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Do you think of your dog as a family member? You’re not alone―many dog owners consider their pooches to be family. After all, our dogs are often a close friend―our best friend. We nurture them, we train them, we love them, and we confide in them.
But, do our dogs really understand us? Do they get our gestures? Do they knowingly read our body language―our gestures and our facial expressions? Or, are our dogs simply conditioned to behave in ways they know will please us―and avoid “bad” behaviors they know will not?
This article isn’t going to address everything that dogs may or may not sort out about us humans. That is a monumental subject that would take a full-on textbook to breakdown and explain. Instead, I am going to delve into how our dogs may perceive our wants and needs by answering one question that burns in every dog parent’s mind. That is, can dogs recognize human facial expressions?
Dogs and People
Dogs and humans first bonded many thousands of years ago. Most people are aware that dogs have been valued for several millennia because of the fierce protection and work they gave their human benefactors. This was a mutually symbiotic relationship―as it is today―the dog gave it’s all to the human who, in turn, rewarded the dog with the warmth and safety of home, hearth, care, and food. No longer did dogs have to rely on the pack or a pack mentality to survive. They simply had to find a compatible and nurturing human.
This relationship between man and dog eventually resulted in the dog becoming the “best-friend” companion that we all know and love today. Certainly, some dogs are working or herding dogs, some are sporting/retriever dogs, and others are real prima donnas―but many are simply our best friend/companion dogs.
It doesn’t matter whether your dog is a purebred beauty or simply a rescue mutt. The fact is that all dogs are able to tune into our voices, body language and facial expressions. Through their close relationship with us over time, dogs became aware of our non-verbal body signals. Not only did they learn to correctly and obediently read our gestures, but we learned how to reward their cognitive abilities through positive reinforcement. This, in turn, gave dogs the stimuli to learn, understand and react in a positive way to our wants and needs.
Our Dogs Watch Us
Our dogs depend on us for food, shelter, care, and love. They have a keen sense of us. Our best friends know when we are happy or sad, when we are healthy or sick. We are the center of their universe because they depend on us and want to please us. They mean the world to us because of their loyalty, their obedience, and their desire to be a big part of our lives. Dogs are, indeed, our best friends―our loyal companions. They watch over us and are keenly aware of our every move―our gestures, our facial expressions―just waiting for the opportunity to please us. Our dogs want to be with us, to go with us, to guard us, and to play with us. In return, we give them body and mind exercise, compassion, and nourishment in a loving home. Our dogs reward us, and we reward them. We do this in ways that are not seen between any other two distinct species. This is truly a mutually beneficial symbiosis.
We can usually interpret the needs of another person who doesn’t speak our language by following their body language and gestures. In a similar fashion, dogs can recognize our facial expressions and bodily gestures. That is why our dogs watch us―they are trying to get a “read” on what it is that we want or expect from them.
Language per se is not what guides our dog’s behavior. In fact, most of what we say to a dog just sounds like gibberish, or just so much distractive background noise. That’s why clicker training, body language, and our facial expressions work. The truth is that about 90% of what a dog learns is not learned from voice commands at all but by non-verbal gestures like facial expressions.
The Answer Is….
Yes, our dogs really do understand us and they get our gestures. Do they knowingly read our body language―our gestures and our facial expressions? Absolutely! It’s how they learn from us and how, if used correctly, we can interact with them in a most positive way.
Dogs and their humans have been traveling this world together for a very long time and that is never going to change. We need dogs and they need us. Give your dog the love and support he or she needs to be a good dog and your best friend.