How to understand dogs.

I ADMIT A VERY STRONG AFFECTION FOR MARY’S DOG CHANEL. This has come about in the past 6 months. It’s partly because I scratch her back, and give her treats, and take her for walks. When I come into the room, her tail wags furiously and she now enjoys being held, as in the picture.

Mary became jealous for a while, as it seemed that Chanel preferred to sit with me, which of course wasn’t acceptable. I realized I needed to learn how to understand dogs. When I get a leash out for a walk, tiny Chanel bounds down the corridor like a greyhound in a racetrack. In the middle of this she’ll often do a 360, little legs churning on the wood floor. I’d love to see her do a barrel roll, but I think this will be a while…..

Mary’s dog Chanel, a Morkie cross between a Maltese and a Yorkshire terrier.

How they recognize faces of humans and other dogs; and how they recognize voices and words; also, how they experience jealousy. What challenges scientists is to understand questions about a dog’s personality. Does it love? Does it empathize? Is it loyal?

• 44% of US families own at least one dog, meaning at least 80 million dogs in the US.
• Dogs can read human faces – understanding the importance of gaze to communicate and direct our attention.
• They know that when an object is out of sight, it still exists. It takes babies longer to learn this.

• Dogs beat 3-4 year-old children at learning to ignore bad instructions.
• When dogs watch a treat being placed in one of several containers, and are released to look for it, they know which container to investigate first.

BRAIN SIZE IS IMPORTANT, especially ratio of body to brain size.
• Human ratio is 50:1 which means very smart.
• Horses are 600: 1 and are dullards. Lions are just as poor at 550:1.
• Dogs are 125:1 and are scholars. The ratio holds across all breeds from chihuahua to mastiff.
• A German Shepherd brain is the size of a tangerine.

A terrier called Apache. One dog Mary looked at for a potential playmate for Chanel.

This section of the Time article was fascinating to me. Two dogs were placed in adjacent cages. The first dog was trained to pull a lever that would deliver food to the other dog. And the first dog got nothing out of this but was happy to pull the lever provided the second dog was a playmate. The first dog was less likely to pull the lever if the second dog was unknown.

Much anecdotal evidence exists for dogs running for help when their owner is injured, or dogs barking to alert a family to fire, or dogs nuzzling when an owner is sad to provide comfort. But science has not supported this behavior. I’m curious as to what your experience is here?

In one study, an owner walked the dog and then collapsed on the ground, feigning a heart attack. Two other humans were sitting close by and reading. The owner lay still for six minutes. But over many trials with different dogs and different owners, not a single dog sought help for their owner.

• They exhibit joy in the jumping, yipping thrill when family members return after a long absence.
• They have an awareness of the rate at which time passes. Cameras reveal they seem to prepare as the time comes for humans to return after being out all day – stirring after a nap, checking the front door, becoming restless and excited.
• Dogs are like us in their joy and empathy and curiosity. When we are with them, we tend to become like them. As one philosopher said, “If we behaved toward other folks like our dog behaves toward us, the world would be a better place.”

John Steinbeck in his book Travels with Charlie, said that Charlie, who was a very smart French poodle, knew when the author started to think about going to bed. Steinbeck said he gave no physical indicator, like putting away his writing, or getting up from his chair, or even stretching. And no matter what time Steinbeck had this bed thought, Charlie would walk to the door of the camper van and wait patiently to be let out. Steinbeck attributed this to mental telepathy.

Finally there is unusual animal and bird behavior ahead of an earthquake. My little dog Bindi, part chihuahua, usually sat on my lap while I worked at the computer. One morning at 6 am in Palm Springs, California, she refused to sit on my lap and moped silently in her bed. I thought she must be sick…. until an earthquake struck at 6:30 am. It lasted only a minute or two, but as soon as it was over Bindi jumped up on my lap and was happy the rest of the day.

TWO OF MY OTHER DOG BLOGS ARE HERE…. just click on the following titles:




The stunning image below is of a tornado approaching a man who is unconcernedly mowing his lawn in Alberta, Canada. “I was keeping an eye on it,” he said.

Source: Time Magazine, 2017.

** The main blog above about dogs is based on, and includes excerpts from, an article in Time Magazine called Secrets of the Canine Mind by Jeffrey Kluger, 22 May 2017.

Think well……. and help someone to hope.
The Gray Nomad

Finally, please share this blog to other dog-lovers who would enjoy it. And if you know someone who would be interested in getting my regular blog posts via email, please send me their email address.

After leaving there, Jesus withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that district came out and began to cry out [urgently], saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David (Messiah); my daughter is cruelly possessed by a demon.” But He did not say a word in answer to her.

His disciples came and asked Him [repeatedly], “Send her away, because she keeps shouting out after us.” He answered, “I was commissioned by God and sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to kneel down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He replied, “It is not good (appropriate, fair) to take the children’s bread and throw it to the pet dogs.”

She said, “Yes, Lord; but even the pet dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their [young] masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith [your personal trust and confidence in My power] is great; it will be done for you as you wish.” Her daughter was healed from that moment. [Book of Mathew, chapter 15].

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Don Minton
Don Minton
6 years ago

Good blog post Ian. You have to wonder about dogs knowing what we are thinking. We know that trained dogs can detect a medical event/episode in people with diabetes and epilepsy before it occurs. So maybe they can tell by biological changes in our hormones what we are thinking and about to do. At any rate, my German Shepherd is very smart and recognizes body language, words and probably biological changes also. Thanks for another informative and enjoyable blog.

Mary Ann Pollock
Mary Ann Pollock
6 years ago

A very good blog about the animal I love most. I love my Chanel and she does mind her Mother most of the time. Thanks again Ian.

6 years ago

It is true when you bond with a dog they show a lot of appreciation. My dog Tate and I got very close when I took him to obedience school and agility class. They learn and watch for a lot of cues from their master.

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