We pet owners have a habit of boasting about our dogs’ extra-sensory-abilities, or, in simple words- sixth sense. Now, please don’t think that this article is a revamp, extension or revised edition of onr of my previous articles: ‘Sixth Sense or Non-sense’.
The reason for attributing their extra-sensory-abilities to the so called sixth sense is unknown, but we know one thing for sure – dogs have an uncanny understanding of human emotions. In the world when we humans complain that our fellow humans fail to understand our feelings, it is quite surprising that dogs can, not just interpret complex and intense human emotions, but react to them accordingly. This ability can be attributed to the lifestyle of their ancestors. Erstwhile dogs were highly social, lived and travelled in pack and shared very strong emotional bond with other dogs. Surprisingly, they even had rituals that helped them bond and many such social structures that seem to correspond to human social interactions. This is the reason why we humans consider dogs to be our best ‘animal’ friend – if I may say so. The same set of abilities that helped dogs establish emotional connect in a pack, is inherited by the 21st century dogs due to which we still pet them.
Food for thought: Even as monkeys, apes, chimpanzees, gorillas etc are more related to humans than dogs or any other species, we still connect better with dogs, why?
In this article series, we will look at some of the various emotions/feelings/attitude that dogs comprehend and react to.
Before I continue, I want to clarify that some parts of this article are mere observation and may/may not be backed with appropriate statistical data to come to a concrete conclusion. Reader’s discretion is of utmost importance.
1. They can sense your intentions
Ever wondered how your dog knows you are going to bathe him even before you search for his towel or switch on the heater?
The moment you decide to bathe him, and stand up to make your move, he’ll run for his life and hide. This was a negative response to a positive stimulus.
On the other hand, when he is hurt and you try to attend to him or nurse him, you might unintentionally hurt him but he knows that your intentions are clean and you want to help him. This is a positive response.
But the million dollar question is: “How does the dog understand your intentions even before you implement them? And more importantly, how do they react accordingly?”
One study shows that dogs do this by observing your body language. “Learning & Behaviour”, a study published in 2011 found that pet dogs are as intelligent as a 2-year-old human. Amazing isn’t it? This implies that your pet-friend can potentially understand the meaning of approximately 160 odd words. Not just this, they can also sense changes in your body language and react to these changes.
For dogs, your tell-tale signs are eye-contact, and hand gestures. Let us come back to the ‘bath’ example, when you think of bathing him, you inadvertently glance at the bathroom or his bathtub, this visual queue is enough for him to ring bells in his mind. These bells tell him that you are eager enough to clean his skunk-like fur odour that he is proud of.
2. They can sense your fear
Have you ever been afraid of darkness and at that instant, your dog leaps onto your lap and licks you as if to say: “I’m here, do not worry!”? I would not be surprised if I get mixed responses for this question because, in such situations, smaller dogs seek for your lead while larger ones will come to your rescue.
They do this with the help of their sharp olfactory sense (nasal sense). They can smell the change in concentration of adrenaline in your sweat and they associate it with fear.
How do they know what fear is?
Fear is an emotion/feeling that is shared and experienced by almost all cognitively-able animals. In fact, it is one of the basis of their survival. We are well aware of the three Fs induced by fear: Fright, Flight, or Fight. Imagine an animal that has no fear, it would face all other animals, be it mightier or meeker in comparison to it. This would amount to underestimating the opponent, and if the foe is stronger, then the fearless animal is at its own peril.
Dogs can smell fear and can intuitively recognize our body language associated with it.
They too have a template reaction to fear. Some of the template reactions which both humans and dogs share are: Goosebumps, dilated pupils, change in stance or posture, and curling of lips etc. They can associate their fear and ours, and hence understand what our reaction to it looks like. In combination with their ‘smell’ sense, you’ll have no doubt that they can sense your fear.
3. They can sense shift in your priority (and feel jealous about it too)
Take a look at this conversation and you will understand what I’m trying to imply.
Pet parent: “My dog has been acting weird all of a sudden. I do not know what to do!”
Me: “Has he been like this before?”
Pet parent: “No, he has started behaving like this only after I have bought a new gadget.”
Me: “Aha! There’s your problem. Your dog sensed a sudden shift in your priority after you purchased a new gadget and he might as well feel jealous about it.”
If your dog has been acting weird after you have joined a new job/ brought home a new pet/ bought a new gadget/ anything that could shift your focus from him to the new thing; then it is a classic case of jealousy!
Jealousy is one part and being left out all alone is totally another, It is a sincere request to all pet parents, please do not neglect your pet. The most important thing in your pet’s life is you.
The only remedy to a jealous dog is to give his ‘me time’ back to him. Try and spend more and more time with your dog and make it a point that you use positive assertions/adjectives to make him feel better. Praise and reward him often so that you win his confidence and trust back.
The next article in this series would talk about some other emotions/feelings/attitude that dogs comprehend and react to.