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How your dog sees and feels the world and how this impacts behaviour

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

How a dog perceives the world with their nose, eyes, ears, mouth and fur plays a huge role in their behaviour. Understanding this, will create an even better relationship between you and your dog.

The Nose (olfactory)

The primary sense of dogs is smell. Their olfactory capabilities is extraordinary! Did you know that dogs can smell cancer and COVID-19 infections? Or they smell the changes of emotions on your skin, for example if you feel anxious? Through smell, dogs gather crucial information, from the present and the past.

The nose is one of the first senses which becomes active, even when unborn there is now evidence that suggests that dogs already learn in their mother's womb through olfaction. Using scent in training is a very useful tool to build a dog's confidence.

For example, a good breeder will give a blanket with the scent of the mum and litter to make the puppy more comfortable in the new home. The familiar scent brings comfort to the puppy and boosts confidence in the new surroundings.

Some breeds have better noses than others, so no surprise that dogs which are bred for hunting and working with scent are struggling to walk nicely on the lead! Their nose is so acute, which makes it difficult for them to focus on anything else, only with intensive training a nice heel walk can be achieved.

Daily search games indoors and outdoors on walks are a great way of engaging your dog and creates a stronger bond between you and your dog. The more a dog can use all its senses the more fulfilled and calm they become. Understanding that a dog's primary sense is smell and allowing your dog to sniff and explore different environments means you are catering for your dogs needs and respecting their physiological attributes.

Often walking at different locations supports this. Your dog can gather new information through their nose and keep their brain active, which ultimately keeps them younger and happier.

Interestingly, working with the mind is more engaging and tiring to dogs than dedicated exercise! It is proven that approximately 20 minutes of search work is equivalent to a 1 hour walk!

We humans being more reliant on how we interpret our surroundings visually means sometimes we can forget how important it is to allow our dogs time to use their powerful nose on a daily basis.

The Ears (auditory)

The dog's ability to hear depends very much on age and breed. Some dogs were selectively bred to have better hearing than others - breeds with excellent hearing include the Labrador Retriever, German Shepard and Poodle. Humans and dogs can hear low frequency sounds on a similar scale, however dogs can hear high frequency sounds much better. This is thanks to their predatory ancestor: The wolf. Humans cannot hear sounds above 20,000 Hertz (Hz), however dogs can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz.

This explains why some dogs will suddenly bark in the house seemingly at nothing. They may have simply heard something that our ears could not! Other examples of this include dogs detecting earthquakes many moments before we do.

Protecting your dogs hearing is important, some dogs can be extremely sensitive to sounds and get quickly overwhelmed which results in hyperactivity and anxiety.

Creating a space for your dog to rest and recover away from noisy environments is crucial.

The Eyes (visual)

Dogs are mostly colour blind! Yes, dogs can only see the colours blue and yellow clearly. Dogs have a dichromatic vision to be exact. Green and red become variant shades of brown and yellow.

With this in mind a dogs vision is greatly inferior to that of a human. A person can stand 75 feet away from an object in order to see it clearly. A dog however has to be 50 feet closer to achieve the same clarity of sight. This all changes when the sun goes down! Dogs are in fact nocturnal predators. vision at night is far superior to ours. Their enlarged lense and a reflective membrane enables them to catch food at night (my dogs always loved night walks the most!). As we all know dogs are highly opportunistic. They are fully aware that we can't see very well in the dark and happily take advantage of this in whatever way benefits their motive! (scientific experiments have been executed to prove this).

Again, how a dog sees the world deeply impacts behaviour - I once trained a cockapoo, who would resource guard a red ball with big yellow and blue dots. The dog was crazy about that certain ball! As humans we would wonder why, but from a dog's perspective it was clear: The red of the ball was more seen as brown and what stood out were the yellow and blue dots which made the dog highly excited to the point of becoming possessive over it.

The Fur, Paws and Skin (tactile)

Dogs feel the weather, textures and temperatures with their fur, skin and paws. Different types of fur/hair are better at certain jobs - think of waterdogs such as the poodle. With its curly fur its perfectly set up to trap water before it reaches the skin.

Certain breeds were bred to have thicker fur (Huskies, Rough Collies, Borzoi) and some to have very little hair (Staffordshire Terrier, Boxer, Great Dane). This very much depends on the environment of the breeds origins.

Borzoi's for example are a Russian breed who need protecting from harsh weather conditions. Some dogs prefer being outdoors more than others and this is often due to the sensations they get through their skin and coat. It's important to respect a dog's need and provide the right environment for them but also not overprotecting them - a lot of dogs do not like rain coats and often don't need them either. Rather rinse them off after a rainy walk than restricting their movements whilst they are exercising. Imagine you have to wear a jumper whilst performing a workout.

Touch sensitivity around paws and at the base of the spine (before the tail) is common in some dog breeds and again should be respected and not provoked. Tickling paws may invoke a funny reaction and be amusing for us but things like this can impact on the relationship we have with our dog in a negative way. We want to be their trusted companions and not be seen to make them uncomfortable or irritated.

The fine hairs and whiskers on a dog's face are also tools to aid in the collection of important data regarding their surroundings. Amazingly these small hairs can sense wind direction and predict air flow which is vital for hunting and locating suitable shelter. They are also used as protection for the eyes and mouth especially when the head is close to the floor when using the nose! A dog's coat should be regularly groomed (breed specific) to avoid painful, matted areas. And last but not least, some dogs may generally be more touch and space sensitive than others and prefer not to be overly petted or hugged (hugging is actually an ape behaviour and is not displayed by dogs apart from mating).

This being said a calming touch can soothe anxiety in a nervous dog and is important for a puppy as it needs to get used to human touch and interaction as early as from birth as possible for proper socialisation.

The Mouth (gustatory)

Surprisingly dogs can't actually taste that well (it may explain why some dogs like to eat anything and everything!). Humans have roughly 9000 taste buds, dogs only around 1700. Dogs can taste salty, sweet, bitter and sour. Although a dogs taste bud count is so much smaller than ours, Dogs do have a "special" set of taste buds located at the tip of the tongue. These unique taste buds are responsible for water. Food available to them in the wild is quite salty the "water taste buds" helps them to stay hydrated as they will seek water to satisfy these buds and dilute the sodium. These taste buds also helps them to determine what water is best too drink.

Smell and taste are closely related. If you own a dog who is a fussy eater, try more aromatic foods such as butternut box or canned food which a dog can smell better and therefore be more inclined to eat.

A dogs mouth is used very similarly to how we humans use our hands. Dogs like to explore their environment with their mouth and like to pick things up. Redirecting this need is much more effective than stopping it completely. Antlers and coffee wood and other natural treats are a great way of mentally stimulating your dog and fulfilling their needs of using their mouth to explore and carry things around. Friends and Canines offers a great variety of natural dog treats and selections boxes



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