Can We Ever Know What Dogs Think?

We all like to think we know our pets. On one level we know them very intimately, however on many other levels animals remain a complete mystery. Mankind has arguably enjoyed the closest companionship of all with the canine, but is it ever possible to know what a dog is actually thinking?

We can understand a lot about dogs by looking at how they have evolved, where they have come from in other words. All dogs can be traced back to the wolf, a relatively recent ancestor, and so we can know a lot about dogs by looking at the natural behaviour of wolves.

The wolf is a pack animal and so is usually found within a strict hierarchy. At the top of this pyramid of authority is the alpha male wolf, i.e. the pack leader. Dogs still retain this instinct to serve a pack leader, and so they tend to treat their owners as though they are an alpha male. This forms a large part of why dogs are so affectionate to their owners.

These days we can begin to understand a lot about the inner workings of the dog by looking right into their brains. Advances in neuroscience, and its application to the animal kingdom, have raised many interesting ideas about the canine mental life. We see the presence of oxytocin, for example, which is a hormone associated with emotions.