Jan 9, 2009

On Canine Emotions and Personalities

Pictured on your left is our three-year-old Puggle named Eddie Haskell, who is rather grumpy today. The reason for Eddie's glum face is the fact that my wife returned back to school the other day, and Eddie no longer has his favorite human being with him all day.

Eddie's coping method is to gather shoes and clothing items of my wife into a sort of fort, so that he is surrounded by the scent of my wife. If other dogs try to get into his Shrine of Mama, Eddie growls and bares his teeth, and the other dogs figure out quickly that Eddie simply is not in the mood to play.

Admittedly, as a dog aficionado I run the risk of anthropomorphization here, but I find interesting the emotions and personalities that dogs exhibit. While the IQ of the average canine probably does not rank with even the dullest humans, it is clear that dogs possess a fairly high degree of intelligence, memory, and self-awareness, at least in comparison with other non-human species.

As a person who has observed dozens of dogs in my home over the past year in my work in animal rescue, I can attest that each dog has a unique personality. Moreover, like humans dogs can be placed on basic personality spectrums, such as the "happy-sad," "aggressive-passive," or "social-antisocial." My Bischon-mix Candy, for example, is rather happy-go-lucky, while my Sheltie-mix Jimmy is much more reserved.

There also seems to be a significant variation with intelligence between individual dogs. Eddie is probably the smartest dog in the house, and he easily recognizes 20-30 words and commands. Yet all of the dogs with whom we coexist quickly recognize friendly guests, understand basic human emotions, and grasp simple commands like "sit" and "back" and "leave it."

My family laughed the other day when I suggested that I spend more time conversing with dogs than humans, but this is probably true. I spend 60 to 70 percent of my working time in my house, and my dogs are constant companions. We have running conversations throughout the day and - while they might not understand every word - my dogs patiently listen to what I have to say, and are generally supportive of what I as their pack leader decide we are going to do.

So laugh away, oh family skeptics, but realize this: uh...never mind. I really do need to get out more.


Mad Jack said...

While the IQ of the average canine probably does not rank with even the dullest humans

I'm not so sure about that. Consider the cretins that you encounter on a regular basis while driving to work, then add the various geniuses that manage to land a job at the local retail outlet. If this isn't enough for you, try calling the cable TV technical support line with a high speed Internet problem such as the lack of a signal at your end of the hose.

By the bye, how is Mistletoe doing?

historymike said...

Good points, MadJack. I shared the snowy roads with quite a few dolts this afternoon who shot holes in my ealier statement about human intelligence.

Mistletoe is doing much better - her sores have all healed, the scabby parts have flaked off, and there is some fuzz growing on her hairless spots. At this rate, she should look "normal" in 1-2 months.

Better still is her personality, which has emerged over thelast few weeks. She is generally an agreeable and affectionate dog, but she has a feistiness with the other dogs, and she is less submissive than I first thought. Feisty in a funny/playful way, that is - she will chase the other dogs and wrestle with them, but does not get too aggressive.

microdot said...

When you get into Interspecie intelligence comparisons, I think you are on shaky ground.
Dogs can figure out a lot of things a lot faster than a human can.

Maybe at one time, Men were smater than dogs, but civilization has sure taken its toll..........

My dog is about 3 and a half now and I am beginning to suspect he is a lot smarter than I imagine.

Anonymous said...


My uncle's dog in california was in mourning after he died a few yrs ago. He almost jumped in the casket at the showing, had his paws over his face for days moping around and one day when my Aunt was cleaning some of his old clothes he went nuts. They're so human in many ways.

Dave Schulz