Cats and Dogs – How They Think and Communicate

There’s a reason cats and dogs are some of the most common pets. They are different enough from us to be interesting, while similar enough to make good companions. It also makes it easier that, despite the notorious animosity they have for each other, they can usually learn to live together. Cats and dogs also love us back – pet sitters will attest to this, as they often see signs of them missing our presence while we’re away.

Many people have plenty of questions about how these creatures think and communicate. Others believe plenty of things that may or may not be true. In this post, we’ll go over some things you need to know about your furry companions.


What Emotions Do Dogs Feel?

How Dogs and Cats Think

One of the reasons dogs and humans make such good friends is because we share many of the same brain structures and chemicals, and thus undergo many of the same emotional states. Like us, dogs produce oxytocin in response to certain stimuli. Oxytocin is a chemical associated with love, trust, and connection.

However, that isn’t to say we should overestimate them. They are similar to us in principle, but the extent to which they can experience or regulate their emotions is more limited. You can think of the emotional range of a dog as being about the same as that of a 2 year old child. Their emotions are generally limited to simple ones like:

  • Excitement
  • Contentment
  • Anxiety
  • Joy
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Love

Here are some examples of emotions that are too complex for dogs to experience:

  • Pride
  • Shame
  • Contempt
  • Guilt

That means, when you think your dog is experiencing “guilt” over doing something bad, they’re more than likely just experiencing “fear” due to memory of consequences of these bad actions in the past. They also don’t experience “pride” in having accomplished something like retrieving a ball you’ve just thrown, rather, they are probably just experiencing pure joy in the act of playing fetch.

Do Dogs Dream?

All evidence indicates that they do.

You’ve probably witnessed your dog whimper, bark, or twitch their legs at various times while they sleep. As stated above, the brain structure of dogs is very similar to that of humans. It has been found that dogs undergo the same brain-wave patterns as we do while sleeping, and much of the same electrical activity is observed in dogs as well.

It’s safe to assume that dogs dream about, well, exactly what you’d think they’d dream about: running through a field, stocking an animal, running from a predator in fear, and plenty more. They probably dream about their owners as well.

Do Dogs Smile?

In a way, yes they do. Dogs display feelings of happiness with a slightly opened jaw and a drooping tongue. Their eyes also simultaneously take on the shape of teardrops. This can usually be seen while they’re being scratched or interacting with people in a positive way.

Not only that, dogs are also capable of something similar to laughter! This usually happens during play and moments of extreme happiness. Dogs will display the expression of smiling while also making a sound similar to panting, only with a broader range of frequencies.

Here are a couple examples of a dog’s laugh:


Do Cats Love You Back?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is that they show their affection differently than dogs. They also show it in ways that could lead you to believe they don’t much care for you at all. Here’s one example.

You’re laying on your bed with your cat and petting him. He shows all the tell-tale signs of affection, but then for some reason, gets up, turns his back to you, and lies down. You might take this as a sign of rejection, but the fact is cats are predators by nature and are always looking for ways to scan their environment. That’s not so easy when all they can see is your head and chest. So instead, they get up and turn their back to you to get a better view of the room.

Far from being a sign of rejection, this move actually reveals a deep level of trust, as they’re willing to let you stay there directly behind them without fear of being attacked.

Here are other ways cats display affection:

  • The “cat kiss” – This is when your cat looks at you and blinks her eyes very slowly. It’s a sign of contentment and affection. It’s also a two-way street. Next time your cat is staring at you, look her in the eyes and slowly close and open them again. Chances are good your cat will return the favor.
  • Arriving with their tails standing straight up – This is a sign of trust and respect.
  • Rubbing – Cats rub their heads, necks, tails on you when they want to mark you as “one of their own”.
  • Purring – This shows contentment. It basically means, “Don’t go anywhere.”
  • Rolling over in front of you and showing their belly – For a creature as cautious as a cat, this display is truly a sign of trust.

What Emotions Do Cats Feel?

How Dogs and Cats Think

Cats might seem more stoic, but they are emotional creatures. Here are the basics of what your cat is capable of feeling:

  • Anger – We’ve all seen an angry cat. The signs are hard to miss. Generally, cats will make threatening growling sounds, hiss, and lash out with their claws. This tends to occur when cats are forced into a situation they feel they have no control over.
  • Jealousy – This often results from feelings that their territory (including food resources) are being infringed upon. Introducing a new cat into a home in which one was already living can result in feelings of jealousy from the long-time tenant. You can mitigate this by feeding your cats with different bowls.
  • Joy – This usually results from playing, being petted, eating, and lounging around.
  • Sadness – Although, it may be better to reduce this to even more basic emotions like stress and boredom. This often occurs when their owners have left for long periods of time. They can begin to feel so stressed out that they excessively groom themselves (sometimes resulting in bald spots), claw up furniture, and even moan and wail.

One emotion you’re probably not surprised to find out cats don’t experience is guilt. Cats may display behavior that one could misinterpret as guilt, however, these are likely just signs of fear.

There are still many things we don’t know about cats, and they seem to be pretty good at being sneaky, even making it appear that they’re hiding their intentions. That means we still have a lot to learn about these critters. For many, that’s the appeal.