Dog brain.

November 7, 2010 § 7 Comments

I’m not sure how cat brains work, they hold their cards close, but to me their thoughts seem chilly, like an air-conditioned office.  When observed by a cat, I always feel as if I’m being judged by one of the popular girls in high school.

I’m a dog person.  I like the way dogs think.  Unlike cats, dogs wear their thoughts on the outside, like a T-shirt with a slogan printed on it in CAPITAL LETTERS.  Dog-think is bath water warm.  It’s relaxing.

My friend, Jen, says that if dogs could talk they’d say (in a husky voice) “I love you man.”  But even without speech here are the things I have learned about the workings of a dog’s brain (a simple mechanism as reliable and straightforward as a can opener).  I have to thank my Australian cattle dog, Moo, and the dogs I’ve known before her for these insights.  I’ve learned through observation.  If only I were a big enough person to emulate some of some what I’ve learned.

My husband, Ray says I should mention that everyone has written and commented on the subject of dogs.  I say, true, and now it’s my turn.  So…  Dog brains.

The Now:  Moo lives in a constant state of now.  It travels with her as she ranges through the world.  Rolling in the grass, every corner of her brain is flooded with back-scratching ecstasy.  When Ray and I are eating dinner she is thinking nothing but, plate, plate, plate, lick plate. When things get dull she sleeps.  A dog is infinitely present.

Dog judgment: I was going to say that dogs are not judgmental but they are better than that.  Dogs are generous in their judgment.  The worst dog owner is still awarded a tongue-sloppy, I love you man, when they come home from work.  Good dog owners have been known to drown under the full force of their dog’s approval.

Territory: The dog brain has a Medieval sense of territory.  The walls of the house, the sidewalk at the edge of the yard—a dog knows its territory and defends it.  A knock at the door brings a barked alert.  “Hey, people, listen up!  You hear that banging?  Someone’s storming the castle!”

Sensory inputs: In general our dogs are better equipped than we are to receive information. I’ll concede that we have it all over them when it comes to touch, and in our estimation our vision beats theirs, but only because it serves our human priorities.  We see color better than they do—but dogs rarely worry about coordinating their outfits.  Dogs key on motion rather than color or texture (a hand throwing a ball, a dog biscuit responding to gravity).  Dogs have a wider range of vision.  They can detect things behind them and see infinitely better than we do at night.  As for hearing, Moo’s upright and directional ears hear frequencies completely inaudible to my ears, which hang stupidly in a fixed position on either side of my head.

Smell is sense numero uno for a dog.  Like a climber with an extra rope, dogs navigate with the security of an added data stream.  Once, when asked what I would choose given one wish, I said. “I’d like to smell like a dog.”  Okay, it came out wrong, but dogs live in a world webbed with information.  When Moo and I walk she seriously sniffs a spot in the grass that looks like every other spot in the grass—only she knows what makes this spot so compelling.

Taste?  Dog-brains have yet to be wired for taste.  When it comes to eating, dog brains are wired for speed.  Human speed-eating champs have been known to consume 59 hot dogs in ten minutes.  If Moo could laugh she would.  Ten minutes?  Please!  Fifty-nine weiners?  Please!

Dogs and worldly possessions: Everyone I know is scaling back on what they own.  Human scaling back is such a joke!  Moo owns five things, only one of which she actually wants.  A water dish, a food dish, a collar, a leash and a bed (she would gladly eat off the floor and drink out of puddles–the collar and leash–please!).   No Buddhist monk is as Zen as Moo when it comes to possessions.

Dog moods: Dogs are straightforward, but just in case a human doesn’t quite get it, a dog comes with a handy mood barometer called a tail.  To read a tail barometer just check the angle of elevation and the frequency of wag.

Although we lack tails and consider ourselves complex and nuanced, dogs read our moods just fine.  The instant you walk in the door your dog knows how you feel–and the dog is right there.

Lousy day?  Sucky job?  I love you man!

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§ 7 Responses to Dog brain.

  • craig reeder says:

    woof woof! (wag, wag!)


  • Thought you’d get a kick out of (and relate to) Adrian’s blog post.



  • Donna Meredith says:

    I love this story and and I love dogs. The observations are spot on.


  • Sheila Merlau says:

    Rosie is the first dog I’ve ever had from birth. Literally. She was one of 9 puppies to surprise us last Nov. when her abandonded mother delivered them all on her own in our garage. Obviously our male was smarter and friskier than our sons gave him credit for being.

    With a granddaughter in residence alternate weeks and my own heart so terribly attached to all of the puppies, we had to keep one.
    And that is Rosie. Having lived as intimately with her as I have with my children I can assure anyone that Rosie laughs and she mourns. Sage, her mother also sighs as if to say, “What am I going to do with this child?”

    When my granddaughter returned from as extended vacation this summer, Rosie leaped across the room, into her arms and the surprised 12 year old found herself holding a 70 pound lab. Once Rosie’s feet were on the floor, she never let the child’s hand out of her mouth. She followed her everywhere, gently holding her fingers with her teeth. Both child and dog were grinning like Davey Crockett’s possums.
    Rosie has a penchant for trouble whether it be following the cat up on to the roof of the house, unrolling yards and yards of newsprint from its tidy rolls, or climbing up on top of the garage door when it was open. As I opened the door from the house to find her there, I looked down, and Sage was standing there shaking her head back annd forth. The father, Sawyer has taken no interest in any of Rosie’s climbs, digs, or undoings. Momma dog is always the one standing by looking worried.
    I just thought I’d add a few more of the emotions that I have observed from my one year experience raising our familu unit of labs. Their communication and affection among each other is surprising and touching.


  • Bette Gautier says:

    Oh Moo looks so good! But she isn’t an ordinary dog at all. Love to see her undulate through the woods at Bluebird. How old is the pic of Moo & Josie?

    Miss you guys but this blog kinds makes up for it. ♥


  • Bette Gautier says:

    kinda not kinds


  • Joan Kaywell says:

    Though I prefer dogs to cats (don’t let my cat hear that), I love the way we can learn from our pets. I have the best dog in the world and even though Adrian probably thinks that Moo is, Max is tied for first.


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