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Up The Pets
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Thoughts on What Dogs Are Thinking

Do you have dogs on the brain? Good news, it's probably true the other way around, too!

Greetings! Welcome to my first attempt to use Up the Pets to teach the world about dogs. I needed help knowing where to start with this sort of thing, so I asked some folks recently what they’ve always wanted to know about dogs. Two of my favorites responses seemed to be wondering what was going on inside a dog’s head. This can be a pretty tricky subject. Half the time, I don’t even know what’s happening in my own brain.

Getting inside the mind of a dog is difficult, but not impossible. As far as I know, no one speaks “Dog” and I certainly haven’t heard of any talking dogs. Unless Rosetta Stone is developing software I’m not aware of, we may be stuck with our best guesses. Thankfully, there are some really good at guessers when it comes to these sorts of things working out a solution.

In particular, there is a neurologist in Atlanta who trains dogs to go into a MRI scanner so his team can read their brain waves. This seems like the most direct approach to seeing literally what is going on inside a dog’s brain. Since dogs and people are both mammals and mammalian brains tend to be very similar to one another structurally, it is possible to draw comparisons based on analogous results. What I find fascinating, but not at all surprising, is that the research supports the idea that dogs experience a range of emotions similar to ours.

What a dog can experience doesn’t appear to be nearly as complex as our own emotional development. Though it is still a subject of great scientific controversy, it’s not a huge stretch to compare the canine emotional range to that of an infant or young child. One of the questions that drew me here asked if dogs experience perpetual joy or fear throughout their day. Well, joy and fear are two emotions in the spectrum that dogs feel; along with affection, excitement, shyness, anger, and contentment to name a few.

If spending my days standing around in rooms full of dogs has taught me anything, it’s that their behaviors tend to lean towards either aroused or resting, active or passive, on or off, with a heavy emphasis towards off. Even the most hyper dogs strive to be calm. They just may not know how or be able to do so in their current environment. Every second a dog is up and out of bed, it’s burning precious calories. For a creature whose basic goal in life is their people’s happiness, this is a problem. That’s why a routine is so important to dogs.

Dogs who know what’s coming next have the easiest time being calm and making the best of their time. Think of Bill Murray’s character at the end of Groundhog Day. The same precision predictability that allowed him to become a piano virtuoso is where dogs tend to thrive. Their goal seems to be geared more towards achieving levels of greatness in knowing when it’s time to be walked, fed, or to play. Once a dog is assured that all of these activities will happen exactly when they expect them to, the time in between is reserved for whatever else is on their agenda, which typically means naps.

It’s hard to know the specifics of what dogs think about in their downtime, but we do know that they dream about us. Dogs tend to live moment to moment and react to whatever stimulant is present. They definitely learn and build on experiences, but whatever is currently happening, is almost certainly what is affecting them. This could lead to periods of joy or fear throughout the day. But as long as these aren’t major disruptions, the dog will generally resume awaiting whatever might come next.

We owe it to our pups to make sure that all the energy they dedicate to us is worth their effort. They don’t ask for much. Setting aside small parts of our day to ensure our fluffy friends know they will be loved, fed, and sheltered goes a long way towards their mental stability. Thankfully, dogs don’t have too much else to worry about outside the basics. As long as this remains the case, even if your dog isn’t actively thinking of you throughout the day, they may be putting their amazing nose to work to smell if it’s time for you to be coming home.

Mat Stokes loves dogs and invites you to talk about all things pets.

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