Can Dogs Think About the Future?

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Introduction

Thinking about the future and planning events is something we do on a daily basis. It is an integral part of our lives and helps us go through life as smoothly as we possibly can. Dogs are brilliant creatures, but we know their memories, emotions, and thought processes are a bit more limited than ours and other higher primates. 

However, we do know that dogs do have the ability to remember past events and their recall is quite good as well. That's why your dog can remember how to do their special tricks! But when it comes to their ability to think about the future or predict certain things, how do they compare to humans? Can dogs even think into the future at all? We will explore the answers to these questions and more below!

Signs of a Dog Thinking About the Future

There are many ways you can tell your dog is thinking about or planning for the future in some way, and we will go over a few of the most common examples. Firstly, your dog thinks about the future or tries to plan for the future when they are ready to go on their regular walk for the day. 

Perhaps you walk your pup at 6 pm every day. That time rolls around, and you have not moved from the couch yet, so your dog brings you their leash and then runs to the door and begins barking. An action like this suggests your dog is thinking about what they can do now to make a future event occur, and in this case, it is the walk. 

Another example would be when you and your dog play fetch together. When you throw the ball, your dog must be able to think about where the ball is going to go and that they will need to run in that direction to retrieve the ball. It shows their ability to plan for the future by anticipating where the ball will land after it leaves your hands. 

Although their ability to fetch was initially believed to be a biological trait, it is now thought that it has more to do with learning, practice, and predicting the potential future course of the ball more. 

Body Language

These are some signs you might notice if your dog is thinking about the future:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Listening

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you may notice if your dog is thinking about the future:
  • Doing one action in order to elicit another reaction afterwards
  • Planning for or anticipating their routine walk

History of Dogs Thinking About the Future

There is quite a bit of history to consider when it comes to deciding whether or not dogs possess the capacity to think about and plan for the future. From an evolutionary standpoint, dogs and wolves would need to prepare for the future to engage in successful hunting practices. If a wolf were not able to predict the future patterns and movement of their target prey, they would not have been able to hunt successfully. These actions directly point to the fact even distant ancestors of dogs can think about the future and plan for it adequately. 

There are many examples dog parents have of their dog's ability to think about the future. For example, one person shares a story about their dog wanting to go on their usual walk; the owner did not want to go for a walk that day because it was cold and snowing outside. 

When the dog realized the walk was not getting started, the dog brought their owner a leash, their shoes, and then ran to the front door and began barking once the dog realized the owner was not getting up for the walk. These actions suggest that the dog was able to consider, "if I bring him my leash, his shoes, and I bark at the front door, he will understand I am ready to walk, and we will then go on my walk." 

Although this is not necessarily scientific proof, it does strongly suggest the dog was able to think through a situation and try to execute a future outcome through specific actions. 

Science Behind Dogs Thinking About the Future

Unfortunately, there is little clear scientific evidence to support that dogs are, indeed, able to think about the future. We still have a lot to learn in this area, and more formal studies are needed to confirm their abilities. However, that doesn't mean there is not "evidence" that sheds some light on a dog's ability to think about the future. 

There is something called "citizen science" that takes the data and experience from ordinary people and dogs, puts it together, and then certain conclusions can be drawn from those experiences and data. 

People love to share stories about funny, cool, or unique things their dogs do. Those stories carry hands-on experience and "experiments" where we can conclude certain things. With the collection of stories we find in books, on the Internet, and on TV about dogs predicting events or thinking about the future, it is safe to say that dogs do ponder the future and can adjust their behavior to reflect the future they want. 

Training Dogs to Think About the Future

You do not have to train your dog to think about the future or to plan for the future. Thinking about future events is something your dog can do on their own, and it is a part of their everyday life. Your dog has a unique ability to think through certain situations so they can manipulate you into doing things, though. If your dog gets into the habit and you always give in to them, it can create lousy behavior that becomes too much for you to handle. 

For instance, if your dog has a habit of demanding you pet them at any given time, your dog can take part in actions to force you into petting them - this is the future even they are counting on to happen. Perhaps your dog jumps up on the couch as you are trying to work. They sit next to you and begin to paw at your arm or your leg. You tell them to stop, and they don't, they continue to paw at your arm or leg. 

At this point, your dog knows you have two choices - you either stop what you are doing to pet them, or you ignore them. If you ignore them, they may up their demanding and begin to bark, cry, or whine at you. All of these behaviors are taking place because they are hoping you will cave in to their demands and wind up petting them. This shows future thought and intent. 

In this kind of situation, it is important to remember to ignore your dog if you are busy and pet them when you are finished. If you don't, it just reinforces to your dog that you will give into their every demand, meaning your dog is in charge and not you. 

How to React to Your Dog Thinking About the Future:

  • Keep to a routine so your dog can properly anticipate the day.
  • Realize they will be upset if you skip or change daily mealtimes or exercise.