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Does My Dog Know I Love Him?

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Does My Dog Know I Love Him?

We recently learned that your dog is likely to dream about you fondly, so it's no surprise that they're thinking about you almost all the time.

To understand what your pup is thinking and feeling, Dr. Brian Hale has dedicated his life to studying canine cognition and its quirks. He recently partnered with Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind, a dog food dedicated to improving cognitive function in pets, helping owners figure out what’s really going on in their dog’s brain.

Dr. Hale answers some of the tough canine cognitive questions that many curious dog lovers must solve to further strengthen the bond between humans and puppies.

Does my dog know how much I love him?

Yes, your dog knows how much you love him! Dogs and humans have a very special relationship, with dogs hijacking the human oxytocin binding pathway normally reserved for our babies. Your oxytocin levels rise every time you stare at your dog, just like when you pet them and play with them. It makes you both feel good and strengthens your bond. Does your dog stare at you for no reason? They just "hug you" with their eyes.

Do dogs experience depression the same way humans do?

The dog is likely to become depressed. After 9/11, many search and rescue dogs reportedly suffered from depression-like symptoms because they could never find any survivors, only corpses. Their handlers would show "fake" finds so the dogs would perk up and continue searching. Additionally, dogs do tend to become attached to their owners and will behave differently when their owners are not around. Because dogs are highly empathetic, they can also respond to their owners' emotions and feelings, such as depression.


How many words can a dog understand on its own initiative?

This is one of the recent major discoveries in canine cognitive science. Some dogs can learn "object labels" or words just like human babies. So these dogs learn not through trial and error or repetition, but through reasoning. They used a strategy called the "principle of elimination" because, just like humans, the researchers didn't find an upper limit on the number of words these dogs could learn. Dogs are the only species besides humans that have been found to have this ability. The question now is whether all dogs can do this or only some.

What do we know about dogs’ decision-making abilities? Can dogs solve problems?

Dogs are always solving problems, although they all process and resolve them in their own way. One of the exciting things about cognitive science is that it allows us to examine the minds of dogs by observing how they make choices. For example, if I hide food under one of two cups and then point to the empty cup, a dog that follows my lead is a social problem solver—he wants to work with me to solve the problem. But one dog chose the cup in which they saw me first put food, relying on its memory.


What have you found that owners can do to support their dogs’ brain health and mental health?

Dogs are just like us; they need a good diet, lots of exercise, and mental stimulation. It sounds simple, but doing these three things can really help your dog reach his full potential. Nutrition becomes especially important around age 7, when glucose metabolism in the brain begins to change. Adequate nutrition and appropriate exercise are required to make it healthier.

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