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Canine psychology

Understanding the emotional lives of animals is new territory for science. Long ago the emotions of animals escaped the limits of man; Scientists studying animal behavior focused on what they could see, but not inside, their feelings.

Today, in several countries animals have their own rights. But when did we begin to recognize that there is a welfare problem in animals? When do we sympathize with them and strive to improve their well-being and punish those who abuse them? If we go back to the year 1789, we can see the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham talking about animal rights and wondering how different animals are from humans, does just because they cannot speak mean that they cannot suffer? Bentham was the first to consider animal emotion and speak of animal rights. Thanks to this first step, later years science set out to investigate the use of what humans experience as “feelings.”

At present, thanks to the advancement of science, there are branches of psychology that study animal behavior by comparing it with human behavior. Among these branches we can highlight canine psychology.

What is canine psychology?

Canine psychology is responsible for studying the behavior of dogs and tries to understand said behavior from a canine perspective rather than from a human perspective.

This branch of psychology has evolved over time and, thanks to the interdisciplinary approach it uses – including disciplines such as history, biology and anthropology – great research has been achieved with successful results.

As in animal psychology, in canine psychology the comparative method is used – a method that compares the differences and similarities of different species to better understand an animal.

To study canine behavior, several factors are taken into account, including: the environmental factor , which directly influences behavior, since it forces them to adapt to the environment in which they live, and the genetic factor , such as race, which influences the temperament of the animal.

The dog’s brain

The first weeks of a puppy’s life are a time of great growth and brain development. From birth to 7 weeks is the time when the greatest physical and behavioral changes occur, and it is the time when the basic personality of the dog is formed.

By 8 weeks of age , a puppy’s brain can function almost at the level of an adult dog’s brain, in terms of learning ability. However, at 16 weeks, as puppies mature, the ease with which they learn begins to decline.

The behavior of the dog -as we mentioned previously- will depend on its temperament and the environmental factors that influence it. Therefore, it is possible to modify canine behavior by modifying the environment, through conditioning and early training.

Each experience that the puppy has will stimulate his neural development. As the brain develops, so will his learning capacity that will further stimulate his neural development.

Extensive research has shown that, in moderation, stress can stimulate the canine brain at the most crucial time in its development. When a puppy is properly stimulated during this period, his brain matures faster and increases in size to have a larger brain with more cells, which in turn will be larger and there will be more neural interconnections between them.

Because the puppy’s brain is in a formative state, the experiences it experiences at an early age will directly impact the development of its mind. This is the reason why the first weeks of a puppy’s life will be critical for his life.

By managing the dog’s environment, we can influence the shape and final structure of its brain, and with early intervention, the puppy’s brain can be helped to develop its full potential.

By exercising the dog’s brain with mental challenges, overall brain function improves. The conductivity of the nerves improves in both speed and precision, the recovery time of the synapses is shortened, and the nerves can repeatedly fire faster. Brain mass increases dramatically as nerve cell density increases, and overall brain efficiency improves significantly. So, if an early training is carried out, with a puppy between 7 and 16 weeks old, it will be possible to notice a greater efficiency than in training with older puppies, where their brain function is already developed.

Stages of canine development

The most important moment in the development of a dog is during the first year, mainly from 7 weeks to 4 months of life. Understanding the stages of development helps us provide our pets with what they need when they need it, taking into account their state of brain maturation.

From 0 to 7 weeks: in the first 7 weeks of life, puppies can already use all their senses; they become mobile, their baby teeth begin to grow, and they are able to eat solid food. Mothers weaning to their dogs is completed and they begin to develop their independence. However, during this period, there are also very important lessons that puppies must learn from their mothers and siblings. Therefore, it is important that they are not removed from their original homes before 7 weeks of age.

They are quick learners at this stage, so it is important for caregivers to provide puppies with specific neurological stimulation, a complex environment, and careful socialization.

From 7 to 16 weeks: from the seventh week the puppies can already be adopted by their new families. The best time for this to happen is between 8 and 10 weeks of age.

From 8 to 11 weeks of age, it is important to be aware of what is known as the Fear-Shock Period, where puppies begin to learn fear. If they have bad or frightening experiences during this period, the impressions are likely to last a lifetime and resurface during maturity. Therefore, it is important to protect the puppy from these long-term effects by avoiding bad experiences.

From 16 weeks to 4 months: the puppy is already within the socialization period, he is getting to know the world and its limitations, and his brain can already function like that of an adult. In these weeks, the owner-pet bond can be strengthened, reaffirming the orders and above all giving it the affection that it so much needs.

Puppies of this age often begin to model their behavior from the older dogs in the household, so if the older dog is well trained and behaves correctly, the puppy can adopt the adult’s behavior fairly quickly.

From 4 to 6 months: in this period the puppy will gain more energy and will become more restless. Because of teething discomfort, as baby teeth begin to fall out and adult teeth erupt, the dog will be able to chew on everything from leaves and socks to a couch.

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At 6 months the young puppy will reach most of its height – although this can continue to increase until 18 months of age. During this stage you will also reach sexual maturity.

From 6 to 12 months: the adolescent period has arrived! “The Cub” will now reach its full power and begin testing its wings. This is often a difficult time for owners; But if the puppy was given a healthy environment, with adequate stimulation, setting limits, and promoting socialization and training, this period will probably not have great consequences.

From 12 months: young puppies of small-medium breed will generally have already reached their maximum physical development, on the contrary, large breed dogs will be able to reach their maximum physical growth at 18 months.

Small breed dogs usually reach maturity around one year of age, unlike large dogs, which can take up to 2 years to reach maturity.
Mentally and socially, a dog can be considered a puppy for up to 4 years. From that moment we can talk about an adult dog.

Canine behavior

Dogs evolved from their wolf ancestors and grew into the myriad breeds that we have today. Despite the large number of breeds and their genetic influence, each dog has its own individual personality.

Dog behavior is never completely inherited or completely acquired. It develops under the combined and interdependent influences of hereditary and environmental factors. However, it can be guided and modified by the influence of experience.

Recent methodological advances in canine research reveal that dogs experience emotions derived from perceptible emotions in others. They adhere to social cues, respond appropriately to human and other dog facial expressions, and tones of voice. They also have the ability to learn words, specifically verbs and nouns. Understanding these words helps them understand the orders issued by their owners and the word the owner uses to refer to them (their name).

Their limbic reward regions respond to the scent of their keepers, but this does not mean that dogs “smell the emotions” of it. In fact, it is very common to hear that dogs smell fear or that they smell when a person is sad, but this is nothing more than a fallacy. Although dogs have an acute sense of smell, far superior to ours, with which they gather information about their environment, there are no chemicals generated by fear that are released into the air. Their keen sense of smell allows them to detect non-volatile pheromones in members of the same species, but not in humans. A human’s fear or sadness is more likely to be detected by the dog by observing behavioral cues.

Each dog has a different temperament, this can sometimes be due to a genetic factor, such as breed. They tend to behave differently depending on the emotional situation, show emotionally driven expectations, present affective disorders, and exhibit some subcomponents of empathy .

The canine brain has a relatively large prefrontal cortex and, like primates, dogs have a specialized brain area for facial perception.

Not only is the emotional life of dogs different from ours, but also, the evidence suggests that the way they perceive us bears little resemblance to the way we think they do. Dogs probably only feel half of the emotions we have (but can feel them more intensely as a result); they may have many degrees of emotion, but the full extent of canine emotions remains unknown.

Canine emotions

Emotions can be divided into two types: basic (instinctive) emotions and reflective emotions that require conscious thought . Affection, fear and anxiety are in the first group of emotions; while guilt, pride and pain are in the last.

It has been shown that all mammals have brain structures that allow them to feel the same basic emotions as we do, but dogs, in addition to these basic emotions, can present reflective emotions. The most notorious emotions a dog are: fear, anguish, joy and jealousy.


An experiment conducted to observe social canine behavior adapted a paradigm from human infant studies to examine jealousy in domestic dogs. The study showed that dogs exhibited significantly more jealous behaviors when their owners displayed affectionate behaviors towards another dog or another person, compared to non-social objects. For example, growling, getting between the owner and the other dog, pushing, sniffing at the owner and the social object in question (either dog or person).

The previous experiment was also carried out with monkeys, obtaining the same result, so it can be affirmed that jealousy has a “primordial” role in other social species besides humans.

Jealousy in dogs can be noticed with the naked eye when a new member of the family arrives. For example, when we adopt a puppy, it is common for the adult dog to feel invaded, anxious, and jealous of this new member. According to the way in which the owner behaves before the jealousy of their dogs, the relationship that these dogs will maintain will depend.


Fear is not present in newborn puppies. This emotion begins to develop slowly around 5 weeks of age, gradually increasing until the fear impression period increases during the eighth week.

Fear in both the dog and the human manifests as an instinctive feeling of apprehension, which results from a situation, person or object that presents an external threat, either real or perceived.

While dogs have two distinct fear print periods – the first at 8-11 weeks of age and the second at 6 to 14 months of age – it is important to note that dogs can be afraid of things specific to anyone. age and no generalizations should be made.


Just as you can tell when a dog is afraid, you can also tell when it feels joy. This can be seen in their face and their behaviors.

Dogs are overjoyed when they do their favorite activities, from chasing balls in the park and playing with their owners to snuggling up on the couch. They also show their joy in the presence of their owner or a person who gives them affection. No matter where they are or what they are doing, they always find a way to have fun.


Just as the dog has the ability to feel intense joy, it also has the ability to suffer from a genuine state of anguish and disgust. When a dog is upset this can be noticed by observing his body language and responses to his surroundings.

The dog can feel distressed by the simple fact of being a pet, or by the presence of a new dog member in the family, but it can also become upset when a scolding or after suffering some physical discomfort.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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