Inside of a Dog

Dogs study humans so carefully, that they can even “catch” a yawn from us. Photo by Benjamin Minch.

By Benjamin Minch. Staff Writer

Dogs are men’s best friends. They spend their whole life with humans and we shape them into who we want them to be, or try to at least. Dogs seem like a distant being to us, but in reality, all those hours they spend observing humans actually make them more similar to us that one may realize. To really understand what it is like to be a dog in the words of Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog, “we must understand how he sees his subjective universe or Umwelt.”

What Dogs Smell

If you ever observe dogs of any kind, you will notice that the most prominent feature is their nose. The nose takes up a good portion of their face and it is always sniffing. Smell is the most important sense for a dog, like vision is to a human. They see the world as a variety of objects each with a distinct scent. By smelling objects they can tell which animals have been near that object and what the animals were doing. They can also learn about the animals such as learning gender and maturity based on pheromones released in urine.

Dogs can also use their sense of smell to investigate humans, which is what they spend a majority of their time doing. Based on your scent, they can tell what activities you were just doing, where you’ve been and even what kind of mood you are in. This great sense of smell causes many dogs to know more about their owner’s whereabouts than the owner does. Your dog can know when you have just been exercising, grocery shopping, and even when you feel excited. This is because different emotions release different hormones that are sometimes smellable.

Smelling is the vision of the dog. If a dog stops smelling an object, it ceases to exist in its world. A dog’s nose is also about 100 times better than that of a human and they can even smell a gram of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water. Unlike humans who grow acquainted to smells, meaning that they go away after a while, a dog always smells. Dogs have special noses that allow them to do this. The air goes in through the big holes and exits through slits in the bottom of the nose so the dog can always continue to smell without taking breaks to breathe. Smelling is only one of the dog’s aspects however. To fully understand what it is like to be a dog, we must learn what dogs know, see and understand.

What Dogs Know

What dogs can smell is an easy thing to study because it deals with an understandable part of the body, the nose. We have barely begun to comprehend the human brain, much less the dog’s brain, so nothing can be known for certain about what dogs know. Based on many years of experimenting however, researchers have been able to make some conclusions about what goes on inside a dog’s mind.

One thing that dogs can understand is sound tone. A dog can tell if you are happy or sad based on the tone of your voice and length of speech. On top of this, they also can tell by our body language what we are feeling. This is because dogs have plenty of time to study you. They are with you almost their whole lives and actually care about everything you do, say and feel. This means that your dog probably knows more about you than your closest friends, wife, family and even yourself.

Dogs can also tell when something bad is happening, or about to happen. Although they don’t have a perception of danger, they can tell when something unusual is happening. There are many stories of dogs saving their owners by either barking really loud to get attention, or running to get a neighbor that can help.

You may have wondered why your dog is always at the door when you get home. This is because dogs can understand time as it relates to patterns. They can know how long you are usually gone for, and be waiting for your return when you come back. Dogs also have a limited perception of the future, which is why they dig holes and store bones for later.

What Dogs See

Dogs see the world very differently than humans do. They don’t care about color, movies, decorations or even neatness. Dogs have three times as many rods in their eyes than humans, which means that they see the world faster than a human. What I mean by this is that dogs can perceive the world before we can; they notice things before we do. This is why dogs don’t like movies: they see them as laggy images that are seemingly fake because movies are projected at a lower flicker rate than dogs can see. It is pretty much the equivalent of watching a movie in 10FPS, which is super annoying.

One thing that dogs do pay attention however, is humans. Dogs are constantly watching us for any type of motion or change of glance. Dogs will either follow your attention or try to steal your attention. They are naturally attracted to where you direct your gaze and attention and will usually direct their attention at the same thing. Dogs will also try to relentlessly try to steal your attention by various methods of pawing, nudging and whimpering.

Dogs do see the same things as us, but that doesn’t mean that they see them in the same way. A fire hydrant to us, is a device to gather water from, but a dog sees it as an object with potential scents and information about other dogs.

Overall, dogs see the world very differently than humans do. Knowing this, you can learn to better observe and care for your own dog, viewing the world from their subjective universe, their Umwelt.