What do dogs think about? Here's how smart your pooch really is

It's well recognized that, as four-legged beasts go, dogs are pretty darn smart. Just how smart are they, though? Do dogs think, and if so, what do they think about?

Do dogs think about things, and if so, what do they think about?
Do dogs think about things, and if so, what do they think about?  © Jamie Street / Unsplash

There are many differing opinions on whether dogs have anything more complex going on inside their head.

Is there even such a thing as critical or more complicated thinking in dogs, or is everything just "food, food, food"? Well, the answer may surprise you, so let's dive in.

TAG24's dog guide dives into the philosophical question of whether dogs think and, how they think, and what they think about in their day-to-day lives.

Woman selling puppies from sack charged with animal torture in New York City
Dogs Woman selling puppies from sack charged with animal torture in New York City

Curious about pondering pooches? Then you're in the right place.

Do dogs think?

The most important thing to consider when it comes to a dog's thinking skills is whether they have logical or critical thinking, not whether they think at all.

Dogs do, indeed, have thoughts that reflect certain emotions like fear, happiness, love, and excitement, but these are rather different to those of humans.

After all, dogs don't really have a "language", so their thoughts don't amount to words in their head in the same way that ours do. That doesn't mean that they can't learn logical thinking with a little bit of training. They can remember, they can re-order things, and they have the mind to express the emotions they feel via their physical reactions.

How do dogs think?

Dogs think in simple emotions and small logical steps.

It's generally agreed that pooches are at a level similar to toddlers. That means they cannot predict or consider the abstract consequences of a future action. They can, however, learn from experiences, and can remember "things."

Certain breeds of dogs, and dogs that have been trained in a particular way (such as assistant dogs) will recall certain sequences and reliably execute actions in the case of an emergency. This is how dogs think, mainly through memory and conditioning that has been learned through training and over time.

What does a dog think about?

We don't really know all that much about the specific things a dog will think about, or how those thoughts take shape in the mind of a pooch. Barks aren't like words that can be represented mentally, they're more about emotional communication than about specific messages.

It is generally assumed that a dog's thoughts mostly come down to solving specific situations they find themselves in, thinking about food and whether they are hungry, whether they need cleaning, and other more day-to-day lifestyle topics.

These thoughts are likely to be conveyed in their mind through sensory information and memory, rather than language – a smell that produces a certain reaction, for example, or a feeling that is recognizable as hunger.

What do dogs think about music?

Dogs do actually recognize music, and certain music will trigger certain emotions and behaviors within a dog.

In a 2012 Psychology Today article, Stanley Coren, a professor at University of British Columbia's Department of Psychology, discussed a dog's sense of pitch.

According to Coren, human music produced by wind instruments like clarinets and saxophones have a particular habit of making dogs howl. This vocalization comes from a behavior in wolves, which are ancient ancestors of domesticated dogs, that find them howling along with each other within a group. This is a form of communication.

Ultimately, though, you cannot say that dogs actively think about music. Certain instruments and sounds may trigger them to howl, but this is more to do with a deeply engrained instinct than a love for music.

Do playful pooches ponder, or do they just go with the flow?
Do playful pooches ponder, or do they just go with the flow?  © Avi Richards / Unsplash

What do dogs think about when they are alone?

Dogs are often unhappy when left alone. After all, they are pack animals and are very much used to being around other dogs or humans. In fact, separation anxiety is a very real problem for doggos, so if you are someone who works a lot, then there are some things you need to think about before getting yourself a dog.

In the end, when dogs are alone, they will generally think through their emotions and senses. They will feel hungry, they will feel lonely or anxious, and they will be looking forward to the next step in their daily routine.

What do dogs think about their owners?

Dogs are emotional animals and, as we have discussed, mainly experience emotions and senses. They feel sadness, happiness, love, affection, and more. They get hungry, they get frightened, and they look forward to things.

As a result, dogs will think about their owners in an emotional light.

With any luck, your dog will think of you in a loving and affectionate way, as it sees you as bringing it safety and happiness. That doesn't mean that it will always be this way, though. A negative person might produce negative emotions in a dog.

How to promote logical thinking in dogs

It's a great idea to incorporate more complex thinking into dog training.
It's a great idea to incorporate more complex thinking into dog training.  © Unsplash / hjx518756

There are a vast assortment of things that you can do to help improve and maintain the cognitive functioning of your dog's brain. Dogs' abilities are often limited, but they can understand cause and consequence based on experience.

Agility training is a great way to keep your pet busy and keep them solving problems, clicker training will give it a sense of cause-consequence conditioning, and good training overall helps to reduce anxiety and improve health.

Ultimately, if you want to promote logical thinking in dogs, you should use various training methods to keep your pooch both physically and cognitively active.

Make sure to not overdo it, though, as too many stimuli can easily backfire.

Dog thinking toys can help your dog's thinking skills

There are a variety of toys for dogs to play with or puzzles for them to solve that will help improve and maintain their cognitive functions. Every dog is a unique individual, so yours might not want to engage, but through regular training this problem can be solved.

It is absolutely worth investing in training, time, and dog toys to help improve your dog's cognitive health. Your dog does think, and when it maintains its mental fitness, it will also maintain its happiness.

Cover photo: Jamie Street / Unsplash

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