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We like to think that we understand our dogs. Dogs are happy, friendly creatures who will be loyal to us, no matter how badly we mess up. Our dogs will always love us, even if people don’t. But are all the things that we think we know about dogs true? Do we really understand their psychology, or do we fool ourselves with platitudes and stories that feel nice?

New studies on the psychology of dogs come out practically every month, offering new insights into what our four-legged canine friends are thinking. Let’s take a look at some of the findings of those studies.

Dogs Bark Because It Feels Good

Barking sounds like shouting to us. It’s a loud noise, often unnecessary, that we associated with negative feelings and hostility. But from the dog’s perspective barking is anything but. For dogs, the activation of the vocal cords is related to a sense of self-reward. Dogs often bark as a pat on the back to themselves: as far as modern science can tell, it’s something that they actively enjoy and would do more if their owners didn’t have a say in the matter.

Dogs Can Understand Sign Language

Dogs can’t talk. That’s a shame – we’d love to know what they are thinking. But dogs have the ability to understand non-verbal human cues and sign language to a surprising extent. Science shows that dogs can recognize the same level of sign language as the average human two-year-old: not Einstein-levels of intelligence, but enough to understand why progressive puppy day care provides dogs with mentally-stimulating activities. They need it.

Walking Your Dog Makes Them Behave Better

Dogs are energetic creatures, as anyone who owns one will attest. Far from being something only good for their physical health, getting exercise is also beneficial for your pooch’s mental health too – similar to humans. What’s so interesting, though, is the effect that regular walking has on the chances that a dog will be rehomed. The more dogs get walked in their formative years, the less likely they are to be passed over to a dog shelter. Better behavior encourages people to hold onto their pups for longer.

Dogs Learn From Other Dogs

As surprising as it might sound, dogs can learn from other dogs. If you already have one well-trained dog in your home, it can be easier to train another. The new dog will model its behavior after the dog that you already own, helping it to ease into family life and accept the rules. New puppies, especially, are easier to train with another dog in the house.

 

Dogs React To Human Emotions

Have you ever wondered whether your dog can tell if you’re happy or sad? Excited or washed out? Well, it turns out that they, can – at least according to some researchers. When you put a dog in an MRI scanner, you can watch which parts of their brain light up when they are exposed to happy or sad images or emotions. Dogs brains, it turns out, light up in a similar pattern to our own, meaning that your dog really can feel your pain. Dogs seem to have an ability to interpret human speech patterns accurately and can tell when we’re happy or sad, pleased with them or not, and so on. It’s quite remarkable when you think about it.

Dogs Wag Their Tales To Communicate

The way a dog wags its tail isn’t random, according to researchers. Different wagging patterns are indicative of varying thoughts and feelings. A tail that wags from side to side is different to, say, a tail that wags more on the right or the left. What exactly different wags of the tail mean is still an open question, but research seems to indicate that it is related to the dog’s mood.

Dogs Experience Positive Emotions Like A Human Child

Have you ever gazed into your dog’s eyes and seen the face of a small human child? Well, it turns out that you might not be imagining things after all. Dogs may have an inner child hiding in plain sight. When researchers wheel dogs into MRI scanners, they find something interesting: their brains look very similar to those of children when they experience positive emotions, like excitement. Dogs have that same giddy-brain response to interesting external stimuli that children get, suggesting a connection between the two. It’s no wonder that dogs can be so hyperactive sometimes, especially when they’re young.

So there you have it: some interesting new insights into canine psychology. Did you find any of them surprising?

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