Due to my vision loss, and being registered Severely Sight Impaired (Blind), I have been doing a lot of research into the benefits of having a Guide Dog.
Through this research, I have come across a wealth of information that I hope you will find useful and interesting in relation to dog behaviours and the interactions between Canine and Humans.
It is my intention to write a number of posts to share with my customers and dog loving friends. I have gathered the information from various sources, including (but not limited to) the Internet, Guide Dogs UK, Guide Dogs Of America and several e-books. I do hope you enjoy these posts and that they help you to understand more closely your pets behaviours and relationships with you. I would love to hear your comments and views
Dog Behaviours – How they Think
We tend to think of dogs in a very human-like manner. Scientifically, any time that we attribute human traits to non-human species or non-living objects it is called “anthropomorphic projection.”
This is a very easy thing to do when the dog feels like a member of the family, and you share a close bond. Dogs are extremely proficient at adapting to human life, and in many studies, they actually perform better at reading human behaviour than our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. That being said, there are limitations that exist in a dog’s ability to understand human desires, actions, and the environment at large. Therefore, when you want to encourage a behaviour or when you are seeking to solve a problem, it is best to consider that dogs see, hear, smell, and process the World differently than we do.
“Umwelt” is a term coined to mean how an animal experiences and perceives the world. Consider stepping outside on a rainy day. A human is likely occupied with thoughts of how to stay dry and assessing how the weather will affect what they wanted to do today. When a dog steps out into the rain, he or she is likely occupied by the amplified scents, with no concern for how it affects their owners day. Taking the time to reflect on your dog’s umwelt will help you to maintain realistic expectations and communicate with your dog in the simplest manner possible.
Scientific studies have shown that dogs and humans use the same parts of the brain, release the same chemicals, and even display similar facial expressions when conveying certain emotions.
These emotions include arousal or excitement, distress, contentment, disgust, fear, anger, joy, suspicion, and affection or love. Complex social emotions such as shame, pride, guilt, jealousy, or contempt are not, however, considered to be part of the dog’s spectrum. These emotions require something called “Theory of Mind.” Humans develop Theory of Mind at around 4 years of age. It is defined as the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and to others. Humans are skilled with an understanding that someone else’s mind is capable of having beliefs, desires, intents, or knowledge that differ from their own. Without Theory of Mind, dogs cannot grasp the widespread moral standards, ethics, or comparison involved in experiencing complex social emotions.
They do, however, demonstrate Theory of Behaviour with ease.
Theory of Behaviour is the understanding that certain behaviors result in certain outcomes. In other words, dogs have no trouble understanding that one event follows another. Many would argue that they have seen evidence of dogs acting jealous or experiencing guilt; however, these are examples of anthropomorphic projection. A dog that comes in between you and and your loved one’s cuddle is not a jealous dog, but rather a dog that is trying to create space in between two beings to keep potential conflict at bay. You will see the same peace-keeping technique occur between dogs that are free running in a group. A dog that is slinking around or showing signs of stress after getting into the rubbish bin is not a remorseful dog, but rather a dog displaying the more basic emotion of fear. The dog has learned simply that when you appear and rubbish is scattered on the floor, bad things happen. Recognizing anthropomorphic projections can prevent you from harming the bond you share with your dog by attempting to teach lessons in human terms that he or she cannot understand.
The brilliant news is that the old saying about dogs’ unconditional love is scientifically true! No matter how foolish you feel making a mistake in public, rest assured that your dog feels no shame in being at the end of your leash. And all that love that you feel at the end of day – Your dog feels it too.
While dogs cannot understand human language in its entirety, there are a few dogs with exceptional ability that are pushing the boundaries we once thought to be true. A border collie named Rico has a vocabulary of over 200 words and the unique ability to fast map. Fast mapping involves learning a new concept or word based only on a single exposure. Rico has shown the ability to remember the name of an object a month after hearing it once. Betsey, another border collie, can look at a smaller version of an object or even a 2-dimensional picture of an object and go retrieve the full-size, 3-dimensional version. While these are extraordinary cases, it does give us a window to the communication possibilities that exist between the human and canine species.
Here are some known language concepts between owner and dog:
- The sound of the cue can influence the response. A cue for passive behavior is best delivered by a long note with descending frequency. Example: Staaay. A cue for action is best accomplished by a short note with ascending frequency. Example: Come!
- The beginnings of words are more important to the dogs than the ends of words.
- Response to verbal cues are influenced by several factors including: the attentional state of the human (Is it clear that the cue is directed towards the dog? Does the cue stand apart from a conversational tone that is background noise to the dog in other settings?), the attention state of the dog, and tone of voice (Is the owner intimidating, supportive, firm, or passive?). The source of a verbal cue can also influence the dog’s response. Meaning, a recording of your voice will not have the same effect as your actual spoken voice.
An ability to understand quantity is essential to survival. All species must have a basic ability to differentiate between small and large quantities. For example, an animal will instinctually leave a habitat where water or food is scarce. Quantity differentiation and counting are not, however, the same concept. Counting is the ability to understand and use the order of numbers. Recent experiments suggest that dogs have an elementary ability to count, and thus, several individual rewards given quickly back to back will be more meaningful than a single larger reward. Applying this concept intermittently through jackpot rewards can be a highly effective technique.
- A large portion of a dog’s perception of the world has to do with the sensory information they receive. Though there are differences that exist between the breed of dog, on average, a dog’s sense of smell is said to be one thousand times more sensitive than a human’s, and they have 40 times as many scent receptors as we do.
2. A dog’s sense of hearing is also greater than a human’s. They have 18 different muscles in their ears that help them to best locate and differentiate sounds. These muscles enable the dog to hear sounds four times further than the human ear. Studies have shown that dogs are also capable of perceiving frequencies at approximately twice the range of human capabilities. This information is an important consideration when determining the appropriateness of taking your dog to a loud venue.
3. Canine vision – they do not see in the same way people do. The most obvious difference exists in their vantage point. Most people stand over 5 feet tall while your dog is viewing the world from only 2 feet off the ground. It was once thought that dogs only see in black and white, but that has since been disproven. They do, however, see less of a color range than people. Assuming no visual impairments exist, humans can see a full rainbow of colors, where as the dog sees primarily in shades of yellows, blues, and greys. Dogs have a reflective layer of cells behind the retina that allows them to operate in ¼ the amount of light that is needed for a human to see, meaning that they do see better at night time than the average person. Generally speaking, humans see about 180 degrees around them or what is in front and to the immediate sides. Dogs, on the other hand, can see up to 250 degrees around due to placement of their eyes on the head.