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  • The psychology of dogs


    This week I’d like to touch on the subject of the psychology of dogs.

    Back in the 19th century, dogs were considered to be creatures who existed but did not think, have emotions or feelings. Fortunately, today our understanding of man’s best friend has grown considerably and we are able to appreciate what dogs are about better than ever before.

    As human beings, we all have needs: as Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” indicates, the most basic of needs are food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety. Seems to me that’s just about 100% the same needs as dogs. Throw in a dog’s need for love and exercise (physical and mental) and that pretty much completes the set. Because dogs are dependent on humans for so much, it behoves us to learn how dogs think and how they perceive their immediate surroundings. Where do they fit into the family “pack”? Apart from a very small percentage of dogs that could truly be labelled “dominant dogs”, the vast majority of dogs look to their human “masters” to act as the alpha in the pack. Looking for direction, dogs will study us by continuously reading our body language and idiosyncrasies. They look for routine and can become stressed if routine is broken. Dogs associate our actions with corresponding results and can often appear to be “mind readers” as they anticipate our actions, learned through past experience of studying us.

    Part of a dog’s DNA is to be an opportunist. They will “seize the moment” if an opportunity presents itself: who of us has not experienced a pizza going missing from the kitchen counter or a slipper that’s disappeared only to reappear in the dog’s crate? A busy dog is very often a happy dog, whether they are burning off energy chasing magpies in the local off-leash park or figuring out how to get the treat out of the dog puzzle. As the need to scavenge for life’s essentials has been taken away by humans, dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical activity. Involvement in such activities as agility, nose work or being a therapy dog, to name but a few, are all ways to satisfy that need.

    Dogs express their feelings through both verbal and body language. I remember in my corporate days putting a suitcase in the hallway and within minutes seeing a very depressed looking dog who knew that meant I would be leaving on a trip which would result in him not having my face to lick in the morning. You don’t need to own a dog for long before you can read happiness or depression through their body language. As for having an active mind, you only have to listen to or watch a dog dreaming to realize that something real is happening in that dog’s mind. What it is exactly, will likely remain one of life’s mysteries.

    Whether your natural language is English, French, Punjabi or Finnish, dogs figure out how to communicate with us in their own unique way and god bless them for putting up with us dumb humans!