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Can Dogs Read Minds?

By Linda Cole

After thousands of years of domestication, scientists have finally begun to do more extensive research on dogs to try to better understand man's best friend and how they relate to us. Most of us have already figured out that a positive relationship with our dog depends on how attentive we are to them, and when we do pay attention to them it's amazing to see how tuned in to us they are.

Dogs appear to have us figured out too. They seem to know what we're thinking sometimes before we know. Some people believe their dog can read their mind, but critics claim there's no way a dog knows what we're thinking. However, there is research that says dogs can read our minds. I'm always interested in new studies that come out about dogs because it can give us insight into their behavior and help us understand them better. This new study was done at the University of Florida. Researchers make the claim that dogs can read our minds based on experiments they did using dogs raised in shelters, pet dogs and tamed wolves.

They took two people, one who was attentive to the dog or wolf and one who was reading a book, had their back turned to the animal or had their head covered with a bucket. Each person offered a treat to the dog or wolf to see who they would beg from. The scientists wanted to see if dogs responded better to someone paying attention to them versus the non attentive person.

This experiment showed that pet dogs were more likely to beg from the person paying attention to them, but the dogs raised in a shelter and the wolves were just as likely to beg from both groups of people. Researchers concluded that since pet dogs are accustomed to seeing people reading a book, this means they understand the person looking at them is the one who will give them a treat. They deduced that this experiment showed dogs raised in a home environment learn that attentive people are more likely to give them treats because of our interaction with them. Try this experiment yourself with your dog's favorite CANIDAE treats and see what happens!

A second experiment was conducted to see if dogs could be trained to go to the person ignoring them by giving the dogs a treat if they went to the person. Researchers concluded that dogs had a hard time learning to beg from someone ignoring them. Reading a book or sitting with their back to them is a human behavior the dog seems to understand, but the bucket on the head confused both dogs and wolves because it's an unfamiliar human behavior and they preferred to beg from the person looking at them.

Based on their experiments, researchers believe this proves dogs can read our minds to a certain degree because of the dog's experience living with their human and from genetics. I agree that dogs learn through life experiences just like we do, but they also have a unique ability to understand us just by observation. Dogs are social creatures and they notice the smallest nuances we use. They see subtle hints we don't even know we're showing that tells them what we're thinking. Not by reading our minds, but by an astute observation of things we pick up, how we move, how we are dressed, how we smell, the look on our face or our tone of voice.

To me, this study doesn't prove dogs can read our minds as much as it confirms dogs are experts at understanding our body language and that they watch us closely. Eye contact is important to a dog; it can tell them what another dog is thinking and they will watch our eye movements the same way. A glance towards the door or their leash gets their attention even though we don't realize what we did.

There's a reason why dogs and humans came together centuries ago. Man and dog discovered a mutual benefit that made life a little bit better when they worked together as a team. Dogs have had plenty of time to learn how to live with humans and figure us out. Scientists are still trying to learn who our best friend is, but dog owners who have a strong bond with their pet don't need a study to prove to them just how special and unique their dog is.

Photo by Kerry Sanders

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