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What Are Dogs Thinking?

There are times we can't help but wonder what’s going on in our furry canine’s mind. Whenever we observe their behaviour, we really have no idea what they are thinking. Questions like are they dreaming? What’s that look on their face? Do they have emotions? Here’s a guide to help you understand your furry companions a little more.

(Photo: Sonali Nathwani)

Dogs Can Dream

At some point, dog owners notice that their dogs may quiver, twitch a leg, even growl or snap during sleep, giving the impression that they are dreaming about something. Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at University of British Columbia, said “Dogs do dream”. Dogs sleep more than people do. At the structural level, their brains are similar to humans. During sleep, the brain-wave length of dogs are similar to that of people, and they exhibit the same stages of electrical activity that are observed in humans. All of this is consistent with the idea that dogs do dream.

Watch Video: Dog Brain Facts

Studies also show that smaller breeds tend to dream more frequently than larger breeds. Recent events such as playing, seeing an old friend or going someplace new can prompt dreams when the dog falls asleep.

Dogs Tail Language

Tail-wagging is usually associated with happiness and excitement but it’s more complicated than you may think. While some wags are indeed associated with those emotions, others can mean fear, insecurity, a social challenge or even a warning. When the tail is being wagged to the right, it means happiness. If it is wagging to the left, it indicates of fear. Low tail wags mean nervousness, and rapid tail wags mixed with tense muscles can be a sign of aggression. By which right or left do you mean? Here’s a diagram which explains it better. Viewed from the rear, facing in the direction your dog is viewing. Imagine a line down the middle of its back. A positive tail side signal is when your dogs tail swings mostly curving to your left. A negative tail wag swings curving to the right.

Dogs Experience The Same Emotions As People

At times we interpret our dog's feelings and emotions based on their actions and behaviour. A common misinterpretation is the sense of shame and guilt from them. However, researcher suggested that these emotions are not possible but instead they show fear and shyness.

Dogs have the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans. They have the same hormones and undergo the same chemical changes that humans do during emotional states. Dogs even have the hormone oxytocin, which in humans is involved with love and affection. So it seems reasonable to suggest that dogs also have emotions similar to humans. However, it is important not to go overboard: The mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a human who is 2 to 2½ years old. A child that age clearly has emotions, but not all possible emotions, since many emerge later in the path to adulthood.

Dogs go through their developmental stages much more quickly than humans do, attaining their full emotional range by the time they are 4 to 6 months old. Much like a human toddler, a dog has the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, contentment, distress, and even love. A dog does not have, and will not develop, more complex emotions, like guilt, pride, contempt, and shame.

It’s Not Guilt In A Dog’s Eyes

A familiar scene for every pet owner is to walk into a room and see something destroyed or used as a toilet. We look around and spot your furry friends hiding under a table or behind a couch with a big sad expression on their face. The meaning on their face does not show guilt but instead they show sadness and fear. They are sorry that they did it. By the tone of “what did you do?” might possibly be a cue that they have done something wrong and they fear getting punished or scolded. It’s also possible that they realize there will be negative consequences for their actions and become sad because of it. It’s more of a situation of regretting getting caught versus feeling guilty for having done something wrong. Now that explains the sad puppy dog face trademark!


Does your Dog DREAM? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below and let us know!

About the Author

Having emigrated from Malaysia, Ei Leen graduated with a BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and is now working in Marketing and Social Media. She is a firm believer in the true love that dogs bring their human companions and wants to share her passion with others. In her free time Ei Leen plays the piano and the violin and enjoys going to plays at the theatre.


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