Do Dogs Understand Us Better Than We Understand Them?

I’ve always said I didn’t want a dog smarter than I was. But I may have one.

In fact, I think my dog understands me better than I understand her.

Honey the golden retriever in mortarboard teaches a class.

Okay, class. I’m going to teach you all about humans.

Interpreting The Dog

How much time do we spend interpreting our dogs?

Okay, that was a single woof. Does Honey need to go outside? Is she thirsty? Or is she asking for her dinner fifteen minutes early?

Gee, I’m surprised Honey’s not up yet. Is she sick? Or just sleepy?

Honey the golden retriever sits on a bed with her Nylabone.

Maybe bed is just the comfiest place ever.

And then there are all the other ways we look for help to understand their behavior.

We look for clues to their temperament in their breed mixes. We watch television shows and read books by people who proclaim to know why dogs behave the way they do. And we ask other people with dogs if they have the same experience with their dog that we have with ours.

Heck, some of us spend an awful lot of time trying to understand creatures that are supposedly simpler than humans.

Honey the golden retriever is an easy dog.

I’ve been on this machine all day and I didn’t learn anything more about human behavior.

Interpreting The Human

I’ve never once caught Honey reading a book about human behavior. Or watching a tv show about understanding humans. Or asking other dogs for advice.

Somehow she just knows me.

When I start getting ready to go out, she continues lounging when she knows I’m going somewhere without her. She gets up into place to have her leash put on when she knows I’m taking her with me.

I don’t think I’m doing much different. But I never fool Honey.

If you’ve ever had a dog with separation anxiety, you know that you’re supposed to leave the house quietly without a fuss.

You don’t want to have a pattern for leaving that gives your dog time to get anxious.

Some experts even tell you to leave by another door or even the window to surprise your dogs.

It never fooled my highly anxious first dogs, Agatha and Christie.

All I got for my trouble were anxious dogs and some crushed shrubs.

Why Dogs Understand Humans So Well

I’ve watched Honey to figure out why she understands me so well.

I bet there are some lessons for humans who want to understand dogs (and other humans) as well as dogs understand us.

Honey the golden retriever chews a bully stick.

Always listen more than you speak. Oh, and don’t speak with your mouth full.

Don’t talk

Okay, some dogs are pretty verbal. But even the talkiest husky is not as obsessed with his own voice as the shyest human.

I know I miss a lot because I’m always talking.

But Honey doesn’t. She just listens. And watches.


Even when they don’t seem to be looking, dogs are watching us.

Our eyes and brains are not evolved to catch movement as well as dogs do. But I know I’m not using my powers of observation as much as Honey is.

Stay close

Many dogs will follow us around the house. Some try to touch us when we’re at rest.

Honey the golden retriever puts her head on my leg.

With my head on your lap, I don’t miss a thing.

Most dogs even follow us into the bathroom.

No wonder dogs know us so well. After 26 years of marriage, my husband is occasionally a mystery to me.

But maybe it’s just because I’ve never followed him into the bathroom.

What looks true probably is

How many times do we see something and second guess ourselves? Or create elaborate explanations for things that are obvious to others?

Dogs don’t do that.

If they see a human going to the kitchen when they’re feeling hungry, they assume dinner is coming. They don’t ask themselves if the human is trying to get away from them. Or planning to redecorate.

Hungry. Human. Kitchen. Food.

And y’know what? They’re right.

Honey the golden retriever tires to understand what I'm explaining to her.

I love the whole world.

Have an open heart

Sometimes I listen to my own thoughts and realize how suspicious I am.

I always assume the worst.

But most humans are not as untrustworthy as I suspect they are. Not once I look at them with an open heart.

For the most part, people are just doing what they feel they need to do to be happy. It doesn’t mean they don’t do stupid stuff.

But it’s not usually directed against me.

Dogs don’t assume the people they live with are going to hurt them. Sometimes it’s their downfall.

But usually, a dog’s open heart allows them to find the lovable in nearly everyone.

Let’s Understand Our Dogs Better

I wonder what would happen if everyone who lived with dogs understood them as well as they understand us?

I bet we’d end up understanding them far better than we do by watching shows and reading books.

Because the real expert in dog behavior is right beside us. Shedding on our couch.

Win Your Dog A New Kurgo Harness

Enter through the end of the month to win your dog a new harness from Kurgo.

Win a Kurgo Dog Harness.

Click the picture above and use the tool at the bottom of the page to make your entries.

Good luck.

Your Turn: Do you feel like your dog understands you better than you understand him or her?


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  1. Mom is constantly working on understanding us. We have her nailed down. She never taught us many things, but we know exactly what her actions mean. One of the best tips she has gotten from nose work training is to just be quiet. If you work with your dog using no words, just body movements and motions, they do so much better. We know the noises she makes, the routines she has, the words only throw off our concentration. Of course, sometimes you need to say come or NO, but keep the chatter to a minimum.

    • The reminder to be quiet during nose work was very helpful to me too.

      Honey would normally look to me for help. But nose work has taught her to be more independent and keep sniffing until she finds it.

      We humans are so vocal that we forget how much you dogs can communicate without saying a word.

  2. Oh yes, Blueberry definitely gets me. I don’t always understand her – but I think I have a pretty good bead on what she wants/needs. I’ve gotten pretty good at determining when she’s got her “serious” face on and will not relent until she gets what she wants and when she is just sort of testing me to see if I’ll cave. This usually happens at bedtime snack time. She has somehow trained me to give her more than 1 bedtime snack. I’m not even sure how exactly it started – but dang, that dog is an excellent trainer!

    • Dogs are the best trainer. Someone needs to write a dog training manual based on what they’ve learned watching dogs.

      I’d put my money on Turid Rugaas as the likely author.

  3. Great post! I think we definitely understand humans more then they understand us! Have a fantastic Tuesday! :)

  4. Sometimes it scares me how much my huskies actually understand what i’m saying.
    Thanks for your kind words on my blog this morning btw, I really appreciate that.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    • Dogs are so amazing at body language that it can be really spooky to realize they also understand quite a bit of English. :)

      Wolves are particularly good at reading body language. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that breeds that are genetically closer to wolves, like huskies and GSDs, are particularly smart at understanding humans.

  5. What a fantastic post. Our dogs are always surprising us with just how much they understand about us. And the more we pay attention to them, the more we understand them.

    • Well put, De.

      When I meet someone who doesn’t seem to understand his dog very well, I know they haven’t been watching closely enough.

  6. Well, now I know that our two aren’t the only ones who know when they’re coming with us, or when they’re staying home alone. I fully agree that they know us better than we know them. I do try to figure them out, but many of their behaviours are beyond me.

    • “I do try to figure them out, but many of their behaviours are beyond me.”

      Isn’t it funny how the supposedly less intelligent species figures us out so much faster than we, geniuses of the animal world, figure them out?

      I suspect we just get distracted by unimportant things.

  7. That’s the beauty of our instinctual best friends ~ they just know, without having to twist and hurt their brains in order to find answers :-)
    …I couldn’t help but chuckle at the vision of you climbing through your window and crushing some shrubs… 😉

    • The really funny thing is that it didn’t do a thing to help the separation anxiety.

      I sometimes wonder if the person who wrote that dog training book worked for Candid Camera. :)

  8. Sometimes, my ‘doglish’ isn’t so great, but it’s always fun trying to translate. 😉

  9. Edie Chase says:

    Did anyone ever call the cops when you climbed out your window? I know separation anxiety is serious, but the image of you climbing out a window is quite funny.

  10. Yup, Nala frequently behaves like she understands English. I think we work equally hard to understand each other–but she’s definitely expert. Still, I’ve mostly learned the difference between a request to go outside, a request for food, a request for play, and a request for cuddles–even though I don’t think I could actually tell you what the difference is, which I didn’t realize until just now. Hmm. Maybe she actually *is* hypnotizing me with her shepherd stare.

  11. My dear, sweet Callie knew me better than I know myself. And she always knew when to help me out with the struggles between Shadow and Ducky and when to let me handle them on my own. I miss my girl soooooooooo much! Just writing this is bringing on the tears again. Shadow understands me, too, probably better than I give her credit for at times. And Ducky? Well, my little stinker-brat certainly knows when I need a faceful of puppy kisses. Unless she’s asleep like she is right now.

  12. I am fascinated by them, and I think they’ve got me pegged to perfection!