What Do Dogs Think About? The Fascinating World of Canine Cognition

A smiling pup

Have you ever wondered whether your dog is happy? Or whether they miss you when you're gone? Well, according to research, the answer to all of those may be yes. Dogs have been shown to enjoy belly rubs, walks to the dog park, respond positively to their owners' return, and even experience emotions like happiness and love.

But what do they think about us? What are their thoughts on being our furry friend? Is there anything dogs would change about their lives as a pet owner's companion? It's definitely interesting to think about! Keep reading to learn more about what dogs think and how they feel. You might be surprised!


First Of All, Let's Bust Some Myths

There are a few things about our dogs that we pet parents haven't learned yet. If you've made these errors while attempting to figure out what your dog is thinking, don't worry, dogs have fooled even the best of us.


Myth #1: Dogs can feel guilt

There's no denying that our dogs experience emotions and strong ones at that, but their emotional bandwidth is narrower than ours. Dogs can feel the fundamental feelings of happiness, suffering, anger, fear, joy, enthusiasm, satisfaction, and love. 

However, they are unlikely to feel the more complicated emotions that need conscious thought, such as guilt, shame, or pride.

But, many pet parents claim to have witnessed their pet making a "guilty face" when performing an action that is wrong. Guilt, on the other hand, necessitates that your dog understands right and wrong, choose to do something wrong but then regret it afterward.

Instead, by testing dogs who have actually misbehaved next to other dogs who just look like they misbehaved, scientists found that dogs cower in "guilt" either way.

They suggested that our dogs are probably not feeling guilty; rather, they've learned to fear punishment in specific circumstances. That's why most contemporary training methods avoid using punishment since it's difficult for dogs to associate punishment with their actions later on. Rather, they simply link the experience of being punished to their surroundings at the time.


 Myth #2: Dogs can get revenge


A dog laying in the sand 


It's easy to feel like your dog is out to get you from time to time. It might be because you limited their walk or haven't given them their favorite treat in a while. You may have yelled at your dog and said, "Why are you doing this to me?"  But it turns out that's not how dogs think.

In fact, out-of-character actions such as relieving themselves in the home when they're potty trained might signal an issue. So instead of assuming your dog is being spiteful, consider what might be causing the act, such as stress or even a physical ailment. 


Myth #3: Dogs constantly try to become the Alpha 

When we think of wolves, the first thing that comes to mind is a cutthroat struggle for dominance. Through aggressiveness, the alpha demonstrates to the rest of the pack who's in command. However, experts who study dog behavior have found that your canine companion isn't attempting to take over as alpha. 

Aggression is one of many negative behaviors that may be caused by worry and insecurity. Other undesirable actions, such as leash pulling and springing up on strangers, might indicate a dog perplexed by their human's many rules. Dogs want to avoid conflict as much as possible in the wild, which means they aren't constantly considering how to take over the pack's leadership.


What Do Dogs Think About?

So what is your dog thinking about? The answer to this question is a bit complex. Scientists from the Duke canine cognition center have conducted various studies on this subject, but are still not able to tell exactly what an animal is thinking. 

Dogs have been shown to comprehend human language and gestures, for example. They're also capable of remembering.

So, it's safe to say that dogs do have thoughts. However, we still have no comprehension of what those thoughts are. In order to better comprehend our canine companions, scientists continue to research dog cognition. But there are some things we know for sure.


Two dogs playing together


When we point at something, dogs can tell that we're attempting to communicate with them. They can tell if one dog bowl has more food than another. 

Familiar voices command their attention, and they are skilled at determining whether someone is a friend or adversary. Many dog owners will claim that it's their dog who has trained them to be fed and brought home at the same time every day.

So something is clearly happening in your dog's mind. They have the ability to link thoughts and react to stimuli. But what they ponder and how they make sense of it is still a mystery.


Can Dogs Understand Humans?

Here's a fun fact: Dogs can understand up to 250 words and gestures! Crazy right? There are also parallels between dog and human cognitive processes, some of which may have arisen specifically because of dogs' proximity to (and reliance on) humans—for example, finger-pointing. Human babies understand pointing before they're even a year old.

One of the theories explaining why dog and human brains have so many similarities is that we evolved together. The first domesticated species is the dog. They have spent millennia interacting with people, and as a result, they understand and communicate with us better than any other species. Their developed sense of perception allows them to perceive hints in our body language, odors, and tones of our voices.

Another scenario is as follows. Dogs followed us into our first settlements and camps to avail themselves of the food that awaited them in our early garbage heaps. Those who were less afraid of humans received more food. Those that could read human signals—like pointing and being asked to stay and sit—received even more. Dogs repaid humans' gratitude by assisting them in hunting and defending them from other wild animals.


Do Dog Brains Differ From Human Brains?


Two dogs on a leash


Not by much. In addition to their brains being structurally similar to ours, MRI studies have shown that the same regions of our brains light up when we are exposed to various stimuli.

Dogs handle fear, memories, and spatial awareness the same way we do. Scientists have also claimed that certain cognitive abilities are physically linked, much as they are in a human brain. For example; if you're good at arithmetic, you're probably good at problem-solving.

A dog that is fast and precise in one activity may be so in another. This would imply that the heritability of intellect and cognitive ability is comparable in dogs as it is in humans.

Dogs, like humans, are also susceptible to a condition that is similar to Alzheimer's disease as they age. Because their brains and ours have many similarities, dogs are used to investigate the influence of nutrition and Drugs on the aging process in our brains. But we're not exactly alike.

When comparing a dog's brain to that of an entire human being, it is apparent that dogs' brains are significantly smaller. The folds in our brains provide additional surface area, whereas dogs have fewer folds and more surface area. Our prefrontal cortex—where higher-order thinking and ideas take place—is also bigger than that of canines.


Do Dogs Think About Future Events?

The jury is still out on this one, but some experts believe that dogs may be able to think about the future. One study found that dogs were more likely to approach a bowl of food when they hadn't eaten in a while. 

This suggests that dogs are aware of their hunger and anticipate being fed. Another possibility is that dogs live more in the moment than we do. They may not be thinking about the future because they're content with whatever is happening at the present moment.

It's also worth noting that some dog breeds are bred for specific purposes, such as herding or hunting. These activities require split-second decisions and immediate action, which means there isn't much time (or need) to think about what might happen next.


Fact's About Dog Brains

Below are some interesting facts about dogs and their cognitive abilities:


Thinking About Their Owners Makes Dogs Happy

Scientists exposed dogs to the scent of their owners while scanning their brains, and it stimulated the "reward center" in their brains. Just the smell of their humans makes them giddy. 

Dogs possess the capacity to understand human emotions, and they also care about how we're feeling. In fact, their brains are attuned to the emotional inflections in our voice in much the same way that humans are. Their brains are always tuned in to their owners, which explains why they're so good at consoling us.


Dog Brains Are Hardwired To Process Faces


A dog playing in the grass


We're always surprised when we spend time apart from a family member or friend's dog, and yet the reunion is instantaneous. Some of that may be due to our dogs' capacity to detect the most minute odors, but it isn't the whole story.

In a study, researchers showed dogs pictures of things and faces, and he discovered that dogs' brains appear to naturally process faces. That means your dog may recognize your face alongside other distinct features that it has learned about you.


Dogs Have Willpower, But It Breaks Down Over Time.

We all know how limited our willpower is as individuals. For example, if we're attempting to eat healthily, it's simple as long as tempting food isn't available. However, set us in the vicinity of a cake (or other enticing food), and the more we're exposed to it, the more difficult it becomes to resist.

Dogs were also put to the test for willpower. Dogs in one group were ordered to sit and remain for 10 minutes, while other dogs were permitted to do anything they wanted for 10 minutes. Both groups were subsequently asked to complete a puzzle game after the time had passed. The dogs who had to sit and wait, which taxed their willpower, performed worse on.




A smiling dog


It's evident that dogs are intelligent creatures with the ability to think and feel. They have keen senses and are hardwired to process human emotions. While we may not know everything about what goes on in their heads, we can be sure that they're fascinating creatures with a lot going on upstairs.



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.