5 min read


What Do Dogs Think About?



5 min read


What Do Dogs Think About?


Dogs have similar brain power to humans and are smarter than most people think. Their powers of deduction may not be Sherlock’s but dogs are good at working us out. Once they make eye-contact, a lasting bond can be formed and in recent times the dog theme is buzzing as researchers want to know more about how they think. 

From wolf pack to domesticated dog, our pups have come a long way helping the police force as K9’s and helping blind people live happier lives. They detect cancer, seizures or even a tornado close by. They can even sense an earthquake well before the event. It's been proven they have emotions and can tell us how we feel - while offering comfort through the good times and bad. Dogs are a wonder of nature with openly giving hearts. Their powers of perception are what set them apart and why we love them so much.

What do dogs think about? Let's go and find out!


Signs Dogs Have Things on Their Mind

If you’re wondering if a dog can think, you only have to look in their eyes. You might see their soul staring back as they intensely hold your gaze. Dogs are one of the few animals that can read you like a book and totally understand your intention, as they feel emotion too. It’s thought that years of domestication have influenced our wolfy pals, taking them from hunters to “mans most precious friend.”

There’s no doubt that some breeds are sharper than the rest - like a Collie dog named Rico who learned the art of “fast mapping’ – impressive don’t you think? Rico is a thinker and has names for each of his toys, he also knows around 200 words.

Researchers from the Max-Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology wanted to test his skill so they asked Rico to find a new toy. It was given a name and placed among some of his other toys. Rico recognized the odd one out had a name he wasn’t familiar with and seven times out of ten, delivered the right toy.

Fast mapping is the way kids learn new words and considering Rico has the aptitude of a toddler – he showed researchers he was thinking about what they asked. This age was based on a language test that a dog can learn up to 165 words. What age, then, is Chaser the wonder Collie who understands sentences and over 1200 words? Chaser’s pet dad is a former psychology professor who wanted to see how smart his dog could be.

Not so long ago, animals were studied for what they do and not what they feel - a hangover from previous times when out muttly-mates were discounted as dumb. Now the gloves are off, as dogs have their day and prove they are clever canines - smarter than many think.

Next time you’re playing with your bashful Basset hound, ask him to wag his tail. We tell our dogs to sit, stay and fetch but have you ever asked Billy to “shake his booty?” Watch Billy tilt his head as he tries to understand. He’s not sure what you want of him, as his tail naturally wags. Unlike Rico who worked out that new word for a toy. Billy is trying to please you with what he already knows. Let’s hope he doesn’t howl as a Basset can make the walls begin to shake.

Billy is honestly thinking, but his hard-drive is starting to fuse. He might need a little more inspiration – like his human friend showing how it’s done.

Body Language

Here are signs your dog is thinking:<br/>

  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Head Tilting
  • Howling
  • Scratching
  • Wag Tail

Other Signs

Here are more signs your dog is a thinker:<br/>

  • Learning Fast Mapping
  • Learning Words
  • Pausing After A Command

HIstory Shows Dogs Are Thinkers


The history of canines in the wild goes back millions of years. They originated from an extinct grey wolf and became friendly with humans in the day of primitive man. It seems wolves were reasonably smart then as mankind was poaching their prey, so a “can’t beat em – join em” happening occurred and that’s how we got Rover today.

Even then, our pupster-ancestors were thinking how they could survive - and decided to hunt alongside humans, working together so they could eat. Some call it natural, doggie-instinct and that’s a reasonably fair point but the powers of reason caused wolves to align with a species, that also killed them for food.

Dogs were revered by the ancients for their seemingly magical powers and also as companions long before the written word. Archeologists have found evidence that dogs were domesticated some 12000 years BCE and cherished as family pets

Egypt is credited with the invention of the dog collar and in ancient Mesopotamia, a Goddess was known to have companion dogs wearing collars and a leash. Ancient Greeks also valued dogs as hunters who wore spiked collars to protect them from wolves. Dogs were favored by the ancients for their friendship and hunting skills. It seems like our dogs have been busy a lot longer than some historians have said.

The thinking minds of canines have seen them employed in the service of man. K9s always get the bad guy and service dogs keep people safe. How do they know to tell a deaf person there is someone at the door or kindly remind another they need their medication right now?

Dogs are versatile creatures with the canny instincts of the wolf plus they’ve picked up a lot from us humans and show us they can just about talk! 

Studies Show Dogs Think A Lot


Are dog owners living in a lonely space, constantly being battered by those convinced “dogs don’t think?”

Looking back, a lot has changed - and thank heavens, as our fur-baby companions were once cast off as beings without reason, emotion or thought!

Time magazine reported that science is going to the dogs with studies all over the world. The Association for Psychological Science took a pragmatic walk through dog-land to see how their paw-clever minds worked. They found dogs can count, read human faces, and like Rico, understand if an object was not in front of him. Dogs totally get a concept known as object permanence - that is very cool!

In a Yale study, dogs and kids were shown how to turn a lever that opened a box to find a treat. The kids and dogs were tricked with a lever that wasn’t working and guess what? Our paw-some pups ignored the lever and lifted the lid, proving they could think, while the kids kept pulling on the lever.

How Do I Train My Dog To Think?


As we say goodbye to archaic thinking about our beloved dogs, a whirlpool of excitement and fresh ideas kick in.

For a time, dogs were on the proverbial research shelf but a spark of interest from inquisitive minds has opened the doors of canine behavior to reveal “Dogs are full of emotive, thinking surprises.”

Our canine co-workers have been proving this all along as they work alongside the Military, Police and disabled folk. It takes a little thinking to know when a seizure is about to happen or find that lost soul in the bush. Experts argue the instinct card plus a ton of incentive training.

Dog owners might gently want to remind them that, as humans, we trust our instincts and employ our ability to think – so its highly likely so do our dogs. Wouldn’t we feel less isolated knowing another species has similar talents? 

Dog owners have long known their canine companions were smart, and although not Einstein-thinkers, they are able to perform immense tasks. From the day they joined hunters and gatherers in the pursuit of their own survival, dogs have shown a willingness to learn. They can jump out of helicopters as soldiers in the military and stop at traffic lights to ensure a blind person makes it across the road.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Published: 02/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.