Inside Out Your Dog’s Brain & His Behavior.
Brain training for dogs may not be the first thing that gets into the mind of doggie owners like you whenever the phrase ‘canine training’ is mentioned. It’s unfortunate that the majority of dog owners are concerned about their dogs getting enough exercise but completely overlook the importance of obedience training and behavior modification in canines.
Training is an integral part of a dog’s life. Through it, he is given mental stimulation which helps keep him happy. It can also train a dog to behave acceptably to the point that he can coexist with humans and other animals around him.
Training is more than teaching a dog to obey basic commands like sit and come. It also includes teach the canine how to play with kids without harming them, greet new people, and adequately walk on the leash.
How smart is actually your dog?
Dogs are said to be as intelligent as a toddler. According to a 2009 study carried out by experts from the University of British Columbia, the average dog has the language skills as that of a two-year-old human. The researchers also revealed that dogs can understand up to 165 words, count up to five and perform basic mathematical calculations.
However, canine intelligence may vary from one breed to another. Certain breeds like border collies have exhibited the ability to learn hundreds of human words and commands. Border collies can also recognize names of various items and correctly retrieve them. One border collie by the name of Harper was reportedly able to learn a thousand names successfully.
Inside your dog’s mind
To further appreciate the intelligence of canines, a closer look at how a typical dog’s mind works can provide helpful insights.
Dogs have brain structures that are similar to those of other mammals and even their human counterparts. Parts of the canine brain such as medulla oblongata and telencephalon have the same functions as those of other animals.
However, there are certain qualities of a dog’s brain which share similarities with the human brain. One of these is the secretion of the hormone oxytocin which is associated with love, trust, and affection. This hormone present in dogs is believed to be one of the reasons behind the strong relationship between canines and their human masters. In fact, studies have shown that this same hormone makes dogs attracted to the smile of humans to the point that they would react to smiling human faces even in the face of danger.
Another similarity between human and dog brains is the presence of a dedicated voice area which is also theorized to be another factor in the strong dog-human bond. According to a study published in 2014, humans and dogs have the same brain mechanisms for processing social information. The researchers who conducted the study also pointed out that this similarity explains why humans tend to communicate well with their canine pets.
There’s also a part in the brain of a dog that is strikingly similar to that of the human brain. Called the caudate nucleus region, this is the area which is associated with reward in both species. Numerous studies have shown that this part of the brain responsible for the positive emotions that people and even dogs feel when they receive rewards.
How Do Dog Brains Differ From Human Brains?
There isn’t a lot of difference between human and canine brains save for the human brain has a higher encephalization quotient than dog brains and more developed prefrontal cortex.
Encephalization quotient pertains to the ratio between the brain mass and the body mass. This has been theorized as a basis for the intelligence level of a particular species.
Human brains have an encephalization quotient of 1:50 while dog brains are at 1:125. In short, brains of people are larger compared to their canine counterparts.
Aside from the size, there is also a difference in the prefrontal cortex between man and dogs. Humans have a more developed prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain where high-level processing of thoughts occurs. This explains why humans are light years away than their pets regarding problem-solving and decision making.
Can Dogs Understand Humans?
It’s a question that’s not only commonly asked by pet owners but just about anyone with interest in canines.
The short answer is yes— dogs can understand humans and in numerous impressive ways.
It’s been widely believed that dogs understand human speech. New studies, however, have revealed surprising findings on the extent of their ability to process human language
One of the most recent studies proving this was done by experts from the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. The study conducted in 2016 showed that the left hemisphere of canine brain processes the meaning of words while the right side processes the intonation. This is also the same way humans process language.
The study’s finding is significant because it proves that dogs not only care about the words uttered by people but also on how those words are said. Like their human friends, dogs have the ability to distinguish word meaning from word intonation.
Similar to other animals like apes, dolphins, and parrots, dogs also have the intelligence to learn words. The case of Hare, the border collie, mentioned later is one proof. There’s also the interesting case of the border collie named Rico who was able to learn more than 200 words which were mostly names of toys.
Aside from understanding human language, dogs are gifted with the ability to understand human gestures. Like a 2-year-old child, a dog will find an object if someone points to it. Moreover, dogs are great at reading subtler gestures like glancing at a container which has food stored on it. This is a skill that even 3-year-old kids may not be able to understand.
Do Dogs Have Feelings?
Dogs are not only gifted with intelligence comparable to that of a young human; they also can process emotions much like humans. Many studies have shown that dogs are capable of experiencing emotions such as anxiety, depression, happiness, fear, and optimism.
One of those studies was conducted by neuroscientist Gregory Burns of the Emory University. In his research, he used an MRI to delve into the brain activity of dogs and determine their feelings when exposed to specific experiences. He found out that a dog’s brain reacts similarly to a human brain during positive experiences like when being given a treat.
Dogs, too, can empathize with people around them. This was proven by a 2012 study regarding empathy in dogs. In the study, 18 dogs of different ages and breeds were exposed to four varying conditions. The dogs didn’t respond to individuals who were talking and humming but most of them approached the humans who were pretending to cry.
Of course, dogs are capable of showing love and affection to humans. There’s really no need to prove this as our canine pals have proven to show their devotion to their human companions through gestures like jumping, wagging their tails, and licking.
What Is My Dog Trying To Tell Me?
Now that you have learned that dogs are not only intelligent but also capable of feeling a wide range of emotions, you may likely wonder what your dog is trying to tell you the next time you are around with him. Our canine friends can’t communicate through words but they rely on a rich body language to do so.
Learning their body movements and respective meanings will enable you to determine what your pet is trying to tell you. Keep an eye on the following canine body language traits and behaviors:
1. Position or movement of the mouth. The mouth is not just for eating; it can tell a lot about your dog’s feelings. For example, a closed mouth means your dog is happy and relaxed. If the mouth is shut but very tight, it could mean that your pet is anxious. And if he exposes his front teeth, then it could mean he’s being very aggressive.
2. The movement of the tail. It is also no secret that the position and movement of the tail can tell a lot of things about your dog’s state of mind. It has been widely believed that a happy dog will often wag its tail.
But recent studies have suggested otherwise. One recent study that was published reveals that a dog wagging his tail to the right is happy but can be fearful or hesitant when the tail is wagged to the left.
Moreover, a tail tuck in between the legs may indicate that the dog is scared or frightened. A highly raised tail, meanwhile, means that the dog is angry.
3. Yawning. When you yawn, it is because you’re sleepy or bored. But in dogs, yawning can
be a sign of empathy. It can also be a sign that the dog is mildly stressed.
4. Jumping. There are numerous messages associated with a dog jumping. It is possible
that the dog is merely displaying his affection for you. It may also mean that he is crying
for attention. In some instances, it is to assert of dominance over you.
Three Aspects of Dog Intelligence
Most dog owners believe that dog intelligence is measured by the ability of a dog to learn tricks. However, it isn’t the only measurement of canine intelligence.
In his book titled “The Intelligence of Dogs,” animal behaviorist Stanley Coren defined three aspects or types of dog intelligence:
1. Instinctive Intelligence. This refers to the ability of the dog to perform tasks it was bred for like fetching, guarding, herding, or merely being a companion. For instance, a border collie is born to herd, but you should not expect the dog to be good at retrieving or hunting because he was not bred for this task.
2. Adaptive intelligence. This pertains to the ability of the canine to solve problems on his own. Dogs can solve problems and learn from those around them such as humans and other animals.
3. Working and obedience intelligence. This refers to the ability of a dog to learn beyond the basic commands related to the jobs they are tasked to do. For instance, a border collie may be bred for herding, but he can still be taught to round up sheep without causing any harm.
How Obedience Intelligence Impact Your Dog’s Behavior?
Among the three aspects of canine intelligence, working and obedience intelligence remains the most widely discussed. After all, this refers to the ability of a dog to learn from humans. It is the closest thing to school-learning ability in canines.
Dogs with high obedience intelligence respond well to commands and signals of their human masters. They can be trained to behave appropriately in specific scenarios. These canines are not only easy to train but can also act in a manner that’s acceptable to a majority of pet owners.
Best and Worst Breeds on Working and Obedience Intelligence
Working and obedience intelligence is such a vital component in training dogs and improving their behavior. Cohen reveals that certain breeds are naturally gifted with this dog intelligence aspect such as:
- Border Collie- a workaholic breed known for its intelligence and superior instincts.
- Poodle – smart and active, he is bred to recover things from water.
- German Shepherd Dog — a top choice for police and military dog, the breed is also known for being affectionate with family members.
- Golden Retriever– bred for hunting, this dog is intelligent and willing to please.
- Doberman Pinscher– highly-valued for its speed and stamina, this breed is a great police dog
- Shetland Sheepdog– the rough-coated breed is intelligent and great at herding
- Labrador Retriever– an ideal sporting dog who’s intelligent and gentle.
- Papillon– a happy, alert and athletic breed known for its beauty
- Rottweiler– a powerful breed best suited as a herder or police dog
- Australian Cattle Dog– energetic and intelligence, this breed is valued for herding
These dog breeds are so smart that they can understand and obey a new command in less than five repetitions.
Cohen also lists the worst breeds to train. These dogs need to hear commands up to 100 times before they obey them. These breeds include:
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Afghan Hound
Cohen clarifies, though, that his list doesn’t mean that dog owners and trainers should not consider getting or adapting those bottom breeds. He mentions the case of the Afghan Hound bred to spot, run after and hunt gazelle and antelope. While he can be challenging to train, the dog breed has other unique characteristics that make him appealing to other dog lovers.
To sum things up, dogs are smart animals who can understand humans in different ways. This unique ability has enabled them to have such a strong relationship with their masters. Dogs, too, can process different emotions such as happiness, anxiety, and fright.
There are three aspects of canine intelligence– intuitive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence. The latter is the most widely discussed as it can affect the ease of training dogs.
But while there are dog breeds which are naturally smart and easy to train, the good news is that you can still train a dog to follow your commands, boost his mental ability, and modify unwanted behavior.