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Your Happy Pet: Can your dog read your mind?

Original Publication Date: September 29, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Most dog owners are convinced that their dog knows what they are thinking. Recent studies offer clues to why dogs respond to us the way they do. Is your dog reading your mind or relying on his keen senses to predict your actions?

It has long been accepted that a dog can read and respond to human body language and facial expressions.

A recent study in the journal of Learning and Behavior, reported that pet dogs and wolves would beg from a person facing them rather than one who turned away. The canines used keen powers of observation to recognize which individual was paying attention to them.

Dogs can recognize pointing gestures of a human, and some dogs can even find hidden food by following the gaze of a person looking at the hiding place. Dogs are very keen observers.

Depending on the breed, a dog's sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000,000 times more sensitive than a human's. That is because a dog, has 125 million to 300 million olfactory receptors to detect odors. In comparison, humans have a mere 5 million to 6 million such receptors.

Their incredible sense of smell allows some dogs to sniff a change when a diabetic's blood sugar level drops, others can smell cancer or detect chemical changes that precede an epileptic seizure. These dogs warn their human companions of the impending danger.

Your dog can tell when you are nervous, because the scent of your perspiration changes.

Of course, a counter-surfing dog can also smell an unattended morsel of food and may munch the tasty bit without warning you of your oversight.

Dogs can hear a wider range of frequencies than humans. They can also detect sounds at greater distances than humans. You may be able to hear something 100 yards away that your dog can hear from a quarter mile away. That is how some explain the fact a dog seems to know when you are coming home long before you pull into the driveway.

A dog's sense of hearing can pick up clues about a human's behavior patterns. Lily, a cocker spaniel, gets very agitated when her owner is preparing to leave her alone, but does not get upset when the owner is preparing to take her for a walk.

Dog behavior expert, Dr. Emily Blackwell, determined the owner uses an inexpensive lipstick before walking the dog but an expensive brand when preparing to go out. Lily can recognize a popping sound made by removal of the cap of the expensive lipstick and immediately gets anxious.

Some experts support the idea your dog can read your mind. Others are skeptical and believe a dog relies on his senses. The controversy continues, but most dog owners probably agree their dog does understand what they are thinking.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at