How Do Dogs Make Decisions?

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Last week we wrote about about the different strategies our dogs Jack & Maggie use when playing a game. It got me thinking more and more about how dogs think and how they make decisions. You may not realize it, but just like you, your dog makes hundreds of decisions each day…

Hmm, which lounge chair should I nap on?

Hmm, which lounge chair should I nap on?

  • Do I go get a drink of water now or wait till after my nap?
  • Do I follow mom to the bathroom or just wait here?
  • Do I bark at that dog walking down my street or ignore him?
  • Do I nap in the office with mom or by the door or out on the deck in the sunshine?
  • Do I want to play with the frisbee or the squeeky toy or my new stuffie?
  • Do I like carrots today or do I want to spit it out?

And the list goes on.
My sister sent me this photo of her dog Tally which perfectly captured the conundrum dogs face sometimes…goodness, which lounge chair should I nap on?

How does she decide? Many folks think that dogs act purely out of instinct and that may be so when deciding when to take a nap, but faced with equal choices like these lounges, how does she decide? Ultimately, she picked one in the middle – which left the one on the end for her big sister, Taj. Maybe she did that so Taj could have one closer to the door since she’s older and has been sick. Maybe the one she picked has more sun or smelled better or…who knows, but certainly some thought went into that decision.
tally and taj decisions

I didn’t find much written about how dogs make decisions, probably the most work is being done by the folks at Dognition which we’ve written about before. The NPR piece listed below with the dog swinging from the tree branch is pretty interesting as is the work from the Dog Cognition Center in New York.

What do you think? How does your dog make decisions?


Additional Readings:

Do Dogs Think? (NPR)
What Do Dogs Think?: Expert Q&A
Alexandra Horowitz, The Canine Mindseeker What do dogs know and how do they know it?

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  1. Kind of like human kids, you never quite know why…

  2. It’s top secret stuff we aren’t going to share because we like to keep you humans guessing 😉 Mom has no idea how we make our decisions, but she can almost always guess what we will decide since she knows us pretty well.
    Emma recently posted…Agility Wabbits And More At The Pet ExpoMy Profile

  3. Don’t know the mechanism, but I do know Eko’s operates very deliberately and Penny’s operates at Mach 5.

  4. Priceless clip on the Beagle escape! Dogs do think – they just don’t spend time mulling over the consequences of their actions. 😉

  5. That might be the question of the century 😉 I assume that part of the decision making process is that their choice will benefit them somehow, e.g. our pups usually choose the carpeted living room or a couch to lounge/nap on as opposed to the hardwood floors elsewhere. They’ll only go for the hardwood floors when they’re warm and in need to cool off.
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…How To Keep Your Dog Safe (& Relaxed!) Around FireworksMy Profile

  6. At least some of Honey’s choices are regulated by how secure she feels.

    When we first moved into my sister’s house, we got distracted during the move and left Honey outside. She ran from door to door looking to get in.

    But the other day, my sister left the gate open after mowing the lawn. Honey slipped out and went sniffing around the neighbor’s yard.

    After a couple of weeks in a new place, she’s secure enough to go adventuring. But if she were uncertain or afraid, her decisions would show it.

    BTW, I loved your video on the earlier post of Jack and Maggie’s searches. It was a fabulous demonstration. Have you ever counted to see who gets the most treats?
    Pamela recently posted…Don’t Say This To Someone Whose Dog Is DyingMy Profile

    • Ha, no I haven’t counted, but Jack also gives up a lot earlier than Maggie – he’s done after about 10 minutes, she will usually stay out twice as long, so at the end of it, she probably gets more. Jack also rarely goes up to the end of the driveway…too lazy.
      mkob recently posted…How Do Dogs Make Decisions?My Profile

  7. I have watched Bentley, as well as my other dogs when making decisions. You can see them thinking before doing something. Bentley’s expressions are very noticeable.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB NETWoof News for the week of June 22, 2015My Profile

  8. Sam’s decisions seem mostly deliberate, especially when he’s into mischief. Not sure there’s a whole lot of thought going on between his ears though; he just can’t seem to help himself. When the notion strikes, he just seems to goes with the flow. 🙂
    Monika recently posted…Happy Father’s DayMy Profile

  9. I’m not sure how our dogs make decisions, but I do enjoy watching them make decisions. The most recent ones that come to mind…

    1) Sydney, do I want to sit on the right side of the sectional or the left? She always surprises me with her choice. She usually chooses right, but sometimes she’ll pick left (where Rodrigo chills) or she’ll throw it off and chill right in the middle.

    2) Scout, do I have to go potty? Nahhhhh, I’ll go back to sleep instead. This decision is a daily occurrence.

    3) Zoey, should I go bark at that man on our property (J and our neighbors are building a pond) or should I just watch him. This decision takes her a while and usually ends with her choosing to bark.

    4) Rodrigo, I want attention, how should I go about getting mommy to stop working and give me attention. Should I whine, bark, or just go sit in her lap.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Serendipitous Saturday | Dog Toy or Sex Toy? Phallic Dog Toys are a Hit!My Profile

  10. Interesting topic. However he disseminates reason – he’s consistent with it. Speaking of lounge chairs, there’s only one that he sits on. I’ve never tried to move it, could be interesting to see what he would do. I’ll you know. Hey, Harley and Jax gave you a shout out in their post today – check it out!

  11. Well darn I thought you were going to explain to me how Gambler decides if he is going to pass a hunt test or not. We had two failed attempts this weekend 🙁
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Bravo For Special MomentsMy Profile

  12. The lounge chair decision reminded me of how we might choose which table to sit at in a restaurant. Sometimes we feel more social, other times we might pick the corner booth with our back to the wall. Just don’t sit me beside the door to the kitchen, lol. 🙂
    Elaine recently posted…15 Tips for Taking Your Dog to the BeachMy Profile

  13. It’s funny because my huskies show so much expression and emotion on their faces, it’s not hard to tell when the wheels are spinning and they are trying to decide on something. I love seeing what the outcome of their decision is!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…BBQ’ing With Bowzer BoxMy Profile

  14. I have no idea. If I knew I might be able to figure out some of the other things that go on in their heads.
    Jodi recently posted…Team Sampson – #MultiPetManiaMy Profile

  15. Mila does the ‘head tilt’ a lot. I can tell she’s definitely thinking about something at that point in time. It’s just so cute.
    Barkocity recently posted…Can All Dogs Swim?My Profile

  16. People training field work spend a lot of time thinking about how the dog thinks. Once you have an idea of how your dog thinks and learns and decides, it makes training a bit easier. But I think all dogs are different.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bytes–Happy Birthday StormMy Profile

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