After spending some time with your dog, you might have noticed his inclination to sit at your computer or upright on the couch. Your dog might walk down the street on its hind legs, push a stroller, or sit on the couch propped up on his back and stomach facing the TV. Have you ever noticed your dog trying to use the internet or enjoy a swing on the playground?
Our canine companions have definitely stepped out of their role as wild animals into domestic animals. Dogs acting like humans is usually comical and there are endless videos online to prove our fascination with it, but at the same time, do you ever wonder why your dog is behaving like a human?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are great at mimicking behaviors, picking up emotional cues, and being conditioned to behave. Watching your dog sit at the piano like Beethoven is entertaining, but there is a lot more your dog does than you might realize.
Dogs who behave like their humans also have some interesting characteristics; they could have been chosen because they have physical attributes similar to their human. Research shows that humans gravitate toward dogs that remind them of themselves. It’s not always the case, but researchers observed that an overweight person will have an overweight dog or a human’s looks will match their dog's. There’s a good chance this isn’t a conscious decision and is more common with purebred dogs, but people tend to find similar characteristics with their pup. If you combine their looks with the ability to mimic, you could have a dog who is the canine version of you.
Dogs not only mimic their fellow canine’s behavior when being trained, but they are also shown to mimic human behavior. Research has shown that if a human demonstrated a task for a dog, the dog could still complete the task by mimicking a human.
Dogs not only mimic behavior, but they can sense your emotions through social eavesdropping. Dogs watch their humans often and have observed what works and doesn’t work. They are in tune with people’s emotions and facial expressions; the closer bond a dog and human have, the more likely the dog is to mimic. This is also called emotional contagion. Research has shown that if you have a personality trait like laid back or neurotic, your dog will mimic that trait, too.
You might also be training your dog and you don’t even realize it. You can praise your dog with belly rubs or pat him on the head for behaving a certain way. He slowly learns to stay out of your way when you’re cooking or he learns a behavior that makes a crowd roar with laughter and revels in the attention. Your dog uses his emotional intelligence and mimicking to learn what you like and don’t like and he uses it to his advantage.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, what do you do when you find your pup sitting at the dinner table, front paws propped up on both sides of the plate, politely waiting for you to serve him some chicken and mashed potatoes? Do you take a photo for the family album or shoo him away?
When deciding what behaviors to snap a photo of and upload to social media and which ones to discourage, consider a few things. Is this behavior unsafe to your dog, like eating food that can be toxic to dogs? Can this behavior be harmful to others? If you know you have guests who are afraid of dogs or if you’re in public with your dog, how will others react? Does this behavior damage your or someone else’s property? The range of human behavior is astounding and it’s hard to know which behaviors your dog will pick up. It’s up to you to determine what behavior you’ll allow in your home.
If you’re unsure of what to do with your dog’s human-like behaviors, take him to a trainer or vet to make sure he’s healthy and learn how to handle different behaviors. If your dog has mimicked your behavior, training him might be easier than you think.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Humans work hard at understanding their own behavior, but putting that effort in to a dog’s psyche is not too common. However, if you’re curious as to why your dog is behaving a certain way and how to change it, you can take him to a specialized dog psychologist. Some of the titles you could look for are Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT) or Applied Animal Behaviorist and your vet can point you in the right direction. Your dog therapist wouldn’t peel the layers back to his first interaction with his mother and how it’s affected him since; rather, those specialized trainers handle behavioral problems and should be able to work with you, too. Going to a specialized trainer is a good idea if you have a dog with severe or aggressive behavior.
You might have chosen and trained your dog to be your doggleganger. However, not everyone is OK with a dog sitting at a table no matter how comical. If you see your dog doing a somewhat amusing, yet undesired behavior, you should train your dog to behave as you see fit. Sharing traits with your pup can be fun, just make sure it’s in line with your house rules.