Can My Dog Read My Mind?

Dogs are amazingly tuned into human behavior, which isn't a surprise. Dogs have co-evolved with humans for tens of thousands of years. Plus, we've selectively bred dogs who are friendlier and more responsive to humans than their wolf ancestors.

But some suspect that their dog's ability goes way beyond that. Some dog owners wonder if their dogs can read their minds.

dog looking up and smiling
credit: zhobla91/iStock/GettyImages

Dogs are tuned-in to human communication.

While dogs can't read our minds in the traditional sense, they deserve a lot of credit for being able to read human behavior and body language remarkably well.

Many people wonder about their dogs' mind-reading habits because their dogs seem to know so much about them. Some dog owners feel that their dogs can sense when they're sad or angry. Others report that their dog can sense when they're coming home, minutes before they actually set foot in the door. How do dogs know so much about us?

Dogs read human body language.

Dogs have evolved to be able to read humans extraordinarily well. This ability has benefited them, of course, largely in the form of food. Early domesticated dogs probably helped humans on hunts, and they likely got a cut of the spoils.

Dogs understand cues humans unknowingly give.

Modern dogs use cues, context, and experience to understand the humans around them. Dogs can understand our cues even when they're non-verbal — for instance, when we point or gesture at an object, or even just look in a certain direction. The ability to understand the gestures of another species is pretty remarkable. On top of this, dogs are great at observing patterns in human behavior. That's why they get excited when you put your tennis shoes on or grab their leash; they know that a walk comes next.

Young woman with dog
credit: dp3010/iStock/GettyImages

Dogs' sense of smell makes it seem like they know things that humans don't.

In addition, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. The 220 million sensors in their nose (compared to a pathetic 5 million in humans) let them sniff out things we could never dream of smelling. That's why dogs can smell things that seem undetectable to us, like low blood sugar. Their sense of smell is one reason your dog may seem to know things before you do, like if a person is approaching your door, or a squirrel is behind a nearby tree.

So while dogs can't exactly read our minds, they get pretty close, all things considered. Dogs deserve a pat on the back (or the head) for understanding humans to such an incredible degree. Plus, it's probably for the best that they don't know what we're thinking at all times.