Raising a Happy Dog: Understanding Misbehavior as Communication

I recently stumbled upon a mind-blowing Ted talk by a Canine Cognition Expert, Alexandra Horowitz. In her talk, Horowitz challenges the notion of "misbehavior" in dogs and argues that understanding their actions as communication is key to raising a happy dog. She provides insights into the thought process of a dog, revealing practical ways to address typical "misbehaviors" that are often rooted in their efforts to communicate in a vastly different human-oriented world.

Basing this blog on everything she covered, I'd love to pass on the information that helped me understand the evolutionary and psychological factors influencing my dog's behavior and the practical solutions I learnt to enhance their well-being and overall happiness. 

Misbehavior as Communication

Horowitz emphasizes that what we perceive as misbehavior in dogs is, in fact, their way of communicating with us. Dogs bark at guests not to be rude, but rather to alert us that someone is at the door. Similarly, when dogs sniff us up close, they are gathering information about our scent, not being impolite. By recognizing these behaviors as communication, we can gain valuable insights into how dogs experience the world differently from us.

Understanding Life Stages

Misbehavior can be a reflection of the stage of life a dog is in. Dogs between 6 months and 2 years old are akin to teenagers. Their hormones are driving significant changes in their bodies and brains, leading to increased sensitivity, less self-control, and rewiring in areas that regulate emotions and judgment. Recognizing these developmental phases can help us better understand and respond to their behaviors.

Our Role in Misbehavior

Contrary to popular belief, Horowitz asserts that misbehavior in dogs is often a result of our own shortcomings in conveying our expectations effectively. Dogs are not born understanding human social rules or the behaviors we consider appropriate. For instance, the "guilty look" dogs display is not an indication of guilt but a learned submissive behavior to avoid punishment. Additionally, leaving tempting items within reach or creating poorly designed environments can lead to behaviors we perceive as misbehavior. It is our responsibility to create a suitable environment and provide clear guidance to our dogs.

Seeing Through the Eyes of a Dog

Horowitz suggests that viewing misbehavior as an opportunity to understand dogs' perspectives and perceptual experiences can transform our relationship with them. By delving into their evolutionary history, we can uncover the reasons behind their behaviors. For example, a dog chasing a bike reflects its ancestral urge to pursue prey. Similarly, a dog jumping and licking our face is rooted in its evolutionary background, where pack members would mob the returning hunter to prompt regurgitation of food. Understanding these behaviors helps us appreciate the unique qualities of dogs and develop a deeper connection with them.

Improving Communication

While dogs may not comprehend human language in the same way we do, they possess remarkable communication skills. Dogs can learn words and understand our tone and gestures to a certain extent. While devices like communication buttons can assist in facilitating communication, they primarily serve to translate what dogs already express through other means. It is crucial to acknowledge and respect dogs' communication abilities, even if they differ from our own.



Raising a happy dog requires a shift in perspective. By recognizing misbehavior as communication, understanding life stages, and improving our own communication, we can build stronger bonds with our furry companions. By taking the time to understand dogs' experiences and perceptive abilities, we bridge the gap between our worlds and create a more harmonious and fulfilling relationship. So let's embrace the opportunity to listen to our dogs, appreciate their unique perspective, and aim for a deeper connection with our four-legged friends.

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