Can Dogs Think Rationally?

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Introduction

The human brain is special - we can think rationally, logically, and emotionally all at the same time - this is one of the many things that makes us human. However, we know that animals and dogs, in particular, are intelligent creatures as well. Dogs have the ability to learn and feel emotions just like we do. 

But what about the way dogs think? Can they think through certain problems or situations in a rational and logical manner or do they only rely on emotions or instincts? Although there is still a lot to learn, scientists believe animals can think rationally to an extent.

Signs of a Dog Thinking Rationally

Rational thinking is the ability to think through certain situations and problems with reasonable and logical thoughts. For example, it is rational to conclude that drinking under the influence of alcohol will lead to a higher probability of a car accident, whereas an irrational thought would be one is less likely to get into an accident under the influence because they will drive slower and more cautiously. 

Research has shown that animals, including dogs, are able to think rationally because they have been able to remember past events, use different tools, and can find ways to solve various issues. It is important to note that other animals are better rational thinkers than dogs and it is hard to know to what extent a dog can think rationally. 

Although it is hard to tell the signs of a dog thinking rationally, there may be some signs that can help to observe their thinking logic. For example, if your dog can figure out how to walk through a door with a stick, identify your face in a group of pictures, recognize other dogs by sight, or figure out what toy to bring you when you say "bring your green alligator," these may all be signs your dog is able to think on a rational and logical level. 

Body Language

These are some signs you may notice if your dog can think rationally: 

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Raise ears

Other Signs

Here are some other signs your dog can think rationally:
  • Identifying objects correctly
  • Ability to think through issues
  • Problem solving

History of Dogs Thinking Rationally

Whether dogs have complex brains and the ability to think in more advanced ways like rational and logical thinking, has been a highly controversial and debated topic. Of course, we know that dogs can think, but it is to the extent of which they can think that plagues the scientific community the most. 

One of the oldest questions that has yet to be definitively answered is "what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal world?" Even ancient philosophers have debated and tried to answer this question without much avail. It was once believed that the complex human thinking process is what made us so special, but with the number of scientific experiments and research conducted over the years, and the conclusions that many animals can think on a rational level, this differentiation is no longer accepted. 

For instance, as early as the times of Plato and Aristotle, many believed that animals lacked a rational mind because humans were rational and other animals could not be. Aquinas stated that animals are only irrational because they are not free, and Descartes suggested that in order to be a rational thinker, one must speak a language, and since animals cannot speak, therefore they cannot be rational. However, we have come a long way from the time of our ancient philosophers and we now know what animals can indeed think rationally, at least on a basic level.  

Science Behind Dogs Thinking Rationally

Although there has not been a ton of literature and studies done on a dog's ability to think rationally, we have seen an increase in studying other animals though processes. If we take a look at dogs specifically, dogs descended from wolves and we know that wolves have the ability to think rationally and logically. 

A wolf has the ability to evaluate the risks in a situation and act in accordance with such risks. Wolves do not hunt alone, generally, because they know it is unsafe to do this. Even if they are in a large pack, if they are hunting and the prey poses too much of a treat, they will collectively decide not to go for the prey. This requires a level of rational and logical thinking that we know dogs have as well, particularly because their far less domesticated ancestors can think in this manner.

Training Dogs to Think Rationally

Training your dog to think rationally would be a nearly impossible task for two main reasons. The first reason is that your dog already has the ability to think rationally and does not need to be taught. This is a biological ability and teaching them this skill is unnecessary. 

The second reason is that dogs, and other animals, can only think rationally to a certain predetermined extent. You cannot force a dog to think in a more complex, rational, and logical way if their brain does not have the capacity to do so.

However, what you can try and do is test your dog's rational mind to see how their thought process may work! For this experiment, all you will need are a few simple items. You will need a ball and a large piece of cardboard, wood, mirror, blanket, or anything that is solid and can be held or stood up. Take your cardboard, mirror, etc. and have someone hold it up, or you can put it into place on your own. Have your dog sit on one side of the solid object and roll a ball behind the object. 

Wait and see what your dog's reaction is. Will your dog run to the other side of the object and wait for the ball to emerge or will they simply not understand where the ball went and just sit there waiting for it to come back to them? If your dog runs to the other side and waits for the ball to come back out, this will suggest they have some capacity to evaluate what happened, where the ball went, and that they have an idea of where the ball will come out from. This shows their ability to look into the future, which can suggest they have the ability to think rationally. 

How To React If Your Dog Thinks Rationally:

  • Praise them for a job well done!
  • Just observe their actions.
  • Train them to expand their brain power.