Canine Psychology An overview

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Anupama Nair


Dogs are considered as “man’s best friend” and I definitely agree, for I cannot imagine a life without my furry friend Rocky. He is the best stress-buster in the world. A wet nose and a wagging tail is a bundle of joy and comfort. I always think, how can some people not like dogs. I have always loved dogs and they are a pleasure to be with. The most saddening fact is our furry babies have short lives maybe up to 20 years and it never is enough for us.

Dog psychology is gaining importance as it is necessary to understand our four-legged babies. What is dog psychology? Psychology is the study of “ how brain acts and behaves”, so dog psychology in other words would be “how dogs behave with humans and how they interact with other dogs and humans”. Just like people, each dog has its own personality. They express their wants and needs in different ways, and the more time you spend with your canine, the more you’ll get to know him. If you understand the way he thinks and understand each other, it helps strengthen the bond between you and your companion. You will learn to recognize what triggers specific behaviors and develop a safer, more effective strategy for overcoming them.

All dog owners distinguish that there are times when our four-legged friend seems to understand just what they are thinking. Over the years, the field of canine psychology has demonstrated that there is a large degree of truth in the assumption. Dogs are able to learn words so that they know what their owners are referring to when they issue commands. Furthermore, dogs can follow the gaze of their owners, and they demonstrate other behaviors that are also evident in human psychology. “Dogs can even become susceptible to disorders such as depression and compulsive behavior”. Dogs are well known for exhibiting a pack mentality, in which there is a clear hierarchy of position. Usually, this is described as a society in which the alpha dog is the pack leader and the other members generally defer to it, though there are times when other dogs may try to gain dominance. 

While dogs do not use words to tell people or other animals what they are thinking, that does not mean there is no “dog language”. What is dog language? “His language consists of barks, growls, yowls, whimpers, postures, and so forth”. In fact, it is possible to differentiate between different kinds of barks and to identify a dog’s potential signs of aggression. Dog owners can tell a lot about the attitude of their dog, based on his mouth and tail. Relaxed dogs will have a relaxed, open mouth. Aggressive dogs will bare their teeth and growl. If the growl is accompanied by a stiff, upright tail, then the person should be wary that the dog is ready to bite. A sweeping wag of the tail, however, is a different history and indicates playfulness.

Making sure that a dog socializes well with other humans and animals is the key to the animal’s long-term well-being. “A properly socialized dog knows that not every stranger or unknown animal is a threat, and that will reduce its proclivity to get into fights or to go after those who mean no harm”. Regularly socializing a dog from the puppy stage onward is key to making sure that the animal is well-adjusted around people and animals. A great way to socialize a dog with other dogs is to take it to a dog park and allow it to get to know other dogs with your supervision. Dog owners should also make sure that their animal is introduced to a wide variety of people as well, and having these people give their dog a treat will help the animal recognize friends and be wary of foes.

For decades it has been assumed that humans are the only species that experience jealousy and the emotion of being treated unfairly, however, a recent study conducted at the University of California, San Diego claimed to show that dogs do feel jealousy. The study was performed by having humans engage with three different objects in front of their dogs — a book, a plastic jack-o-lantern, and a realistic looking stuffed dog that moved and barked. The results show that, when the human were paying attention to the fake dog, their dogs were much more engaged and more likely to show behaviors such as, trying to touch their owner or the stuffed dog, trying to get in between them, barking, biting, and whining. I did not need any study to know dogs feel jealousy or insecurity. I have seen my Rocky whine when I play with other dogs.

Dog psychology has explored much in the past few decades. There have been more studies of domestic dog behavior in the past 20 years than in the past 200 years combined! This means we have more and more access to understanding dog psychology each year so that we can better serve the health and livelihood of Man’s Best Friend. All I pray to God is may they have long years to live like a human!

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