The Fundamentals of Dog Psychology

The Fundamentals of Dog Psychology

Ever wonder what’s happening in pooch’s noggin? TrackiPet’s dog psychology fundamentals can help!

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way towards cultivating the best possible environment for your furry friend!

Sometimes we feel like we’re totally on the same wavelength as our pups. Other times we find them simply baffling. Great pet parents love insights into their dog’s psychology because they help us take better care of the canines we adore. Luckily, TrackiPet has some key wisdom to share.

Today we’re going to discuss four key dog psychology questions:

  1. What is my dog’s emotional capacity?
  2. What does my dog’s body language mean?
  3. What do I do about my dog’s aggression or anxiety?
  4. How can I improve my bond with my dog?

What is my dog’s emotional capacity?

Scientists are all over this question! Many top universities now have research teams dedicated to studying not just what pooch feels, but also how pooch relates emotionally. Complex stuff!

Here are some basic findings:

Dogs’ Emotional Range

Current wisdom suggests that dogs have a similar emotional range to that of two or three-year-old human children. It includes:

    • Excitement/Arousal
    • Distress
    • Contentment
    • Disgust
    • Fear
    • Anger
    • Joy
    • Suspicion/Shyness
  • Affection/Love

  • That’s right! Your dog can love you back. We knew it all along…

    This is because dogs have a similar brain structure to our own and release the same hormones as they change emotional states—including oxytocin, the “love hormone.” 

    Empathy Between Dogs and Humans

    Studies confirm that dogs and humans can in fact empathize with each other. 

    Scientists have been able to measure dogs’ physical and behavioral responses to the subtle changes in human facial expressions and body odor that accompany our changing emotions.

    Dogs are capable of reading us so well because they’ve evolved to observe their humans very intensely. So, the more quality time we spend with our pups, the more highly developed their capacity for affective empathy.

    Inter-dog Empathy

    Inter-dog empathy is most visible during play. 

    Professor Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado, Boulder writes about how, during play, we see that dogs are capable of role play, asking for forgiveness, and resignifying behaviors that would otherwise show aggression or a desire to mate. 

    This means that canine playmates can broadcast and interpret intentions and feelings.

    Dog tracker


    What does my dog’s body language mean?

    Since dogs can’t speak, body language is their most important communication tool.  Understanding pup’s body language can help you recognize their likes and dislikes so you can better provide for them. 

    Observing your own pup carefully is the best way to get to know their individual quirks. But there are some common postures that you can learn to get a sense of what any dog’s body language is telling you. 


    Soft Eyes - Relaxed or squinty eyes signal calm and happiness.

    Hard Eyes - A cold, unflinching stare shows that your dog detects a threat.

    Whale Eyes - This is a funny term for when your dog averts their gaze, showing the whites of their eyes. It is a more submissive response to discomfort, stress, or anxiety.

    Facial Expressions

    Yawning and lip-licking in dogs signal discomfort or stress. 

    When you see a dog “smiling,” jaw relaxed, lolling tongue, they generally are as happy as they look! 

    But if you see more of a snarl, with the corners of the lips tightly curled and both the front and the side teeth showing, your dog is warning a perceived threat to back off.

    Body Posture

    Raised hackles, when a dog’s fur stands on end, indicate excitement or arousal. When combined with other signs of aggression, it is a warning. But absent those, it could indicate just plain interest.

    Likewise, when your dog’s weight is shifted forward. They are clearly intrigued by something. This could be positive or negative 

    Submissive postures include hunching or rolling onto the back and exposing the belly. Both are an attempt to look small and/or unthreatening in the face of danger—or they may just be asking for a belly rub!

    In most species, a raised paw indicates uncertainty. And when your dog bows, it means it’s playtime!

    Tail Position

    Wagging signals positive or negative arousal. The faster the wag, the more intense the excitement. 

    Sticking straight up can signal assertiveness or confidence, depending on the situation. A neutral position is relaxed, and dogs with their tails lowered or in a between-the-legs position are scared or stressed.


    Remember, to accurately interpret your dog’s body language, you’ll have to read all the bodily elements as a whole and take context into consideration. 

    What do I do about my dog’s aggression or anxiety?

    Aggression and anxiety in dogs are two of the most common concerns for pet parents. Before you start trying to completely “cure” them, remember that, in appropriate measures, both can be natural and necessary reactions to the world. 

    The best ways to prevent aggression and anxiety from becoming excessive are to:

    • Find and address the causes of the behavior.
    • Practice mindful training
    • Foster an easeful home environment. 

    Aggression and anxiety can both can be provoked by physical illness, so they could be a sign that it’s time for a checkup with the vet.

    Let’s explore dog aggression and anxiety. 


    Like in humans, dog aggression is a response to a perceived threat. Things that feel threatening include fear, pain, competition, and frustration.

    When they perceive a threat, dogs will usually exhibit warning behaviors like growling and baring their teeth. If the threat isn’t removed, behavior can escalate to biting. Dogs who bite without warning usually learned at some point in their lives that the warning behaviors don’t work.

    If you notice aggressive behavior in your dog:

    1. Try to find the cause. If the perceived threat can be removed in the short term, remove it.
    2. Stand still and behave nonconfrontationally. Look away, back away slowly, etc. 
    3. Observe patterns. If the behavior is limited, you can probably control it by avoiding or training other responses to the perceived threat. 
    4. If the behavior becomes severe, unpredictable, or generalized, you probably need professional help.
    5. Don’t punish your dog with yelling or physical aggression, as this can provoke worse responses in the short or long term.


    Dogs love company and often suffer when left alone. Though some dogs can cope with separation, others need help. When a dog acts out when left alone, this is called Separation-Related Behavior (SRB). Behaviors may include destructive chewing, barking, self-harm, trying to run away, and having accidents.

    If your dog exhibits signs of SRB:

    1. Practice separation. Go over the rituals of leaving and coming back, staying away for only a few seconds or minutes at a time and gradually building up.
    2. Make sure your dog has had exercise, potty time, and food before being left alone. If they are physically satisfied, they will be less agitated.
    3. Leave entertainment and maybe snacks to keep them busy and happy while you’re away.
    4. Create a calm environment, drawing the curtains and even leaving music on.
    5. Ask for help. Hiring a walker to check in on pup can help soothe them. If the behaviors continue, consider finding a trustworthy trainer.  

    How can I improve my bond with my dog?

    Bonding with pooch can be the sweetest, most rewarding part of having a dog! It’s what makes you a team and gives you both a sense of fulfillment and security. Here are some simple ways to improve your bond with your furry friend. 

    Routine and Consistent Communication

    When pup knows what to expect and how to read you and your environment, they feel more secure and confident. This makes a great foundation for relationship building.

    Touch, Eye Contact, and Grooming

    Just like with humans, touch and eye contact in the wrong context can feel uncomfortable or threatening to dogs. But with you, in most cases, they are deeply bonding and provoke the release of oxytocin! Giving your dog your full attention makes them feel adored.

    Activities and Training

    Doing activities together lets you get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, learn to read each other, and just have fun! Activities include teaching new tricks, getting outside, or setting up an obstacle course in the living room.


    Your dog LOVES to please you. Giving them lots of opportunities to do so is a great way to make them feel good about themselves.

    So what have we learned about your dog’s psychology? 

    1. Observation and time spent together are the best ways for you and pup to get to know each other.
    2. Dogs have a similar emotional range and capacity for empathy to humans.
    3. Your dog’s body language is one of their most important communication tools.
    4. Aggression and anxiety are natural, but excessive expressions can be moderated with careful attention and training.
    5. There are a ton of fun ways to improve your bond with your pup!

    Have fun deepening your relationship with pooch!