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Going Inside the Mind of a Dog

by Dennis ODonnell on April 29, 2020

Recently TIME wrote a great article about what we now know about our dog’s minds thanks to modern science. With the help of neuroscientist Gregory Berns and a round-up of studies, they took a look at what it is really like to be a dog!  Here are our favorite parts and new pieces of dog-trivia from this awesome read!

No Pea Brain

When it comes to the intelligence level of animals – the brain-to-body mass ratio matters!  Humans have relatively large brains at a 1:50 ratio, compared to a horse at 1:600 and lions at 1:550.  (Hippos tip the scales at 1:2,789.)  Dogs have a 1:125 brain-to-body mass across all breeds, meaning they have a greater capacity for intelligence than most animals.  However, dog brains are the size of a fruit at their largest, meaning they just don’t have the real-estate to function on the same level as a human brain.

Dog vs. Kid

Object permanence is something dogs understand long before human children, knowing where to look when you hide the treat behind your back instead of thinking it disappeared forever.  Facial recognition, experiencing jealousy and understanding the importance of showing visual attention by holding a gaze are other things that dogs exhibit earlier than human babies, as well!

3 Pillars of a Dog’s World: Reward, Pleasure & Expectation

Burns studies dogs’ brain activity through MRI via a scented air puff test, one resulting in a treat reward and the other not.  The dog quickly learned to associate the first scent with treats, and in a room immediately went to that smell when no treats were present.  This reinforced the 3 pillars of a dogs’ world by exhibiting their desire to be rewarded with a treat that triggers pleasure, and that with time they learn to expect where that reward / pleasure will come from and tailor their behavior to those pillars. 

Fun Facts

  • Dogs have been being domesticated for 15,000 years – that’s a lot of games of fetch!
  • 44% of American households have 1 (or more) dogs, which means the dog population of the US is 80 million!
  • Ants have the greatest brain-to-body ratio at 1:7

    While there are still many mysteries when it comes to our dogs’ minds, the Association for Psychological Science and doctors like Berns will continue to work to help understand these wonderful creatures that are truly humans’ best friends!

    Photo: Tico, a 4-year old Pit Bull photographed in New York, NY on April 23, 2017.

    Dina Litovsky—Redux for TIME


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