Dogs don’t understand the coronavirus but do feel our anxiety

Dr Santos

Perhaps common sense dictates that our dog companions don’t understand what is going on with the coronavirus pandemic. However, they see a great change in their lives because of the livestyle change of their human guardians who, during lockdown, are working from home full-time. It’s a positive change in their lives. It’s a new routine to which they’ve adapted. If people are consistent in this new routine their dogs adapt to it quite quickly and be pleased by it.

Dr Santos

Dr Santos. Screenshot from YouTube video.

One question that arises out of the pandemic is that a lot of people have become anxious because of the unknowns and the fear of becoming ill and possibly dying. People like predicability. Do their dogs feel this anxiety? One of the best people to answer the question is Dr Laurie Santos, 45, the director of the comparative cognition laboratory at Yale and also the director of the university’s canine cognition centre. She understands dogs and human behaviour perhaps better than anybody else, certainly in comparing the two forms of mentality and behaviour.

She uses dogs to understand people in a very clever way because she believes that from dogs we can better understand ourselves as they’ve been paying attention to humans for about 20,000 years (the approximate period of their domestication).

She said that dogs, like people, get used to changes over time but that they don’t understand pandemics or viruses. However, “they definitely know that their routine has changed, and that you are around the house more often”.

Asked whether they feel their human companion’s anxiety she said, “They almost surely detect that were going through an anxious time right now”. But they are happy we are around because, “Dogs are very bonded with their owners and guardians, and thus they’re probably pretty stoked to have us around more often”.

She makes the point that although dogs are just like people, “The more you can be consistent, the more quickly your pup can adapt”. Daily routines are also useful for people because they build-in a structure to their lives. From a personal perspective, I would also argue that people need a dinstinct purpose and that purpose creates the structure and framework of their lives. Never live a life too freely because it opens the door to bad thoughts. This seems to be an inherently defective aspect of the human brain.

With people being around their dogs far more often will they become bored of us? Dr Santos advises that we should not fret about it because, “I’m not sure dogs will ever get bored with you but they probably do habituate to the initial excitement of having you around all the time”.