Humans and dogs have existed side by side for over 30,000 years. Your Labrador had an ancestor alive when the Roman gladiator fights were popular sport or when the ancient Pyramids of Giza were being built. Maybe they even helped out.( I know my bulldogs didn’t. They were probably chewing steak at Cleopatra’s feet and playing dead the rest of the day!)
With all that history, one would think humans understand everything about their beloved pets. Not the case. Ground-breaking research shows us that while dogs have evolved to figure out nearly everything about humans, we’re still fairly green about man’s best friend.
Yes, dog owners often do come to know the personality of their pets over time, but there is still a lot many of us continue to miss. Canines are blessed most differently from humans, and they see the world a lot differently than we do.
Here are 4 fascinating facts about how dogs perceive the world.
1) Dogs are wired to be hopelessly devoted to their human masters.
While we’ve always known this on an intuitive level, researchers from Eotvos Lonard University have actually conducted brain scans on dogs, revealing that they look up to humans to give them affection and protection more so than from their own kind. Just as wolves do, dogs live in a hierarchal world, with dominance and submission playing integral roles to their healthy functioning in units and packs.
Yet the pack leader for dogs is never another dog — it’s the dogs owner, every time. How do we know this? The brain scans revealed that dogs prioritize the scent of humans over all other things — including steak and dogs of the opposite sex — and at the very top, is the dogs owner.
That’s right dog lovers, that tireless wagging of the tail when Fido sees you? Your dog DOES love you.
2) Dogs get more from body language than from words.
Research shows that dogs’ brains aren’t well adapted for speech recognition but they do get your actions. If you’ve ever tried potty training a puppy you’ve already figured this one out.
Border collies, widely considered to be the smartest dog species, can only pick out up to 200 words. Poodles, Golden retrievers, Dobermans and German Shepherds make up the rest of the top five with relatively less word-recognition capabilities. Hound dogs, beagles and bulldogs are the slowest.
This is something dog trainers know well, always emphasizing the use of body language when communicating to dogs. For example, when you say “Stay”, then lean forward and extend your arm toward your dog, his brain registers an invite to come closer. He does so and you start yelling, but it doesn’t matter. The body signals are stronger than the words, regardless of volume. So next time, show, don’t yell!
3) Dogs are as intelligent as a two year old.
Research presented at the 2009 American Psychological Association meeting compared an average dog’s intellectual and emotional quotient to that of a 2-year-old. Beyond that age, as both abilities grow for humans, the dogs are left behind. According to researchers, this is the reason dogs are not able to process a wide range of emotions, being limited to excitement, disgust, contentment, fear, anger, suspicion and love. The more ‘advanced’ emotions such as pride, shame, contempt and guilt are apparently unknown in the canine kingdom.
So when Fido’s done something bad, and you’re scolding him and he has those puppy eyes on active mode, do not be deceived. That’s not guilt, he’s simply responding to your reprimanding.
4) Dogs hate hugs– every kind.
Doesn’t that framed picture of your daughter wrapping her arms around Fido just come to mind? You remember that wide toothless grin she had on and Fido’s incessant licking of his lips? That was not joy. Quite the opposite really.
In doggy world, the placing of a paw on one dog by another signifies dominance. When you wrap your arms around your dog, his brain triggers flare up against perceived dominance. That’s why street dogs lash out when you try to pet them.
All in all, there remains a lot we still need to learn about our favourite pets, even as science continues to reveal more and more. If you’re a dog owner, don’t ignore their world! They already understand you quite well. Return the favour by picking up a book or two by an expert and familiarizing yourself with their realities. It will only improve and deepen your relationship with them.