Understanding Your Dog
A few key points remembered and implemented will go a long way in your connection and experience with your dog.
Perhaps first and foremost is that your dog is not a tiny human in a dog suit.
Anthropomorphizing is the act of humanizing, or seeing human traits in something that is not human. Disney may have been the first to promote that thinking with Pluto.
A dog is an entirely different creature from us, from the obvious physical to the not so obvious psychological.
In my view, the most prominent distinction between us is our cognitive memory and thought processes, i.e. ‘Why didn’t I buy the blue car? I should accept the job that’s closer to home’, as compared to a dog’s recall thought or memory process. Sights, odors, textures, words and sounds can all contribute to responses from dogs. They can also explain some of the behaviors of rescued or adopted dogs.
An example of the ‘sights’ might be, “She’s fearful of big men in baseball caps.” This sends up a flag that may guide me to wonder if she was scared, or roughly handled by someone fitting that description.
To a dog, the sound of thunder, the texture of a carpeted floor under paw for the first time, all lend to that recall memory.
Being aware of our different thought processes and using a patient, nurturing approach will be a great marriage with their ancestral origins and instincts.
Think self-assured, calm and controlled leadership, nurturing as in a family structure.
Be a fair but firm teacher, as opposed to a dictator. A dictator can accomplish a lot through fear and hard handedness, but it doesn’t teach nor nurture, and it doesn’t instill the trust and faithfulness so endearing in our relationship with dogs.
In the wild, dogs and even wolves respond well to their leaders when treated fairly but sternly, with
win-win for the individual and the group, being the preferred outcome. Most dogs live to please their leaders, to be a functioning, needed part of the family or pack, and rewarded for their positive contributions.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? We humans are also group animals that thrive on the exact same things, positive, fair, firm, empathetic leaders that offer us the safest, most nurturing and rewarding life.
Reward and denial is a common teaching tool among dogs in a family or group. From the early puppy instinct of licking mother’s muzzle and being rewarded with nutrition, to a fair, established and accepted hierarchy in the group later on.
This can translate well in practice when interacting with our pets through treats, praise, positive and glowing responses to our dog doing well, and though difficult, try to downplay the negatives.
I have had best results using a verbal and visual cue, then rewarding the action not the dog. For example, if my dog is sitting, I can point to the floor, say, “Down.” and, when she responds, I quickly offer the reward of, “GOOD down!” with rubs or treats to confirm the action and word used.
They will respond much better to the reward, and want to repeat the action that produced it.
Lastly, repetition and consistency will be your greatest allies in nurturing your relationship with your dog.
This just touches the surface of understanding your dog and its behavior, but it places you on a good path to positive results for you and your furry friend.
Professional, certified dog trainers are available in most areas should you feel the need for guidance.
Lon LeadDog Flewelling, CDT