Does the dog know what it is doing?

The question in the title may seem strange, but is eminently justified. Remembering one’s own actions requires an advanced cognitive ability, including what is called episodic memory and a sense of self.

Do dogs know the difference between good and bad?

The terms “good” and “bad” are purely human constructs. Animals have no concept of right and wrong, and thus are incapable of being either good or bad. Animals have the ability to do things we don’t want them to. Animals can also be trained to do what we want them to do and to avoid doing what we don’t want them to do. I devote a significant amount of time to training my dogs and only use positive reinforcement. Because I only reinforce the positive aspects of my dog, he cannot be “bad.” I make it “worthwhile” for my dog to do what I want, and my dog wants to do it because it is “worthwhile.” Why would it do something that isn’t “worthwhile” when it can do something worthwhile and be rewarded for it? As a result, my dog is always trustworthy. I also tell my dog how wonderful she is on a daily basis. Because I make it worthwhile, she is proud to be my “good girl” and do everything I ask of her. My dog is never bad and always good. It’s more of a matter of opinion than of fact.

Do Dogs Know When They’ve Messed Up?

Many people believe their dogs know when they have cheated on a shoe, used the house bathroom, or stolen food from the counter. Deshalb disavow guilt-seeking dog behavior by many scientists and animal behaviorists.

Based on her research at Columbia University’s Dog Cognition Lab, Alexandra Horowitz concluded in 2009 that a dog’s reaction to an undesirable act is actually a learned behavior of submission in response to the owner’s angry emotions or expression. Several dogs exhibited this behavior when an owner expressed displeasure, regardless of whether the dog had done anything wrong.

So why do some dogs tuck their tails, look, or even flee before the owner notices? Dogs are very smart and learn to associate an event with a human response. So, if your dog hides before you notice the urine on the floor, it’s because he knows it makes you angry. Animal behaviorists say dogs’ brains cannot connect the two events to realize urinating in the house is wrong.

So, what’s the fix? Use positive reinforcement with your dog. Submission and fear are bad things in dog training. It’s better for you and your dog if you reward good behavior instead of punishing bad.

What do research say on the subject?

Even for us humans, remembering everything we do is not always easy. If someone asks you what you did after breakfast this morning, you’ll have to think long and hard, and you’ll be relying on your episodic memory, which was once thought to be unique to us. Claudia Fugazza, an Italian-Hungarian researcher (who developed “Do-as-I-do,” which you can read about in previous blog posts), has collaborated with Adam Miklosi and others in Budapest to develop an ingenious method for investigating dogs’ awareness of their own actions.

The researchers began by training ten dogs on a command they called “repeat.” They started with behaviours the dog already knew, such as “sit” and “lie down”. Once the dog had performed the correct behaviour, the “repeat” command was given and the dogs gradually understood that they would then do the same thing again.

The experiment began after they had figured out what the “repeat” command meant. The dogs were tested in a series of experiments to see if they could remember what they had just done and thus repeat it. They were given instructions on what behavior to perform on occasion, and on other occasions they simply used spontaneous actions performed by the dogs on their own. Jumping up on the couch, drinking from a bowl, or lying down on the floor are all examples of this. The command “repeat” was then given when the dog changed activities. In approximately 80% of the cases, the ten test dogs were successful. When the dog was asked to repeat something, the results were just as good.

More reading:

Do pets know the difference between right and wrong?

Do dogs and cats have a natural sense of right and wrong? Is your dog aware that it is not permitted to eat the cake that has been left on the coffee table? Does your cat understand that peeing on the new carpet isn’t a good idea? Almost certainly not! Pets’ natural instincts are to focus on the most basic needs for survival. They must eat and excrete in order to survive. These basic needs are met by scarfing down the cake and squatting on the rug. So, what’s the problem with that?

To investigate how good the dogs’ episodic memory is, they were also tested after different time intervals. When the dog spontaneously performed a clear behaviour, it was taken to another room and allowed to rest in a cage for up to an hour. It was then taken outside and commanded to “repeat”. The longer the time passed, the less the dogs remembered of their previous actions, but three of the ten dogs were able to repeat their behaviour after an hour’s rest.

The results show convincingly for the first time that dogs have episodic memory and that they are well aware of their own actions even when they are not given specific commands. It also shows that they have a much more complex self-image than previously thought.

Do Dogs Know Their Size?

Who hasn’t been stepped on by a dog that didn’t notice their paws on our feet? Who has a big dog that lays on you like a lap dog? (Hands up.) It makes us wonder about dogs’ general body awareness.

Proof Dogs Know Their Size

A 2019 study found evidence that dogs are aware of their own bodies. The researchers wanted to know if dogs perceive their body as a sizeable object. If so, they should react differently depending on the size of the wall opening.

The dogs’ responses to small openings were different from their responses to large openings, as predicted by the researchers. The study compared the time it took dogs to approach various sized openings.

Details: The dogs were tested on three sizes: small, intermediate, and large. Dogs were slower to move toward an opening that was too small than they were toward one that was larger. To test their ability to pass through a medium-sized opening, dogs were given smaller and larger openings to pass through. Unsurprisingly, the time it took them to reach this point was between those for too small and large openings.

I agree with the researchers’ prediction that the dogs would hesitate at the small and medium openings, but this isn’t the only explanation for their behavior in this experiment. It’s possible that dogs have learned what they can and cannot fit through without knowing this specific set-up. The experiment’s results may simply be a lifetime of experience generalization by dogs.

While the research’s findings support this awareness, they do not rule out other explanations. Dogs have a lot of experience moving through and between things. Maybe this experiment shows they can tell what they can’t fit through, or that objects and gaps are different sizes.

There is evidence that dogs can learn better body awareness through experiences. Many classes offer just that, especially for dogs competing in agility. Walking backward, weaving through a person’s legs, crawling forward and backward, putting front or back paws on a platform, and walking backward up a stair or two help dogs improve their coordination.

Many trainers have their dogs walk over a ladder on the ground. Those who have done this before are less likely to step on the rungs (especially with their back paws). Many trainers believe that dogs who have learned where their back paws are are less likely to step on their humans’ delicate feet.

Peter Jensen

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