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Can Your Dog Read Your Mind?

Dogs are man’s best friend – no one will dispute this. There’s no bond quite like that between a pet and its owner. Sometimes, there’s no one else that you want to spend time with other than your pup – after all, they’re always there to listen (and cuddle!). But sometimes, you can’t help but wonder, how much can my pet actually understand?

Research has found that our furry friends might know more than we think they do! Even very young puppies are able to understand the messages that humans send with their gestures.

Humans and canines have been an inseparable pair for thousands of years. We know that dogs can be very well-trained and are able to respond to various commands. However, studies are now beginning to look into and uncover whether dogs understand intentional and unintentional human behaviours, or if they merely understand visual and verbal direction.


Researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna recently conducted a study in which they offered treats to several dogs under different conditions. While the hand movements were very similar, the results showed that the dogs grew more frustrated when they were teased, suggesting that they had a reasonable understanding of the intent when their treats were delivered.

To conduct the experiment, the researcher placed themselves in an enclosure that had mesh on the sides and a plastic panel with a small hole at the front. 48 dogs of various breeds were involved in the trial. There were three situations that were used to measure the dog's behaviours:

  1. The researcher held a piece of sausage by the hole of the panel but dropped it every time a dog approached
  2. The sausage was held by the opening but pulled away every time a dog got close to it
  3. The hole was blocked while the researcher tried to push the treat through


Each trial lasted only 30 seconds but uncovered interesting outcomes. They found that: 

  • Dogs would stay at the front of the enclosure for 89% of the duration of the trial when the treat was clumsily dropped
  • The dogs that participated in this experiment understood when they were being wound up; they only stayed for 78% of the trial when the treat was snatched away
  • When the hole was blocked, the dogs stayed near the plastic front only for 64% of the time, before moving to the mesh side in hopes that they would access the treat from there
  • 3D tracking used to detect minute movements indicated left brain activity (associated with positive response) when the treat was clumsily handled, suggesting that the dogs understood that dropping the treat was accidental


Just like how our pups can pick up on our emotional changes and reflect them, they are also very perceptive to our intentions when we interact with them. They may get bored quickly if they notice that you are teasing them with their favourite treats. So, next time your dog gets tired of your games, you know why!


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