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Dog Psychology: Understanding Your Canine Companion's Behavior

Dog psychology is the practice of understanding dog behavior from the dog's perspective rather than from a human perspective.

Dogs are our closest animal companions, so it is no wonder that we spend our lives working with their behaviors  – both for our benefit and for theirs. This is how we enrich our relationship with them.

Dog psychology helps us figure out how dogs think, bond with one another and with their human friends and socially interact with other dogs. Let's take a closer look at how this all works!

What Does a Dog Psychologist Do?

Also known as veterinary or applied animal behaviorists, dog psychologists specialize in helping with behavior issues in companion animals. They assist pet parents by uncovering triggers to certain behaviors and correcting those behaviors.

A dog psychologist can also help us better understand our dogs based on their breed and unique characteristics. They can help pet parents figure out things like how long you can leave your dog alone, why your dog is behaving in a certain way, or why it looks sad. 

If you need dog behavior training or simply need to know more about pet parenting, always choose a reputable dog psychologist.

If possible, get referrals to established professionals who have been in business for many years. This can help you find one that suits you.

Human Psychology vs. Dog Psychology

Although both are mammals, dogs and humans are not the same species. We’re actually quite different from one another. We both have unique needs, including our psychological makeup.

However, there are some similarities, especially in psychology.

Did you know that dogs and humans have similar emotional and social brains? Consequently, more and more dogs are suffering from depression, aggression, and anxiety – all mostly human issues. This is particularly true of rescue animals.

Much of the trauma suffered by dogs comes from the human world. Like people who have suffered from abuse, abused dogs also need gentle care, including psychological help. Let's delve a little deeper into dog psychology. 

12 Interesting Psychology Facts About Fido 

Over thousands of years, as man and his best friend developed their special friendship, it became clear that there are many different dog personality traits. Every dog is unique! 

For dog lovers, psychology is an important gateway to gain greater insights into our canine companions' emotional and mental makeup. Thanks to this, we've figured out some fascinating facts about our furry friends. Here are just a few!

#1 A bark is not as bad as a bite

Barking is a self-rewarding activity, and therefore a dog's bark is hard to control. It is a way for the dog to communicate that something is about to happen, or that they will make something happen.

#2 Don't say a word

A dog can react and respond to non-verbal cues on a similar level to that of a human 2-year-old. Because of this, some dogs can even understand sign language!

#3 An emotional response

Studies involving MRI scans have shown that dogs and children experience similar positive emotions. For example, both dogs and children react positively to seeing people familiar to them. 

#4 Aggressive behavior

According to research, dogs are more likely to become aggressive or bite when accompanied by human males, who tend to have a more aggressive nature, causing their furry friend to feel fierce.

#5 Playtime

Male dogs are more likely to play with female dogs than other males. However, a female dog will play with both genders. This may be related to the evolutionary necessity to care for other dogs regardless of their gender.

#6 Walkies!

When a dog has regular walks, they may behave better (and you'll be healthier!). A walk stimulates their body and mind and allows the dog to do what it naturally does: explore. 

Studies also found that when we regularly walk shelter dogs, they are more likely to be adopted.

#7 Wag the tail!

Dogs use their tails to communicate. Even the direction it wags has a different meaning.

Tail wagging is a non-verbal way to convey a dog’s emotion to other dogs or their human companions.

#8 Sniff sniff

Bring two unfamiliar dogs together, and nine times out of ten, they will sniff each other's bottoms.

That peculiar, quick (or in some cases lengthy) greeting is for the dogs to place each other and match smells along their routes.

#9 You can teach a new puppy old dog tricks

The old saying of you can't teach an old dog new tricks may be accurate, but the reverse is also valid. A puppy usually learns a lot quicker if there's an older dog in the house. 

#10 A dog knows when you are happy!

A dog can learn from a human's emotions. If a human owner has a specific emotional response to an object or another person, the dog will respond accordingly. This means if you have a favorite plush toy, chances are Fido will love it as well.

#11 The sounds of joy, sorrow, and pain

MRI tests have shown that a dog's brain reacts to sound much like a human brain does. This means that your furry friend will be sensitive to the tone you take and most likely knows if you're happy, sad, or in pain.

#12 Body language

Dogs depend on reading the body language of other dogs and dog owners to assess social situations. They will be watching every move you make and will pick up all kinds of subtle cues you may not even know you're giving!

Dog Psychology 101

Dog behaviorist studies have been around since the early 1800s, and dog psychology training has evolved since then. Experts published several dog psychology books over time, and two thought leaders on the topic emerged: Rudolph Schenkel and Ivan Pavlov.

#1 Rudolph Schenkel: the leader of the pack

  • Rudolph Schenkel's 1947 studies compared dog behavior to that of wolves. He theorized that aggressive behavior was what established the hierarchy in packs.
  • A male or female became the leader and would maintain this role through aggressive behavior. 
  • Many dog psychologists and trainers continue to use this approach to training. By asserting dominance as a pack leader, the human takes control of the dog and its behavior.

#2 Ivan Pavlov: The psychology behind Pavlov's dog

  • Ivan Pavlov theorized that anybody could control a dog's behavior by using classical conditioning. We have all heard of how he conditioned dogs to drool at the sound of a ringing bell.
  • Classical conditioning involves pairing something biological (like food) with something neutral (like a bell) to condition certain behaviors (ie., if the dog gets food every time the bell rings, they'll eventually begin to drool every time they hear the bell).
  • Pavlov's theory is yet another psychological theory still widely used as a tested and accepted method of controlling dog behavior. This form of training is useful for aggressive dogs or dogs that exhibit fearful behavior. 

Final Note: Happy Dogs in Happy Homes

Every dog is different. While some may respond to one type of training, the same approach may be completely ineffective in another dog, especially one that has suffered from abuse. Older dogs and puppies may require different types of behavioral training.

Of course, whether the studies came from examining wild dogs, like Schenkel, or examining dogs in a laboratory setting, as Pavlov did, theories are only useful if implemented. 

If your canine companion needs emotional support or help, a dog psychologist could be what you need to ensure you have a happy dog in a happy home!

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