10 Things Humans Do That Dogs Struggle to Understand


Do you ever wonder

  • Why your dog stares at you blankly while you play games on your phone?
  • Why your pup feels the need to bark and growl at the vacuum cleaner?
  • Why your pooch chooses to hang out in the other room while you’re watching a sporting event?

Everyday rituals like playing on our smartphones, swiffering the floor, or watching your rambunctious kids run and scream through the house might seem normal to you.

However, in a dog’s world, some of these things are just downright confusing.

The worst part…your dog’s confusion can lead him to feeling nervous or irritated.

The simple truth is that there are many human activities that just don’t make sense in a dog’s world.

Curious if anything you’re doing might be upsetting your furry companion? I’ve come up with a list of items you can look over—with the help of my amazing Dog Trainer Academy students—that might be helpful to you.

Check it out now!

#1 – Playing Video Games

Video games are addicting—and for good reason. They are tons of fun!

However, when you spend hours upon hours playing games instead of walking your dog or playing tug, your pup may begin to wonder where your loyalty lies.

On top of not spending time with your dog, video games can be loud and scary. Shooting noises, background music, and other sound effects may make your dog uncomfortable or even frightened.

This is especially true if you suddenly start screaming and shouting at the screen because some zombie is chasing you down the street!

My Advice: There’s nothing wrong with loving video games. However, if you play for hours on end, I recommend that you set timers throughout the day to put down the controller and spend time with your pup.

On top of spending time with your dog, make sure your video game volume is under control. Set your TV volume to a normal level, or better yet, invest in headphones so your dog doesn’t get upset by loud noises.

The flip side of all of this is that many dogs will actually relax when you are playing because it’s the one time YOU actually relax!

#2 – Constant Use of Tablets/Smartphones

Tablets and smartphones fall under the same category as video games.

Here are a few reasons it’s important to be mindful of your cell phone usage…

First of all, if you spend all your time on your phone, your pup may begin to wonder why your rectangular-shaped electronic dog gets more love and affection.

That’s no good!

Second, if you’re using your phone while out walking your dog, it can put you both in danger. Heaven forbid, you’re not paying attention, and you and your pup gets hit by a car or walk yourself right into a dangerous scenario.

Third, talking on the phone can be confusing to your dog.

I bet you that if you pay attention, you’ll notice that your dog is fascinated about why you chatter away with nobody around–especially if you start getting animated, upset, or begin to shout!

Your dog will be looking at you thinking…What are you doing?!

And finally, your dog knows that when you’re talking on the phone, your mind is not focused on him or the walk but is elsewhere! So, be careful. You need to pay attention…(You can’t fool a dog!)

My Advice: Once again I recommend that you limit your time with your electronics if your dog is not getting enough attention and use your hands to play fetch or massage your dog instead.

And, of course, if you’re doing any type of activity like hanging out at the dog park or walking your dog, put your phone away and pay attention. An accident can happen in an instant. As a dog parent, it’s your responsibility to be engaged and aware.

#3 – Fireworks and Party Crackers

As humans, we understand that fireworks and party crackers are fun and festive and that they won’t hurt us.

However, dogs aren’t capable of understanding what fireworks are and why we set them off.

I mean, imagine trying to explain why we set them off to a dog!

Here’s why this is a problem…

Dogs have a deeply rooted instinct to run away from and escape anything that feels threatening to them. Loud booms and bangs certainly fall into that category.

For this reason, the crack of a firework can easily set your dog into panic mode, causing him to want to run and hide.

As I said, there’s no way to rationally explain to your dog that he is safe and ok, regardless of the scary noises. And, because dogs are often fearful of this type of fanfare, many dogs end up suffering from panic attacks or run away from their homes due to the startling noises.

My Advice: In some areas, the use of fireworks or party crackers is unavoidable. For this reason, I recommend setting up a safe space for your dog inside your home–preferably in an interior room–where he can hide and feel safe until the festivities are over.

I also recommend NOT bringing party poppers into your home or setting off fireworks near your house. It’s not worth the stress and anxiety you may cause your pup.

For a more in-depth read on how to handle fireworks, check out this post.

#4 – Screaming Children

If you have kids, you know firsthand that they can be crazy and loud.

As a father myself, I understand that you can’t forbid your kids to have fun while running around, playing games, and simply being kids.

That being said, loud screaming can be upsetting to dogs, and some people!

First of all, the loud noise is likely irritating to your dog’s sensitive ears.

Second, screaming and running may cause your dog to worry about whether your kids are ok. For instance, if you have a dog with protective instincts, a fun game of tag may make your dog believe that your child who is being chased is in danger.

This may promote anxious or aggressive behavior from your dog.

My Advice: Your dog may not be able to differentiate play from a real emergency. For this reason, I recommend that you talk with your kids about proper etiquette around dogs. If they want to run and scream, have your kids take their play outside. If they want to be inside with your pup, make sure your kids know to use quiet, indoor voices.

If that’s not possible and it’s a birthday party for example (we had 23 young kids in the house the other day at my daughter’s 7th birthday!), then put the dog somewhere safe like another room or a neighbor’s house.

Better yet, I encourage you to check out my Dog Calming Code program that will teach you how to keep your dog calm and focused in even the most stressful situations. Or, if you have a puppy, my Puppy Coach training program might suit your needs better!

#5 – Vacuum Cleaners/Roombas/Lawn Mowers

I can’t say for certain, but I imagine house cleaning and yard maintenance tools like vacuums, lawn mowers, and Roombas look like loud, scary, alien robots to our canine companions.

Could you imagine if you walked into your home to see an unidentified life-form taking out your trash? (Ok, maybe you’d be thrilled! But, that’s beside the point.)

Machinery can be very scary to dogs. That’s why it’s no surprise as that your dog may bark and growl when these types of devices are on and running.

My Advice: Dogs don’t understand the concept of cleaning. So, they will never understand why we use things like vacuums and lawnmowers.

My best advice is to keep your dog away from these types of devices if they make your dog nervous or anxious. If you’re vacuuming your living room, put your dog upstairs in your bedroom. If you’re mowing your lawn, keep your dog indoors. Easy as that!

If you are looking for training tips, then check this out.

#6 – Seeing Other Dogs on TV

One minute your dog is lying on the floor in his territory enjoying a nice nap. The next second, there’s a dog on TV barking, and suddenly, your dog may think his home is being invaded.

The reality is that dogs don’t always realize what’s real and what’s fake. If your dog sees a dog on TV, he may actually believe that the dog is real, standing right in front of your TV.

My Advice: In my honest opinion, I can be quite fun to let your dog watch other dogs on TV and see what his reaction is. Usually it’s silly and harmless–and if your dog is very social, he might even enjoy it!

If your dog gets nervous or angry by other dogs on TV, my only suggestion is to try the calm freeze technique combined with the 7-step formula while you are watching the TV channels like Animal Planet that regularly feature shows on dogs, as well as other

#7 – Remote-Control Cars/Drones

Most dogs have a natural instinct to chase things. After all, stalking and chasing are a big part of how dogs in the wild catch their food!

For this reason, things like remote-control cars and drones can be very confusing.

On one hand, your dog may get wound up with the urge to catch the remote-control toys you are playing with. On the other hand, fast moving objects that make loud noises might scare your pup.

My Advice: I always believe in the rule that safety comes first. If your dog enjoys chasing and you are ok with him getting some exercise while running after a remote-control car, go for it. But, make sure it doesn’t become obsessive. This means you should always be able to call him back to you instantly.

If your dog gets weirded out by remote-control toys/drones or his obsession with chasing a toy becomes dangerous, I would keep your pup away or keep him on a leash.

# 8 – Where Food Comes From

In the wild, dogs know that they have to track, hunt, and kill their food.

They understand that what they eat comes from the animals they track down. It’s actually quite remarkable that wild dogs have the ability to find the foods they like and turn them into dinner.

However, our domesticated pups have it a bit different. Their general understanding is that food comes from the pantry, a hall closet, or a refrigerator–where you keep their kibble or fresh foods.

Because we feed our dogs and don’t make them hunt for their own food, we become the provider. Your dog will always look to you when he’s wanting his next meal.

Domesticated dogs certainly don’t understand that you go to the grocery store or pet store and buy their food. But knowing that their meals will be provided by you is a very important thing.

As the food provider, your dog will understand that you are the caretaker and the one in control. Once this role is established, your dog will be more willing to listen and take command from you.

My Advice: It’s important that your dog understands that you are the food provider. In order to make this clear, I always tell people to eat their food before they feed their dog. This helps establish a hierarchy in your home.

For some ideas on how to treat your dog to a delicious dinner, check out my post on 7 foods that canines crave!

# 9 – Why You Let Strange People Come to Your Door

Between visiting friends and family, neighbors who need a favor, your Amazon Prime deliveries, and solicitors, there’s a lot of opportunity for people to visit your home and ring your doorbell.

As humans, we understand that we live in a community where people are going to come knocking at our door to share a visit with us, try to sell us something, etc.

But, our dogs don’t know this. In fact, some dogs probably think a home break-in is about to occur every time someone steps on your front doorstep.

Dogs can be very territorial by nature, so it’s no surprise that your pup might bark, jump, or growl when someone comes over. In some ways it’s instinctual–especially if your dog thinks HE’S the one in charge.

My Advice: You can train your dog to be calm and relaxed when visitors come to your door. I recommend repeatedly exercising a situation where someone knocks on your door until your dog gets bored and relaxes. Eventually, he will learn that it’s no big deal when someone comes over for a visit.

The most important thing is to make sure your dog knows you are the one in charge and that you’ll decide who is allowed in and who is not.

To find out more about this, check out this link to the Dog Calming Code here.

#10 – Large Crowds/House Parties

As humans, we understand when we intentionally put ourselves into chaotic situations–such as having a house party or deciding to take a stroll downtown.

But, dogs don’t typically have a say in the situation.

They go from peacefully napping on the couch to being submersed among strangers and loud noises.

Sadly, this can cause a pup to become anxious, nervous, and scared. Worst of all, these feelings can trigger your dog to lash out, bark, or even bite.

My Advice: As a dog owner, you should know your dog well enough to understand if he will be comfortable in chaotic situations–such as having a house party. Even if he is relaxed, I’d recommend creating a safe space for him to rest and relax if the noise and people get too overwhelming.

The same rule goes for taking your dog out in public. If you know large crowds won’t bother him, go for it. If you know your dog gets anxious or nervous, leave him at home.

If you have a dog that gets anxious around any of the things I just talked about, you’re in luck.

I’ve created a FREE guide that’s designed to help you desensitize your dog to the things that may cause him stress and anxiety.

↓ Download my FREE How to Desensitize Your Dog to New or Scary Situations ↓

Use the training techniques provided in the guide above, and I have no doubt that you’ll be able to help your pup overcome his fear of things he doesn’t understand.

Oh, and before I go, I wanted to say thanks to my Dog Trainer Academy students for helping me come up with all the ideas.

This special group has worked really hard over the last year to become certified dog trainers–and, boy, are they all amazing!

If you have any interest in learning what my Dog Trainer Academy is all about, you can find out more here.


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~Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan is the founder of The Online Dog Trainer, a wildly successful online training program for dog owners. His goal is to continue to share his unique approach to dog training with like-minded people who wish to make a difference in the world of dogs. His training methods focus on creating and building the connection between dogs and dog owners, and are shared and used around the world.

24 Responses

    1. Hi Anne,
      Some dogs can find other unfamiliar dogs particularly threatening, especially if they have had a few negative encounters with them. Other dogs can also be seen as potential dangers to their family’s safety and survival and if your dog feels unsettled or anxious then their behaviour is likely induced by a little panic. If you would like to know how to help your dog start to relax around other dogs then my website TheOnlineDogTrainer.com shows you very clearly how to achieve this…maybe take a quick look…its a $1 trial for 3 days…all the best Doggy Dan

  1. Thanks for all your help with my puppy. She is 5 months old now but continues to pee everytime anyone enters the house. We don’t talk to her or make eye contact and even if she was just out side to pee she still pees. She is super loving and very non aggressive. She runs back to me whenever she hears a noise. She loves everyone. What can I do?

    1. Hi Carole,
      This can be a common behaviour when young dogs become over-excited or anxious. Asking your guests to totally ignore your puppy until she is calm can help, but in some cases it can be better to place your puppy out of the way until your guests are settled and you’ve had a chance to say your ‘hellos’. You can then bring your puppy into a much calmer scenario where she is not as likely to get excited herself. Still ask your guests to delay saying ‘hello’ to her until she is totally calm.
      Generally this behaviour is something she will grow out of but allowing her some time to relax before interacting with her will be the most helpful advice I can give you in the short-term. Best, Doggy Dan

  2. Hi Dan,
    Love your puppy training videos. Thank you it was very helpful.
    Can you help with ideas of how to calm puppy to cut his nails, he is 5mths and will not let me near his paws with the nail clippers!?


    1. Thanks Vanda, glad you like the puppy videos! Teaching a puppy to have their nails trimmed or be groomed etc can be a bit of a challenge and the best approach to help them is to set up some short practice sessions. Grab some really great treats and think about breaking the nail trimming process down into smaller steps. For example, call your puppy to you and simply practice touching his feet/toes before letting him wander off again. The next time you may have the clippers in your hand and just practice touching the clipper to his nail but without trying to clip it. Keep these sessions really, really short and positive and if he freaks out then just let him wander off and try again later. The more frequently you can practice then better, remembering to give treats to keep him interested and the whole experience more positive. Hope that helps! Best, Doggy Dan

  3. Hi Dan;
    I really love your advice and would be interested in your dog trainers academy. I’m not able to maintain a normal job do to disabilities, but this would be great lol having 6 fur babies !
    The link did not work.
    Thanks Eric.
    Ps I will be getting your training offer.

    1. Hi Eric, try this link https://dogtraineracademy.org to our Dog Training Academy. There is a page to register your interest in the course as enrollments are currently closed, but we will be opening them back up again soon. Best, Doggy Dan

  4. Good, sensible advice. I struggle with the word ‘desensitise’. It makes me feel as if we are suppressing their natural instincts, whereas I imagine you are simply trying to help the dog understand the situation is not scary.

    1. Maybe there is a better word than ‘desensitise’ to describe how we help a dog get used to the things in our world that may frighten them. Either way their natural instinct is to mistrust things they don’t understand and so it’s up to us to help them see that these things are nothing for them to fear. The key is to not rush or ‘flood’ them by exposing them without a plan. Slow, positive and incremental exposure is always better…..and showing that you are calm relaxed about things is also important. Best, Doggy Dan

  5. Thank you so much for your training techniques. We adopted a dog from Texas who’d been in the floods. She is 3 years old and wasn’t trained very much. She is 60 pounds, hound, shepherd, lab mix. Lots of energy. We started with the food rules and it made a difference with her and out 11 year old chihuahua on the second day. We are putting all of your 5 rules in place. Only problem is I can’t get to them when they are barking outside because of an injury and my husband is not always home. Thank you for your teaching. I had taken classes before elsewhere, but they used choke collars etc and I didn’t like that. Your system works, if you work it! I still have lots to learn.
    Oh yes if it encourages anyone, I’m 71 years young.

    1. Hi Patricia, have you seen my previous Blog about ‘How to Stop Dog Barking’? It gives the strategies that will help solve barking more effectively. When there are multiple dogs in a home there is usually an instigator for barking and the other dog just joins in for support. So my advice is to focus your attention on the dog who is the instigator as it’s easier than trying to manage two dogs at once! The beauty of the techniques described in the Blog, is that you may not even need to go to your dogs. You may be able to stop the barking without even getting up of your chair! Best, Doggy Dan

  6. Our 6 mo. old lab/mix ? is so perfect and has become a big part of our family Lee and I except one thing. He is so jealous if our 10 yr old min pin we adopted five yrs ago. Plus after they play the puppy goes after the ears and back legs of the 10 yr old. It is so bad and we have tried every thing to get her to stop and finally gave a dead line if she doesn’t stop by the time she is one yr old in Dec. we will have to take her back to the shelter. We adopted her at 2 1/2 mos. old. She is a house dog with two walks a day and lots of out side play time. loves both of us and loves to go for rides and even shopping in home depot. Please Dan help us so we don’t have to take this beautiful puppy back to the shelter. Thank you so much for your time. Joanne

    1. Merging a new puppy into the family, where there is already and existing dog, can be a bit of a challenging time. My biggest piece of advice is to give clear and consistent consequences for behaviours you don’t like. Intervening before things escalate too far is really important in teaching your new puppy to use self-control. The issue here is not lack of exercise, it’s a confusion on your puppy’s behalf about what their role is in their new family and how they should behave towards their pack-mate. My website TheOnlineDogTrainer.com shows you very clearly how to achieve harmony…maybe take a quick look…its a $1 trial for 3 days…all the best Doggy Dan

  7. Hi, I clicked to download “How to desensitize your dog to new or scary situations,” but instead received something about treat training. I could really use the help with the one about scary situations! Thanks

    1. Hi Debra, I just checked that link and it seems to work fine. Scroll down to the bottom of the Blog and click the orange arrow to the free download, where a pop-up will ask you to submit your email address. We will then send you the information. If you still have issues please get in touch! Doggy Dan

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! Learning more about what makes our dogs really tick is fascinating and the best gift we can give them. Best, Doggy Dan

    1. Donna remember that your dog really doesn’t understand what TV is! When I first brought home one of my dogs she saw another dog on the TV, started baring and then went round to the back of the TV to see where the dog was! She saw a dog in her house, then it was gone and it confused her. In fact many things that we take for granted absolutely confuse our dogs, hence the Blog post! Responding in a calm and matter-of-fact way will be the thing that allows your dog to understand the TV is nothing to worry about! Best, Doggy Dan

  8. Hi I really enjoy your emails. I have a two year old Yellow Lab I have a question. When I come home from Work he is so excited he almost knocks me over. Do you have any advise.

    1. This is a pretty common scenario Eileen! My advice for all dog owners when they return home to their dogs is to initially delay greeting them until they have calmed down and left you alone for a few minutes. This sounds pretty harsh for your dog but it’s really effective in helping him understand that being too excited doesn’t work for him anymore. Avoid speaking to your dog, touching him or making eye contact. The first time you practice this approach it may take a while for you dog to calm down but if you are consistent then the time it takes will get shorter and shorter! Glad you like my Blogs…Best, Doggy Dan

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