Dog Psychology - Get to know your dog better

As pet owners, our dogs are a large part of our life. They stay with us and are so very involved in the things that we do that we sometimes forget that they are not human. Dogs communicate differently and it is vital that we do our best to understand dog psychology in order to be the best pet parents possible. 

What is dog psychology?

‘Psychology’ is defined as ‘the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context. 

Thus, ‘dog psychology’ would refer to the science and observations of how dogs think, interact with other dogs as well as how dogs bond with humans. 

Study of animal behavior is not new. In fact, it has been around since the 1800s. Studies on dog behavior have documented interaction of dogs and other animals, including wolves. Other research looks for the best ways to train dogs. 

Ultimately, dog psychology helps us to understand dog behavior from a canine perspective as compared to viewing it from a human perspective. 

why is dog psychology important

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Importance of understanding your dog - Why is dog psychology important? 

As a pet owner, it is our responsibility to understand our dogs as best as we can. Dogs cannot speak but they do try to communicate. When you understand your dog, you will make a better pet parent. Here are a few reasons why gaining some insight into dog psychology.

Builds a strong, healthy relationship

When you start to understand how your dog feels, thinks and learns, you will be able to respond appropriately. In fact, it is key in building a strong, healthy relationship with your pet. By understanding dog behavior, you will be a better owner, and your dog will be a better companion. 

Keeps everyone safe

As pet parents we are responsible for our dogs and what our dogs do. Understanding our dog’s body language will help us to keep ourselves, our dogs, other people and other dogs safe. You will be able to prevent and avoid unwanted incidences when you are able to read your dog. 

For example, if you understand what it means when your dog’s hackles go up, you will know how to diffuse the situation. Rather than add danger to the situation by yelling, you should redirect your dog. 

Anything can happen if your dog is in an emotional state of caution and you really do not want your dog to use its teeth as a weapon. Dogs have good memory and their reaction to a particular situation, or towards someone can be influenced by a previous experience. 

Understanding their body language will help you to notice precursors of aggressive behavior. This allows you to deal with it before it develops into a serious behavioral problem, keeping everyone safe. 

It helps you communicate better

Just as human relationships need to be based on good two way communication, our relationship with our dogs need to be sustained two-way as well. We should do our best to listen to our dogs and be aware of their body language. 

Dogs communicated primarily through their body language. As such, your dog might not be able to follow what you say 100% especially if you are moving and talking at the same time. If they are not able to catch your words, it is likely that your dog will refer to your body movement because movement is their primary communication method. 

It helps reduce stress

Understanding dog psychology will help you to recognize signs and symptoms of stress. For example, stressed dogs yawn, lick their lips, have loss of appetite and sweaty paws. Knowing what to look out for will enable you to help your dog by identifying the underlying cause and therefore, take the steps to teach your dog to cope with it. 

It allows early intervention

When you understand your dog, you will be able to spot behavior patterns and stop it before it turns into a bigger issue. For example, many behavior problems arise from normal behaviors such as barking and chewing. Being fluent in dog psychology and understanding your dog’s reactions, associations as well as body language helps you to notice behavioral problems that need to be addressed before it becomes worse. 

Effective training 

Many owners think that by vocalizing our instructions, our dog can understand. However, dogs can only understand our words up to a certain extent and interpret what we say in their own way. 

Dog psychology enables you to be more effective when training your dog. Understanding how your dog learns and the associations your dog makes is incredibly helpful when you are trying to train or teach your dog. 

Dog psychology facts

While we do know a lot about our furry friend, misconceptions still exist. Here are some dog psychology facts that might surprise you!


Dogs are animals that naturally exhibit dominance. However, we do not actually have to dominate them when we are training or getting them to adapt their behavior to living around humans. 

Dog’s love for humans is unconditional

This is untrue. If you’ve observed a dog who has been abandoned or abused, you will see that they are quite selective in choosing humans they want to be with. There are some people your dog might not be comfortable with. 


We do not know for sure if dogs feel guilt but current data points to the fact that dogs do not actually feel guilt. 

Living in the present

Dogs do not just live in the present. They are influenced by past events and experiences and plan for the future. 

You should not hug a dog

Some dogs like to be hugged while others don’t. Hugging a dog should be on their terms, rather than ours. Pay attention to individual differences and the situation at hand when it comes to hugging a dog. Your relationship with the dog also matters. 

My dog only needs food and a nice place to sleep

Dogs need far more than that. They need to feel love from their humans and as pet parents we should be aware that our dogs need us to spend time with them. 

Dog Instincts - Why do dogs behave like they do   

Many dog behaviors are guided by instincts. Instincts refer to the natural behaviors that a dog is born with. For example, dogs naturally know how to dig. It is a behavior that does not have to be taught. Instincts are there to help animals survive. Here are some interesting dog instincts that may tell us more about our pet. 

Dogs wag their tails

Dogs wag their tails to communicate with other dogs. We may have been told that dogs are happy when their tails are wagging but this is not always the case. Dogs also wag their tails when they are afraid. Dogs who are happy usually wag their tails to the right while dogs who are frightened, to the left. 

Licking your face

If you have a dog, chances are you’ve probably received some slobber on your face. Dogs ‘kiss’ you for many reasons. It's a way they communicate in the wild and it's also how mother dogs communicate with her young. Dogs also lick your face to show affection. So the next time your dog slobbers on your face, know that they really love being around you!

Going round and round and round before they lay down

It’s funny to see your dog spin around and around before he lies down. But there’s a reason for it. Dogs did not have a soft, cozy bed in the wild when they wanted to rest. In order to create a comfortable space, they would spin around to flatten the grass and get anything uncomfortable that might get in their way (sticks, bugs, etc). It helps them to create a ‘nest’ to sleep in. 

Burying their possessions

Dogs would bury their food to hide it for sometimes later in the wild. Dogs bury their prized possession such as their favourite toy to hide it and keep it safe. 

Rolling around in gross, smelly stuff

This behavior actually has its merits in the wild. Dogs do it to camouflage their smell so that they can sneak up on prey. Without this instinct, it would be hard for them to hunt for food. 

rolling around in gross

Photo by Tamás Tokos on Unsplash

Sniffing each other’s bottoms

Even though it seems quite disgusting, it’s a behavior that we can’t stop our dogs from. Dogs have powerful noses and can tell alot by smell. Sniffing each other’s butts is a form of communication where they learn each other’s gender, emotional state, diet and more. 

Dog in heat 

You may also notice changes in your female dog’s behavior when it is in heat. Your dog’s hormone distribution changes and she may be more aggressive, agitated, urinate more frequently and lick her genital area excessively. While this is natural, do consult your vet on the best time to spay your pet if you do not plan on breeding your dog. 

Dog Personality

Studies in the field of dog psychology have also provided evidence that dog breeds personality affects a dog’s natural tendencies and behavior. You may have noticed that certain breeds are more aggressive while others are more playful and sociable. 

Surprisingly, dog personality can also be shaped by their owners and the environment in which the dog is raised. This impacts the way dog owners train their dogs as it means that dogs of all dispositions can be effectively trained. 


As dog owners, it is our duty to provide the best for our pets. Dog psychology allows us to understand our furry friends a little better. It also enables us to spot behaviors that might become bigger issues in the future and thus deal with them early on. Always remember that dogs are not human, no matter how much we try and humanize them. There will always be dog instincts that come naturally to our pets which we should accept as part of who they are.