Have you ever looked in your dog’s eyes and wondered what was going on in that little brain? Recent studies are revealing sneak peeks into our dogs’ minds, making it easier to understand them for better training and care. Here are five of the most interesting studies showing surprising reasons why dogs act the way they do.
1. Dogs can have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Many dogs lick their paws repeatedly, sometimes for hours, until their skin turns pink and raw. Others chase their tails or chew on their feet to the point of obsession. These behaviors are sometimes caused by an allergic reaction. They may be trying to relieve an itch that just won’t go away. However, if you have ruled out a skin allergy, there’s a chance that your dog might have canine compulsive disorder (CCD).
Medication has shown to help manage symptoms of OCD in dogs and cats. Paw licking isn’t the only compulsive behavior – excessive, repetitive tail chasing, air biting, circling, vocalizations, signs of hallucination and aggression were also seen in animals studied.
2. Dogs can laugh.
We’ve come to accept that a dog with a grin is not always really smiling, but as it turns out, their expressions of joy are more similar to ours than we previously thought. Dogs emit a breathy, forced exhale during play and greetings. What’s even more interesting is the fact that, in a 2004 study, these breathy laughs were recorded and played back to dogs in a shelter.
The shelter-dogs showed significantly fewer signs of stress. Puppies and adults alike engaged in play-bows and laughs of their own.
3. Dogs learn language similarly to children.
Are there any words that you have to spell when your dog is within earshot? Do your family members have to say, B-A-T-H, or risk sending your dog off to run and hide under the bed?
Dogs aren’t just great at learning commands, they’re excellent at learning language. Children pick up new words through a technique called “fast mapping.” They can infer the meaning of a word through context. Dogs can learn words with fast-mapping, too. A border collie named Rico was taught to the names of his toys, and could retrieve the correct ones when their names were called. When a new toy was added, he could infer that the new, unfamiliar name meant to grab that toy.
4. Dogs are shameless creatures.
You’ve probably seen tons of videos online of owners shaming their dogs. “Did you chew up the sofa cushion?” the owner scolds, as their dog cowers and looks up at them with big, sad eyes.
Studies are actually not completely conclusive on this. Dogs do cower in response to being punished. Only some will “look guilty” after a bad behavior, but they may be fearing our response because, in the past, they have associated a torn pillow or mislaid poop with their owner’s anger. Nonetheless, it’s likely that dogs are more concerned by our reaction than the fact that we spend hours cleaning up after them.
5. Dogs get us best.
Multiple studies show that dogs have a unique understanding of our gestures and emotions. Dogs have been shown to understand pointing, and will retrieve an object that a person points at, yet a chimpanzee, our closest animal relative, fails this test.
Dogs can also understand our emotions based on our facial expressions and voices. This has made it possible for them to, over generations and generations of domestication, to figure out which humans are their friends.