As a dog lover, you probably already realize that your dog is a lot like you. We don’t refer to dogs as ‘Man’s Best Friend’ for nothing, after all, but a number of studies show that quite literally, dogs can be much closer to us, and much more like us than you may ever have guessed.
You may be aware that dogs can display jealousy. If you show too much affection and attention to another dog, for example, your dog can get upset and object. Dogs can learn to read facial expressions and react accordingly. They will often watch TV and enjoy seeing pictures of other dogs and people, and they can display empathy. In short, dogs often understand and know exactly what’s going on.
…dogs emotionally connect to people…
Dogs emotionally connect to certain people, usually their owners, or the person they identify as the most important in a family group. A study from 2013 showed that dogs will yawn more often in response to their owners’ yawns than to a stranger’s yawn. In the study, the dog owners yawned naturally and also faked yawns. The dogs responded more to the natural yawns that to the pretend yawns. This shows that dogs are capable of true contagious yawning, just as humans are. Chimpanzees and baboons are also capable of contagious yawning.
Another study involving 54 dogs watching their owners trying to get a roll of tape out of a container. The dogs were divided into three groups of 18 each: the helper group, the non-helper group, and the control group. The dogs in turn observed their owner in a room with two other people. In the helper group, one of the other people was asked to help and did. In the non-helper group, one of the other people was asked to help, but refused to, and in the control group, one of the other people turned to face away from the dog. In each group there was also a neutral person who sat still and did nothing at all.
…the dogs understood what had happened…
After the experiment, the helper or non-helper, and the neutral person both offered each dog a treat. The dogs from the non-helper group were reluctant, or even refused, to take the treat from the non-helper person, and took the treat from the neutral person. The dogs from the helper group and the control group were happy to take a treat from either person. It was only the person who had refused to help their owner in the non-helper group that the dogs took a dislike to. This study clearly showed that the participating dogs understood what had taken place.
Does your dog take sides by ignoring, or even showing aggression, towards a person who treats you badly? You may not have noticed as you may not have thought about it, but watch out for the signs the next time you have a chance. Your dog’s reactions might surprise you.
Dogs will follow a human’s gaze. But this is generally only true of untrained dogs. If you are alone with a dog, try gazing at nothing in particular, perhaps a corner of the room, and see what your dog does. If the dog hasn’t been trained to pay attention to you, and make you the focus of their attention, waiting for a command, perhaps, then the chances are that the dog will follow your gaze and look at the place you are looking at.
…dogs can check back to make sure it is looking at the right thing…
If you are gazing at nothing in particular, the dog might look back at you to check that they are looking at the same thing as you. This looking back, called ‘check backs’, has only previously been observed in humans and chimpanzees. It appears that the dog is puzzled as to what exactly you are gazing at as it sees nothing special, so it looks back to make sure it is looking at the right thing. If your gaze is focused on something obvious, then the dog is less likely to check back as it seems to know, or at least assume, it is looking at the same thing you are looking at.
Dogs can be extremely grateful for help and assistance shown to them, and can sometimes decide to pay it back. In the early 2000’s, a policeman in England found a greyhound locked up in a shed. The animal had obviously been abused, and it was filthy and seriously malnourished. The policeman took the greyhound to Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, a place that cared for sick, injured and needy animals of all types.
The greyhound was named Jasmine, and though she was in a terrible state, both mentally and physically, she slowly recovered and was obviously very grateful for the help she received. She showed her gratitude by caring for other animals in the sanctuary who were more needful than she was. Over the years she spent in the animal shelter, she played the part of surrogate mother to no less than 15 chickens, 15 rabbits, 8 guinea pigs, 4 badger cubs, a deer, a goose, various foxes, a fawn, and a number of puppies. She became quite famous for her gentle and effective mothering skills, and was sadly missed when she finally died in 2011.
…treat your dog as a dog, for that is what it is…
The important thing to remember in all this, though, is that while it’s all right if your dog is a lot more like you than you think, it’s not always all right to try and make your dog more like you. Anthropomorphizing our dogs, or treating them more like humans than dogs, can backfire badly on you. You should not treat your dog as a kind of furry adorable child; treat it as a dog, for that is what it is.
Try thinking from the dog’s point of view. Forcing a dog to interact with other dogs, because you feel it needs to socialize more with its own kind, may not be what the dog needs. Forcing a dog into a situation it is clearly uncomfortable with, such as letting a stranger pet it because you don’t want to be rude to them, despite the obvious fact that the dog is hating it, is never a good idea and is stressful for your dog. Think of your dog’s welfare first, even if that means temporarily hurting a friend’s feelings.
If your dog trusts you, and most dogs do trust their owners without question, then repay them by looking out for their best interests. No one else will do it, and you are by far the best-placed person to do it. That is how you will start to notice that your dog is becoming more like you in little ways that all add up to big ways. That is how you will learn to appreciate your dog more. He or she may become more like you over the years, but your dog will always be what it is – a dog and not a human.
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