relieved, but confused, I opened the door and put them back outside. Back in the kitchen, I could hear them running around the pen and went to the window to watch them. They ran around the pen 4 or 5 times and then, as if on cue, looked at each other and jumped the fence in one bound, turned around and jumped back into the pen. They reversed direction, ran a couple of circles before jumping the fence onto the hill on the other side of the pen, then jumped back inside. They continued running and jumping the fence a few more times before tiring of the game. Bear walked over to the back door, took the door knob in his mouth and turned it, holding the door open for Mindy to walk through. Mindy stopped long enough to allow Bear to move in front of the door so he too could enter the basement. My confusion about how they had gotten into the house had been answered.

Can I equate Bear and Mindy’s actions with dogs thinking? They noticed the ground was higher in those two sections of the back yard. To me they demonstrated a certain amount of reasoning by synchronizing their jumps and inventing their entertainment which appeared to have been thought about beforehand. I didn’t teach Bear how to open the door. He taught himself, and to me that proves dogs think.

Scientists haven’t been able to definitively conclude whether dogs actually think; however, if you own a dog, you don’t need anyone to tell you how smart your dog is. Observant dog owners see every day how their pet reacts to their environment. I’m constantly amazed at what my dogs come up with. To me, dogs do think, and it’s time we gave them credit for it.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.