Your dog has a rich interior life it’s not telling you about

Dogs and humans have evolved to the point where we can sense some of the other’s behaviors, such as wanting to go for a walk or use the toilet. But because our dog friends cannot convey seemingly complex thoughts (us), their inner workings, their thoughts and dreams – or their lack of them – remain mysterious for us humans. What do they say when they bark at each other? How do they feel when they look at us panting or lick us with what appears to be affection? What do they think when they sniff at random objects – or each other’s butts?

Or do you think anything at all?

It just so happens that dog experts have been dealing with this very topic for years. And it turns out that scientists and behaviorists actually know quite a bit about the insides of dogs – and even what they “say” when they bark at each other. Or how they use their anal glands like Facebook pages, on which a sniff reveals a treasure trove of personal data.

Even something as seemingly simple as bark hides a much more complicated meaning.

“They mainly bark when they are alarmed or excited by something, and in this context their ancestors, wolves, are also prone to barking, although the barking in wolves is less common and much more subdued,” says Dr. James A. Serpell, professor of ethics and animal welfare, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told Salon via email. Therefore, barking can act as a warning to others of a potential threat or danger, pose a threat yourself (such as those pesky postmen), or express compassion for other dogs who bark about potential threats or dangers.

Dr. Erica N. Feuerbacher, associate professor in the Department of Animal & Poultry Science at Virginia Tech, told Salon that dogs, like birds, make “bullying calls” to attract their peers.

“Humans are able to recognize differences in some (but not all) dog barks and were often only able to correctly identify the situation in which the dog found itself on the basis of its barking (e.g.” explained Feuerbacher.

And while humans don’t understand the context and meaning of these barks, their fellows probably do. Studies seem to confirm this.

“Few studies have looked at whether other dogs can get information from other dogs’ barks, but they seem to react differently when they hear a dog barking at a stranger or a dog barking alone, and they seem to be individual To recognize differences in the person of the barking dog, “said Feuerbacher.” They react differently to known and unknown dogs.

And when it comes to communication, dogs aren’t as voice-oriented as humans. In fact, they often use body language.

“Dogs communicate primarily through body language,” wrote Dr. Catherine Reeve, Lecturer in Animal Welfare and Behavior at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Psychology, at Salon. “Much of this communication is subtle and goes unnoticed by most owners.”

According to Reeve, when dogs bark at each other, it can mean anything from asking for personal space or wanting to play to communicating that being stuck on a leash is frustrating.

However, dogs do not primarily communicate through barking or body language, but rather through their sense of smell – their sense of smell.

“When dogs sniff each other, they get all the information they need about other dogs’ sexual status, health, age, etc.,” Reeve told Salon.

As Serpell pointed out, dog noses are so sensitive to smell that it is difficult for humans to imagine how their perception of reality differs from ours.

“It’s hard to fully picture the world from a dog’s point of view, but not impossible,” said Serpell. “After all, humans have a sense of smell, even if this is far inferior to that of dogs. So while we get most of the information about the world around us through our eyes and ears, dogs can access an additional layer of information through their nose that we are essentially ‘blind’ to. “

On the other hand, our eyes are able to process realities to which they are literally blind, as dogs have poor color vision.

“I think one of the traits they use to identify individuals or dogs is smell,” wrote Feuerbacher. “I had a dog who had reactivity issues and she would occasionally display related behavior (which was strange to her) to someone she didn’t know (which was strange to her) and once she smelled them they didn’t smell like someone she knew and then she would. We see dogs that don’t like when vets do the same – if you smell like a vet, they may not respond as well to you. “

Incidentally, this can be a reason why some dogs seem inexplicably to hate other dogs or people, even if they have never met them. You may smell something “strange” about this person that your human friend will not notice. This may sound like a recipe for trouble, but the reality is, if you want your dog to be happy, you should let your canine companion sniff the world out.

“Because of the importance of the smell for them, I let my dogs sniff a lot on our walks and hikes,” said Feuerbacher to Salon. “It’s a great addition to her. Alexandra Horowitz from Barnard College wrote about the importance of letting our dogs sniff. How we can relate to our dogs, she actually got on her knees and tried to smell, where she was dog smelling to try to understand the richness of these experiences for her. “

This wealth of experience even extends to the dog behavior that may be the most troublesome for human owners: sniffing other dogs’ bums.

“Dogs have scent glands around their butts that convey information about the individual,” explained Serpell. “Butt sniffing is the dog-like equivalent of small talk; a way to learn more about someone you’ve just met.”

Would you like more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon The Vulgar Scientist’s weekly newsletter.

Other disgusting dog behaviors – like eating feces, vomit, insects, and other nasty things they pass by – also have solid scientific explanations.

“They evolved to be scavengers and are omnivores, so this is likely to get carried over from it – finding smelling things that amplify is useful for finding food (dogs often eat gross things – protein is protein!), Finding partners, and to know if there are other dogs or predators nearby, “wrote Feuerbacher to Salon.

Many dog ​​behaviors date back to their days as wolves. If your dog finds a bone or toy that he really likes, he will bury that item. This is because his DNA is still encoded with instructions from his ancestral times in the wild.

“Dogs bury things (including food in the house when there is no dirt) because it’s a leftover pattern from their wolf ancestors,” Reeve explained. “Patterns of behavior are something like an automatic series of behaviors that are triggered or ‘triggered’ by a certain stimulus.” When your dog buries something, he is involved in a behavior called “caching”, which is aimed at Preserving valuable items, similar to how a wolf buries prey that it has killed but not completely eaten. Our dogs do this with their food, toys, and treats because they are treasured items. “

This brings us to perhaps the most important question for dog lovers: How do we find out if our dog likes us or not?

“To understand what our dog is probably feeling, we really have to pay attention to many parts of the dog,” Feuerbacher told Salon. “If they lick their lips, gasp excessively, avoid our gaze, show us the whites of their eyes, drew their tails, crouch, and do a myriad of other behaviors, they are likely stressed and uncomfortable. Usually we want to see a dog poised. ” it has a comfortable weight on all four legs (not leaning back or forward), with a light rhythm of breathing, perhaps a loosely wagging tail, a loose body (no tension), the head is not carried unusually high or low, and soft eyes around to know that they are cozy. “

Feuerbacher added: “We may get more energy and excitement when our dog is really happy, for example when we are walking on a leash.”

Serpell made similar observations, noting that “Dogs sometimes lovingly lick their owners, just as wild canids often groom other members of their families or social groups.”

He also answered the question asked in “The Secret Life of Pets” – what dogs do when we are out of the house. Are they throwing huge parties and going on crazy, crazy adventures?

Probably not. As Serpell told Salon, they “mostly sleep unless the dog has separation anxiety, in which case it can destroy the interior of your home or drive your neighbors insane by barking and howling.”