One aspect of life with dogs that is essential to consider is the different way they perceive and experience the world. Trying to understand their point of view will help us build a deeper and happier bond for both of us: here are some curiosities and some tips to understand how the creature perceives us and the world around us.
The life of dogs with humans
Dogs are expected to do whatever we want, even if they have never done it before; that they run immediately when we call them; that they live how and where we want; that they behave as we want; that come out how, how much and where we decide; that they eat when and what we want; that they attend who we decide; that they face and manage situations in which (even unknowingly) we insert them; that they are alone even for hours and hours; in general that they do what we want and do it with the famous smile on their faces. The moment the dog expresses discontent, it becomes a problem.
In other words, we demand a lot from dogs. A little is inevitable – there is no doubt that there are some aspects of the life of dogs that it is necessary to control – but so much is due to our anthropocentrism – we feel the masters of the world and we behave accordingly; no one escapes our will to dominate, least of all the dogs that are so close to us and in a comfortable subordinate position for us.
Plenty of room for misunderstandings
Between dogs and humans there is a lot of space for misunderstandings, which in fact exist, widely. Sometimes we realize it because dogs are ‘problematic’, sometimes we don’t even realize it because quadrupeds are so tolerant or defeated as to not express their discomfort or are not very sensational in expressing it.
A famous saying recalls that before judging another you have to walk a mile in his shoes – that is to understand his experiences, his way of thinking, the challenges he has … Walking in dogs’ shoes is impossible of course, but you can try to understand them and a first step is to try to see the world from their point of view. The moment you do it, a world opens up.
To try to see the world from the point of view of dogs, there are several aspects to consider: let’s see them together.
Where I am physically
How would we feel in the midst of a sea of unknown giants’ legs? Not serene. It is a bit like the condition of dogs that live the world from below, very low: even the tallest of them is much shorter than an adult human and one of the consequences of their physical positioning can be discomfort, if not fear, when they are taken to crowded places or streets where they are surrounded and overlooked by unknown people. The low position also gives a feeling of psychological subjugation, it is no coincidence that there is what is called the Napoleon syndrome and has an equivalent in dogs.
The position with respect to humans
Dogs, understood as pets, they are totally dependent on humans – without them they cannot even drink if they are thirsty, just to give an example – and they live in a world made by humans for humans and where they are judged according to human rules. Let’s say that to be peaceful they need their owners to do their part – to introduce them to that world in which they are inserted; that they let them know the rules of that world, that they make them feel understood, safe and protected, that they know and respect their needs.
Dogs have genetic predisposition and breed motivation that affect how they perceive situations and how to deal with them. A very common situation clarifies the matter well: the guests. For the guard dog, guests are someone who violates his territory, a threat, and is naturally predisposed to live and handle them as such. The difficulty he may have with guests and, for example, preventing them from entering the house does what he was born for. If it is considered a problem – for example because owners often like to have friends at home – the problem is not the dog; it is his owners who, when they took him, did not consider how he is predisposed to interpret situations.
Dogs have the same senses as humans – sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – but are developed and used differently. It goes without saying that this diversity has an important influence on the way they see, perceive and experience the world.
Smell is the primary sense of dogs
The main sense of dogs is smell, a true sensory prodigy that allows them to also perceive hormonal changes and the emotional state of individuals. It is said that dogs see with their nose and know the world by smell. Unlike humans who stop at the present with their sight, dogs sense the past, present and future by sniffing. The air, street corners, meadows, poles, car wheels, everything is a showcase full of information that the sense of smell detects and the brain interprets and processes. Having seen this, their stopping to smell what every leaf, bush, square centimeter of road looks like reveals its meaning and becomes clear why it is so important to give them the time and the way to do it properly. With this we also understand the reason for so many of their behaviors that are incomprehensible to us – they can be triggered by smells they have smelled (which we obviously do not realize).
Hearing is the second sense of dogs
The second sense of dogs is hearing, it is assumed that they hear sounds up to a frequency of 40,000-60,000 herz (we humans stop at about 20,000). For dogs, walls and floors are also noisy. Let’s imagine what it means to live constantly bombarded by sounds of all kinds – even resting well becomes difficult in these conditions.
A relatively weak sense: sight
For us humans the main meaning is sight; it is not the same for dogs. As we have seen before, their ‘sight’ is their sense of smell. Dogs see some color – so they don’t see black and white as is commonly thought – more faded than humans and how they see colors is affected by light conditions. They also see moving objects better than stationary ones and move better in dim light than we do. Dogs have very different morphological conformations and the different eye positions of the different breeds (or mix of) also influence how they see.
The role of the mustache
On the muzzle, in different positions depending on the dog, the quadrupeds (even the females :)) show off a rich collection of mustaches. Their presence does not have an aesthetic function as it is for humans: the whiskers are hypersensitive and are used to orient oneself in space. They work as a kind of radar, even the slightest variations in air flows inform the dog about the space they are in and the distance, size and even shape of objects. The function of the whiskers is said to be related to the visual system.
Dog communication is extremely complex, made up of sounds, gestures, looks, expressions, posture, eye position, tail position, tail movement, smells, etc. Their behaviors also depend on the signals they perceive and the communications they receive, of which many humans are completely unaware (eg: the dog that growls while sniffing a corner may have smelled its enemy and be disturbed by it, mood that expresses growling).
The human: ‘Come on, let’s go say hello to this cute dog’
The dog ‘Now how do I tell him that I have no desire to have anything to do with what is staring at me? In the past when I made a scene they took me away, I do it’
The human drags the dog away scolding him ‘Are you crazy??? What ways are they? !!’
The dog thinks’At least mi am turned away from that; the scene works’
One element that significantly affects and influences the way dogs experience the world is the leash. As the situation seen above shows (which is very common but only one of the many in which they can be found), the dog on a leash cannot choose where to go and who to meet and has a range limited possibility of action (for example he cannot escape if he is afraid).
Dogs perceive and experience the world differently from ours – it depends, among other things, on the senses, physique, position in relation to humans, communication and genetics. (Re) knowing and respecting this diversity is fundamental for the welfare of animals, it serves to give them what they really need and to manage them correctly, and it is an essential component of the human-canine relationship, which in appreciating diversity has one of its pillars.