Readers seemed to like a blog I wrote recently about dog training. I got many comments about the aspects of dog psychology I discussed. So I figured I’d share some other ideas I have gleaned by working with various dog trainers over the years.

The most important thing I learned about dogs is that they can not and do not think like humans. We tend to anthropomorphize them and attribute to them motives that they are incapable of having. For example, most people believe that dogs chew furniture or poop in the house when they are left alone because they are ‘getting back’ at their humans for leaving them. The problem with that theory is that it requires levels of conceptualization, insight and understanding of cause and effect that is way beyond a dog’s capabilities.


First, they must have the self-awareness to realize that they are feeling angry at you, which they can’t and don’t. Then they have to understand that they can get ‘revenge’ (a human concept) if they make you mad or upset too. That is more than a two-year old child can do let alone a dog. Thirdly, they have to figure out, in the abstract, what behaviors they could do to make you upset. This is more than a reasonable stretch for any dog.


The explanation for most negative dog behavior seems to be stress or anxiety. Different things cause stress in different dogs and different dogs react to stress in different ways. Chewing and making in the house are examples of anxiety driven behaviors, as are excessive barking and hyperactivity. None of these are thought out revenge schemes. My anxiety prone dog gets most anxious when other people come into the house. Apparently that’s because she thinks she has to ‘protect’ me, which means that she is on duty when the doorbell rings. However, this skittish dog does not react to things that stress out many other dogs, like thunder, vacuum cleaners, packed suitcases or even a trip to the vet. She is the calmest, most relaxed dog my vet has ever seen in her office! Go figure!

Another interesting fact I learned about dog psychology is that dogs are very Zen. They truly live in the moment. They can only think about what just happened for about 10 seconds. That’s why to train a dog you have to reward them the minute they do what you want them to. When housebreaking a dog, you have to praise them profusely while they are in the act of making, not even a minute later. If you rewarded your dog right after they made, they would think you were praising them for whatever they were doing in that exact moment, like sniffing a bush or wagging their tail.

This brings up a funny story about how my anxious girl, Lexi flummoxed the dog trainer. It also points up how dogs can see things differently than even the dog trainer believes they should. When Lexi was on the sofa with me, she would often growl at our other dog when he came near the sofa. So we followed the trainer’s advice and told her ‘no’ immediately and threw her off the sofa. In most dogs, this would end the offensive behavior.


However Lexi continues to growl at her brother, but as soon as she does, she immediately jumps off the sofa and lies down on the floor. The trainer has never seen a case of self punishment before. Her takeaway is logical though; ‘when you growl, you have to get off of the sofa’ is as valid a lesson to take from the situation as is just ‘stop growling’!

Think of your dog as a two-year old child. You can’t expect the child or the dog to act or react like an adult/human or understand the world the way we do. You are the superior intellect in the relationship so you have to try and understand how your dog perceives and thinks. Don’t get mad at your dog for ‘scheming’ against you and ‘purposely’ behaving badly to annoy you. His brain doesn’t work that way. Figure out what stressor is triggering his undesirable behavior and deal with the stressor or channel the dog’s anxiety in another way.


  1. Here’s another weird one to add to the puzzle. Since Bonnie and Gibbs have been the only two dogs, Bonnie’s behavior has dramatically altered. She’s obviously more attentive to Gibbs than either Garry or me (and Garry is more than a little wounded because she is his special girl). And since Garry and I on two occasion reprimanded Gibbs for marking in the kitchen, he will only come into the kitchen for meals, or on specific invitation … and neither will Bonnie (unless I’m cooking, in which case nothing will stop her except a fence).

    I don’t know who is training who, but the dogs are definitely training each other.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s fascinating to watch dogs interact with humans and with eachother. They do seem to get that we are somehow different in some ways, but in some ways just treat us like we’re part of the pack. It looks like Gibbs and Bonnie are forging a new relationship with one another. Keep us posted on how that progresses.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t profess to know what, or how, dogs think but I feel there is definitely a level of reasoning, supported by their actions, that have left me baffled on many occasions. I do know that when ever I have been blessed with having a dog in my life, my becoming a part of the pack was imperative. One way or the other we began to understand each other, and that’s plenty good enough for this cowboy.

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    1. I agree. My dog absolutely punishes and plots. For instance, he adored my neighbor. When she moved and came back for a visit, he walked almost up to her, turned his face away from her and ignored her. When she lived next door, he couldn’t contain his excitement and would always jump all over her when he saw her. As for plotting, when we let him out, instead of coming in after he barks to be let in, he stands at the entrance of the door and refuses to come in until he’s darn good and ready, or we give him a treat. Ignoring him sometimes works, but he’s often willing to stand in the open doorway forever, which allows bugs and bats to come in. He also rats out behavior he doesn’t approve of, but that’s a blog post I’ll eventually write.

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    2. I find it interesting that each dog has their own personality and way of thinking, just like humans. Also, different breeds tend to have common traits that are also fun to discover.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Gibbs does a little bit to entertain and bait us. He ruffles the carefully folded dog blankets and starts scratching the sofa in loud attack mode. It’s funny but leaves the sofa in peril. Marilyn warns him in her motherly voice once…twice..maybe three times before he stops. Then, he hops off the sofa and jumps up on the love seat with us. This happens daily. Matinee and evening performances. What do you think, Doctor?


  3. Dog psychology is quite interesting. I remember seeing a couple (dogs) sitting on the porch and the male was eyeing some other dog walking by. I could have sworn that the female dog was complaining to the male dog about his wandering eye. It wasn’t a growl it was a complaint sounding like – what are you looking at?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wish we could interpret dog language! I think they have a richer vocabulary than we imagine. One of our dogs makes so many different sounds, at different times, that we feel she has her own language.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My girl “Polly” a shepherd mix began one morning to do what, I can only describe as, speak. She let out some vocalization I’d never heard from her before and I made the mistake of laughing. The hurt look on her face was unforgettable. I never did that again and instead spoke to her to ask what she needed. The wagging tail and look of seeming happiness was also unignorable (this is not a real word) so this time I followed her downstairs to the back door and opened it for her to exit. A short time later she scratched at the door to come in and all was peaceful again. I had learned my lesson from checking out what ever she barked at previously.., but I really didn’t expect attempts at speech.


        1. Our doberman, Rusty, usually didn’t talk, but when we boarded her while we were on vacation, when we brought her home, she would put her head in my mother’s lap and talk to her. I swear she was telling her all about the terrible time she had and how glad she was to be home. She only talked after we were away … and ONLY to my mom.


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