Have you ever been driving down the road or walking through the mall when you suddenly feel like someone is following you — even though no one else is around at all? Or have you ever had this strange feeling that someone just walked over your grave? If so, then you’ve been stalked by your own mind!
You may be having déjà vu or thinking about past events that happened long ago but seem fresh today. This phenomenon can happen because our brains tend to filter out information from our conscious minds and store it away for later processing, especially when we think we’re dealing with new situations. We usually aren’t consciously aware that we’ve done this until something triggers those old memories and emotions.
The same thing happens with pets and their owners. Our animals’ behavior can trigger certain thoughts, emotions and sensations in us without our being aware of it. It’s called transference, and it’s not uncommon among people who work closely with animals. In fact, many veterinarians rely heavily on this phenomenon as part of their diagnostic process when treating patients.
For example, if a cat seems skittish or aggressive toward one person, it could very well be due to the patient’s reaction to his or her previous experiences with cats. Many animals exhibit behavioral patterns that reflect their owners’ personalities, attitudes and psychological states. When these patterns become prominent, we call this “parallel expression.”
In addition to parallel expressions, dogs also use body language and other cues to communicate with their owners. They do this by using such signals as tail wagging, vocalization, facial expressions and gestures. But have you ever noticed that your dog doesn’t use words when he wants to convey a message? Some experts believe that this kind of communication is unique to humans, although others disagree.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions regarding animal intelligence and communication, including whether or not dogs actually have self-awareness (the ability to understand oneself) and self-concept (a sense of identity). However, most scientists agree that dogs are capable of showing signs of emotion, which includes both positive and negative emotions. Just look at your pooch during a happy moment and an unhappy one. Its eyes will reveal what it’s feeling.
Dogs express themselves in various ways, but some forms of expression are more typical than others. Dogs show overt aggression when they see another animal that threatens them or their territory. Their defensive posture displays fight or flight response, either physically attacking or running away. Covert aggression occurs when dogs display submissive behavior instead of physical action.
Although dogs often try to hide their true intentions, they may resort to subtle methods of saying no to protect themselves. One such method is yawning, which can be a sign of submission in dogs. A dog that feels uncomfortable or threatened will often spread open its jaws wide enough to cover its muzzle completely, giving off a blank stare. Another form of covert aggression is scratching, which indicates discomfort and anxiety.
We’ve already discussed canine body language and how it communicates with its owners. As we mentioned earlier, dogs may not always use verbal language to state their needs, desires and problems. Instead, they may resort to such signs as yawning, scratching and covering of the face. These actions are commonly associated with stress, fear or anxiety.
It’s easy to confuse emotional states based on our own interpretations of a situation. Dogs aren’t able to describe their internal experience in words, nor would they want to they rely primarily on nonverbal cues. Think about it: How many times have you felt stressed after hearing a barking sound coming from outside your house?
Most likely, you didn’t identify the cause of the noise right away, only deducing that something must be wrong once it became apparent that someone was trying to break into your home. Dogs operate under similar principles. They don’t need to talk about the reason why they’re anxious or upset. All they need to do is show that emotion through behavior.
Yawning is a common expression of boredom, exhaustion, anxiety or distress. Yawning is involuntary, meaning that it occurs without any conscious thought on the dog’s part. Owners should watch for this expression in order to interpret its real significance.
Scratching is a type of passive aggression that occurs when a dog feels distressed, frustrated or angry. Scratches can range from mild irritation to severe pain. Since dogs cannot describe their innermost feelings in words, they must find indirect ways to express their discomfort.
Covers of the head and mouth are a common means of withholding unwanted attention. Covers of the face are meant to keep out unwelcome visitors while allowing air in, thus keeping the dog cool and comfortable. Covers of the head are often accompanied by growling, snarling or snapping sounds. Covering the mouth is used when the animal refuses food or water.
Grooming is a basic social function that allows dogs to interact with other members of their pack. Grooming sessions provide opportunities for dogs to exercise their natural curiosity, desire to explore and play together. Some researchers believe that dogs lack self-awareness, but others argue that they possess it. Either way, it’s clear that dogs have a great deal of control over their environment and interactions with others.
Pet Language Patterns
The study of animal psychology dates back thousands of years. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that animals were incapable of experiencing pain. Aristotle wrote in 350 B.C., “Animals have no souls”. Despite centuries of research and discoveries, however, it’s still unclear whether or not animals possess consciousness.
One area where science has made significant progress is in studying the cognitive functions of animals, including their abilities to recognize objects, remember and learn. Scientists now believe that birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have developed the capacity to learn and remember things like shapes, colors and numbers.
They can also associate symbols with particular meanings. For instance, pigeons can distinguish between images of faces and pictures of houses, indicating that they learned something along the way. Although it’s difficult to determine the extent of animals’ knowledge, it appears that they can process and evaluate visual data. Studies have shown that rats can perceive depth, recognizing objects farther away as larger.
Other studies suggest that chimpanzees can differentiate between two different types of trees, preferring ones with edible fruit over those without. Animals are known to have preferences for specific foods, toys, individuals, places and activities.
They can also discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar people. In general, animals are better learners within their own species than across species lines. For example, dogs can recognize individual human voices, but they rarely cross over to other dog breeds. Cats, on the other hand, are very good at distinguishing between human voices.
As far as dogs specifically go, they appear to be quite perceptive. A recent experiment showed that dogs can learn new tricks fairly easily. After watching a demonstration performed by a trainer several times, dogs demonstrated the skill independently.
Another interesting finding came from a study conducted in 2002 at Ohio State University. Researchers placed two groups of puppies in separate rooms with the doors closed. On one side of each door stood a female researcher wearing blue clothes. She greeted the pups in white coats with tail wags and hugs. On the other side, she wore red clothing. To test the pups’ reactions, she opened the door halfway and asked them to come to her. Of the 30 pups tested, 26 approached the woman in blue. Only four pups went to the woman in red. Interestingly, the pups weren’t reacting negatively to the color change. Instead, they simply seemed confused, unsure of what to do. Apparently, they hadn’t seen anything like this before and needed additional training.
While dogs are generally considered intelligent creatures, it’s easier to classify them as smart rather than super smart. By that I mean that dogs are able to perform tasks that require little reasoning skills or abstract logic, but struggle to solve problems requiring high levels of problem-solving skills.
For example, dogs aren’t as adept at understanding cause-and-effect relationships as wolves are. Wolves typically hunt large prey in packs, which makes hunting success largely dependent upon group cooperation and coordination. Unlike wolves, dogs mostly hunt small game individually. Even if dogs understand the concept of working collectively, they don’t necessarily apply it effectively.
That said, dogs are still pretty amazing creatures. Whether it’s an innate instinct, a genetic trait or a product of domestication, dogs possess a special quality that sets them apart from other animals.