How Do Dogs Think

How Do Dogs Think

In order for us as humans to understand our dogs, we have to try to work out things like how do dogs think and how their behavior patterns make sense to us.

Indeed dogs are complex and we need to try to tune into their habits and ways in order to be able to have the best kind of relationship we can with them.

If you have recently taken on a rescue dog or a new puppy there will be a point you arrive at that may make little sense to you and leave you at a loss to understand what is going on with them.

Dog’s have complex brains just like we do and in terms of science, only now are we gaining a better understanding of how our brains work and yet, there is so much that still remains a mystery.

When it comes to dog behavior this whole mystery gets even more compounded as not only are they a different species, there is so much poor quality information out there that contradicts itself on a regular basis.

You can get many different theories about dog behavior and training that sometimes you can feel overwhelmed and ill-informed.

Dogs are said to have become domesticated by humans around 30,000 years ago but as with all these kinds of claims, no one knows for sure.

Before the domestication dogs roamed freely and behaved like dogs. The living conditions for dogs back then would have been very different and extremely hard by today’s comparison.

Wild dogs in Africa can give us an idea of what life was like for our dogs back then.

How Do Dogs Think

Illness would have proved fatal for most dogs back then along with fighting to the death for food and the aggressive behavior that they would have needed in order to just survive is probably a lot nearer to a dog’s natural behavior, without human intervention.

The domestication of dogs has tempered the aggression and over the millennia dogs have evolved too in order to live in a more harmonious way with us.

In recent times, dogs have become pets in as much as the way we keep them today, but if you go back a short time in history, the majority of dogs were expected to work on farms and on estates and the whole idea of a pet was quite unusual.

In times gone by dogs would have certainly been kept by royalty and nobility, farmers and hunters as these were dogs that earned their keep.

This is still very much the way it is today for certain dogs, however, things have moved on.

Indeed many of us spend small fortunes on our pet dogs each year and a lot of time is spent on them and with them that it could be argued that for some dogs it has actually detracted from their lives.

Dogs Are Complex But Need Specific Needs

It’s true that our dogs require specific things every single day in order to maintain their behavior. If these essential needs are not met with consistency every single day then you will see a sudden change in their behavior.

This change will affect their wellbeing and also the way they view you as their owner, protector, and friend.
You see, dogs rely upon us to be all of those things and more and although that can be a daunting prospect to a new owner, as long as you really love them and want to do the right thing, then these are things that can easily be learned.

We always want to avoid any kind of conflict with our dogs as it’s simply not a healthy way for them to be or indeed for us to live with the stress of having an upset dog within our home.

Generally, it’s a lack of knowledge on our behalf that causes this breakdown and therefore we need to look at our responses.
In fact, through frustration many times people can try to find quick fixes to sort out troublesome behavior with their dogs and this nearly always fails to work and leaves the same people frustrated, the dog even more confused or worse and the issue still not resolved.

This is why we as owners need to learn the very specific knowledge that is needed in order to understand how our dogs think and to make sure we put in place the appropriate measures to make our lives together as great as they can be.

The Canine Ethogram

Click the image or link below to save the ethogram as a PDF.

Ethogram-for-24-behaviours-in-dogs-adapted-from-Zimen-34-and-van-Hooff-and-Wensing

The canine ethogram is defined as a species-specific list of all of the behaviors normal to that species in its natural habitat.

From the diagram, it states that dogs a social species and this is just one of the reasons that we get along with them so well and they are very happy to live with us too.
However, it’s this exact reason that sometimes when we ask dogs to be on their own and be in a solitary period of time that the real problems occur.

Here is an article I wrote about Separation Anxiety and how it can seriously affect your relationship with your dog.

This is why dogs and humans get along so well. They really love knowing that we are around or near. It really does not help them at all to be left alone.

It’s a popular misconception that people have that it’s ok to leave the dog at home. I know I have done it in the past and on returning home my dog has appeared to be fine and welcoming and the house is fine..on other occasions in the past with other dogs, the opposite has been the case.

A quite alarming figure that has been estimated by professionals in the field of dog behavior, along with trainers and Vets, has suggested that possibly 50%+ of the dog population in the UK alone suffer from separation anxiety which leads to other issues with the dog’s behavior.

I don’t do that anymore. If I have to go out my dog comes with me or if I know I am going to need to be out for a bit longer than doggy daycare is the best and safest option and also it’s a lot of fun for my boy to go somewhere that he can actually enjoy himself and be well looked after, surrounded by other dogs and people who really care about him.

It is often overlooked when you become a dog owner that you also need to be thinking of what is best for the dog in each and every situation that you are going to encounter together.

Getting Another Dog For Company

How Do Dogs Think

Many people feel that a simple solution would be to get another dog to keep the first dog company when it’s being left behind.
That is a human emotion that we project upon our dogs because it’s how WE think and not how a dog thinks.

We Anthropomorphize.

This means that we attribute human characteristics or behavior to our dogs and this a mistake.
By doing this “quick fix” can really backfire and make the situation much worse, indeed you could now have two dogs getting separation anxiety and escalating each other’s behaviors and this alone can have dramatic and devastating results.

In fact, introducing another dog into the home without any input from your existing dog is a terrible idea too.
Imagine that you are the existing dog for a second and the home has become your territory, your bed, your dog bowl, your food, your smells..and then a new dog just appears?

TOP TIP: Let Your Dog Choose There Own Friends

If you are ever thinking about getting another dog to join your household the absolute BEST way of doing this is to go to the local rescue center nearest to you and finding the dog that you want.

Then, take them for a walk and see how they are with you and then go back with YOUR existing dog and let them meet each other on neutral ground.

Allow them the time to get to know each other, walk them together and let them play in a secure pound (rescue centers usually have one) and this way you can see how they interact without any kind of stresses put on them.
They are just two dogs getting to know each other.. then if everything good, the whole idea of bringing that wonderful rescue dog back to your loving home can progress and you know that your existing dog has made a new friend…it really is the best way.

Anxiety in dogs generally is increasing as is the way that dogs are reacting towards other dogs because of the shifts in our society.
In recent years dogs have become accessories for the celebrity culture that has permeated our lives and obviously people follow trends and this has been an unwelcome and unneeded fallout of this dangerous aspect of our culture.

Dogs are NOT accessories and should never be thought of as such.

Our brains are programmed to keep us safe so if we anticipate attack then we respond in a fight, flight or freeze modes.
Most of the time flight is the best and safest option for us and for dogs too.
Dogs understand that to fight when there is a better option is a bad move because they understand that they could get seriously hurt or worse.

As we now know from the ethogram that our dogs are social animals which means they really love to live in close proximity with us as owners and other dogs too (as long as they know them!)

Dogs need to know that they can perform their bodily functions too free from any kind of chastisement. This means that they get their regular exercise, toilet breaks, get to use the yard or garden and that we are looking out for them and making sure that they don’t have to worry about that aspect of their daily life.

Can you imagine for a second how YOU would feel if you were scared to use the bathroom every day?
Can you imagine how that feels?
Can you imagine if you were shouted at or worse for having a little accident in the home?

It would be barbaric, yet some people treat their dogs with this kind of abuse daily and then complain that the dog “won’t learn to go out!” The failing is with the human, not the dog.

The failing human is 100% responsible for pretty much every aspect of a dog with any kind of challenging behavior and this is why we constantly need to up our game and learn more about how our dogs think.

Dogs also need to be able to keep warm when it’s cold and keep cool when it’s warm and WE need to help them with that.

On hot days a cool flannel laid over a hot dog is very soothing and will help them regulate their body temperature. Dogs don’t sweat like humans and therefore if unnoticed a dog’s temperature can get dangerously high which is why so many dogs have died inside cars over the years.

Similarly, when our dogs are cold we need to keep them warm.

Ever noticed how our dogs love to lie in front of the fire?

Again these are essential elements that YOU need to provide for your dog to make them feel wanted, safe and secure.
Along with the basic canine right to good food, fresh clean water and the ability and permission to play and have fun, bark and even sleep on our couches (dogs love raised surfaces like sofas and chairs) these are all vital aspects that your dog needs to have in place in order for you to see the best that they can be.

These behaviors are not dominant behaviors rather they are termed inelastic behaviors and they shouldn’t be seen as the “dog taking over the house” because the dog is not trying to do that.
The dog doesn’t want to be head of the household.

That is your job and you are the Alpha in this pack and they have to see you that way and they WANT to see you that way too.

How Do Dogs Think

Many people are simply unaware of this and this is why they fail as dog owners and we then see huge numbers of unwanted dogs everywhere, in our pounds, rescue centers or sadly, destroyed.

In fact, many people are simply unaware of the essential requirements that are required and choose to ignore the needs of a dog or they just don’t feel the needs of a dog fit in with their lifestyle.

Regardless of this, however, the needs still exist and should never be ignored.

Some areas do get more attention than others, and not always in the dogs’ best interests either. For instance, in recent years there has been an explosion in dog-related activities and social clubs, etc.
While this is undoubtedly a good idea in general, you do have to wonder who is getting the most out of the activities..is it really the dog that is benefiting or is it the owner?

I saw something the other day advertising a “Dog-Friendly Cinema”. Now I ask you, would a dog really be getting a great experience being made to sit quietly in a dark cinema room with a huge screen and loud noises coming out of surround sound speakers? Would a dog really enjoy that experience or is it solely for the owners to enjoy?

Sure, as a dog owner it would be great for me as I wouldn’t have to leave my dog alone (I never do anyway) nor would I have to pay for daycare to go to the cinema and pay around $35 for the chance to watch the latest film for me and the wife to watch….but the idea of my boy having to be exposed to the noise and alien environment of a cinema room would not be that good for him.

Associated negative behaviors can be caused by forcing our dogs into f=doing things that WE want to do. This is a pointless way of trying to bond and understand how a dog thinks.

Some Simple Truths

The essential simple truth that you have to take away from all of this is that WE as owners are almost always responsible for the things that our dogs do that we dislike in terms of negative behavior!

Barking excessively, biting, peeing in the house, aggression towards other dogs, not complying with our wishes, weird repetitive behaviors, chasing vehicles or not coming back when called are all things that owners struggle with and yet more besides.

These are common threads and they are all aspects of us as owners not fully understanding how our dog’s needs are not being fully met.

Admittedly, some behaviors can be caused by an underlying condition and if you are ever concerned by this then a trip to the vets is the very best advice to follow.

Here is a recent article I wrote about dementia in dogs.

Other behaviors that we sometimes see from dogs are a result of them not being able or being allowed to be a dog in it’s purest form.
Or it may be as a result of them being expected to perform a certain way for us without the very important teaching they need from us.

The Root of the Problem Is Where We Should Always Return to and Not the Symptom.

Having any dog display unwanted behavior is stressful and this can be especially the case if you have taken on a rescue dog and know very little about their history.

It is often the case with a rescue dog that they have a deep underlying condition caused by neglect or abuse and this would obviously cause them stress.

I have experienced this with my latest Greyhound and it takes a bit longer than usual to retrain their minds into knowing that all of the negativity in their lives is now behind them and if you can get the dog back to being 80 to 90% happy again, then that is a great result.

You have to try to find your own answers too.
My boy simply hates being left alone. I have tried to do the build-up to it slowly routine and it has had some mild success, but when you think about the social aspects that I mentioned earlier, it’s no wonder he hates being alone. It worries him and he is far happier knowing me or my wife are around.

So the solution for us was to use daycare facilities for him when we work and when I work overnight, he goes to lovely kennels near where we live where they love him too and make him feel happy.

When I pick him up the next day he is happy, my home isn’t wrecked and it’s a win-win and that is a great solution to the problem of him being alone and anxious.

Does It Cost Money?

Sure….but so does repairing your wrecked home or the vet bills on an injured dog that hurts themselves because they are scared, anxious and alone.

This is the way you have to look at any or all issues with your dog.
Punishment is never the answer and it’s all about trying to think like a dog. Punishment is negative and breaks down bonds between you and is never the way you want to follow when dealing with negative behavior.

Why are they doing what they are doing and then acting upon it.
You simply can’t ignore it and hope it will go away. It won’t. Dogs don’t work that way.

If a negative pattern of behavior goes unchecked, in many cases, the behavior will actually get worse and become more pronounced.

The first step to resolving an issue with your dog is to look closely at their life and your own routine that affects them.

Take into account any recent big changes too, things like home moves, seasonal festivities and any other things that can contribute to changes in their behavior.

A possible health condition or pain that isn’t obvious can cause a dog to change behavior too.

Vary the way you walk your dog too as studies have recently shown that longer leads that give your dog the opportunity to sniff more and eat grass can help a dog feel more interested in a routine walk that they know well. These kinds of changes can be good and stimulating for a dog.

Walking and socializing dog walking groups can be great to build your dog’s confidence as well.

You are the most important person in your dog’s life and they love to spend time with you so if you are aware that you don’t spend as much time playing with your dog as you should then it is you that needs to make the change too!

Go Easy On The Treats

Chewing for a dog is a vital aspect of their being and dog chews are great for this but be mindful of the wrong kinds of chews. Aim for long-lasting chews that give your dog a decent challenge and ones that are low in starchy sugars too.

In Conclusion…

If we are going to be the very best dog owners and guardians that we can be for our hounds then we must try to learn as much about our dogs as possible and how they think.

Dogs are not the fluffy animals that we sometimes think they are. They are dogs and they need to behave like dogs too.
It’s very important that we understand that and tune into them and not expect or wish that they tune into us.

If we don’t allow dogs to be a dog then that is when frustration kicks in and the problems start and when this is in full flight then any chances of building bonds will be gone and sometimes they are never rebuilt because if it.

Finally a couple of simple tips:

  • The more opportunities we have to learn about our dogs then the better we will get to understand their behavior.
  • The roots of problems need to be found, recognized and acted upon quickly.

A dog naturally wants to be relaxed and happy so it really is up to us to make that happen

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