Is your dog a mind reader?

Clients often ask me if their dog is a mind reader! Of course, he isn’t, not exactly. But, I can understand why it might feel that way. Your dog has literally nothing better to do than watch you all day long. He will quickly learn your routine, the words you use, your actions, your body language, and how it all connects together. And that’s not all…

He knows all your habits!

We are all creatures of habit, more so than we think! And your dog is so clever that after only a few days of living with you he will have already figured out many of them. On a basic level he’ll know the difference between your dog walking shoes, your work shoes, and your going out-out shoes! He’ll know the different ways you get out the chair whether you are heading to the loo or the kitchen! And he’ll even know the different ways you behave if you are just pausing, or you’re finished and might share, your dinner!

He doesn’t just connect simple actions. Oh, no! He can put together quite long chains of events. For example, he might know that exactly one hour before his dinner time, you make yourself a cup of tea, with two biscuits, and watch countdown (he knows the sound of the countdown clock!) He might know that when you put the phone down after speaking to “Molly,” 20 minutes later, two small people show up and the fun starts. The more you repeat your rituals and habits, the better they are at figuring them out.

The fake hero!

In 1908, the New York Times reported the story of a brave Newfoundland that lived near the river Seine. Allegedly, he one day heard a child screaming for help after falling in the river. He rushed to the child, jumped straight in, and saved the drowning child. He was hailed a hero and given a steak as a reward. A few days later, the same happened again; child fell in, dog saved child, steak dinner reward! Only this time a pattern had been established.

In no time, the number of rescues escalated and people become suspicious of foul play. No one suspected the hero dog though, until he was finally caught knocking children in to the water and then rescuing them straight after!

It took two goes to put together this chain of events!

He’s a master of micro expression

According to WikipediaA micro expression is a facial expression that only lasts for a short moment. It is the innate result of a voluntary and an involuntary emotional response occurring simultaneously and conflicting with one another, and occurs when the amygdala responds appropriately to the stimuli that the individual experiences and the individual wishes to conceal this specific emotion. This results in the individual very briefly displaying their true emotions followed by a false emotional reaction.

Or in simple terms, it’s a split second honest reaction to something that we immediately override. It happens so fast that most people won’t even notice, although our gut instinct might have picked something up. Think about a time you received an ugly gift and lied about how much you loved it. If you had a camera recording you could’ve slowed it down and spotted the disappointed look before it was quickly changed for a more grateful one! Our dogs are in no doubt though. They are natural lie detectors because they are exceptional at noticing this stuff.

Picture of a dogs face. The dog is wearing a plastic disguise of a human nose and glasses so his face is mostly hidden but his long black ears can be seen..
Is your dog a better mind reader than Derren Brown?

If you’ve never heard of Derren Brown, I highly recommend you check him out! Among other things Derren Brown is an illusionist and mentalist. In his stage shows he performs a trick where he figures out an audience members pin number. He does this by understanding how people think, reading tiny changes in their facial expressions, and the slightest changes in their demeanour. If you think that’s impressive, your dog makes Derren Brown look like an amateur! Just as well he doesn’t have the motor skills to operate an ATM, eh?

Other signals

If you did manage to hide your micro expressions, you definitely weren’t able to hide the physiological changes. Your hand tightening on the lead, the change in pace, even the change in your breathing will give you away.

Better than that, your dog can detect changes in your blood sugar, heart rate, and the odour of your pee! They know if you are pregnant, or if you have cancer. They can even smell an oncoming seizure, 45 minutes before it happens, and with 100% accuracy.

Why is he so good at all this?

Well quite simply, his survival might once have depended on it! His primary form of communication is using body language. Changes in stance, facial expressions, and posturing, are how he “speaks” to his pack mates. He must be good at spotting even the subtlest of changes, as it could mean the difference between avoiding conflict, or not. A missed lip-curl or eye-roll could spell disaster!

Smell and scent is vital for learning more about the environment, and who they share it with. They rely on it far more than their sight, which is why dogs can go blind and still find their way around without trouble. They use their sense of smell to recognise and learn more about each other too. They can’t ask their friends how they’re doing, but they can give each other a sniff and find out for themselves! They also leave their scent about the place to let others know they live nearby. Other dogs can learn more about them, their status, and state of health, in advance of an introduction. Then when they meet up in the park, they get to put a face to a sniff!

So, is your dog a mind reader?

No, but he is an expert in reading you! The closer you both are, the better he’ll be, which is pretty awesome!

How can I help you with your dogs behaviour training?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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