We ask a lot from our dogs. From the day they are born until the day they leave us , we are constantly asking
them to conform to our ways and our lifestyle. Although through evolution dogs have adapted somewhat naturally to
humans and our ways, there still are things we ask of them that are above and beyond the call of duty. We sometimes
have this anthropomorphic view that they should be like us, simply because we consider them man's best friend.
Hopefully their first few weeks after they are born, we let them alone to learn from their mother and
litter mates. And justifiably so we try to interact with them so that they can learn to accept us into their lives
and come to love us as much as we love them. Yes these first few weeks they are allowed to be dogs, and thank dog for that. But it sure isn't long before we start asking favors of them.
When they are just a few weeks old, we expect that they should know where to eliminate. We don't even expect
this out of own species. We expect them to go in the litter box ,on pee pads or outdoors, but not on our precious
floors. We expect these young creatures to know that because mommy or daddy has to scrub the floor after
they peed there, that their need to eliminate is not allowed to happen then and there. Unfortunately house training
issues become a real bone of contention, and when too much expectation is put upon them at this early age, things go
astray. We sometimes try to punish this natural behavior and actually just end up making the learning process harder. Why not show them where to go and reinforce their correct choice with something they'll enjoy.
And now they reach puppy-hood with teeth and a need to use them. All dogs and especially puppies will nip in
order to initiate play. Again this is considered inappropriate to us and we again try to discourage it through
punishment ,whether through positive punishment (a tap on the muzzle) ,or negative punishment (our leaving the
scene of the crime). Let's get this straight. I'm not saying we shouldn't punish our dogs in order for them to
learn. What I am saying is that punishment doesn't have to be the first line of approach. We want a puppy to nip.
This is how he learns to acquire a soft or gentle mouth. He needs feedback at first ,just like he received from
his litter mates. A tap on the muzzle does not work well, and only leads to a heavier tap on the muzzle. And when this tap on the nose does not reduce the frequency of the nipping, that means it's no longer positive punishment but simply abuse.
Our next great expectation might come on our first walkie. Out the door like two bats out of hell we go. Wow
what's that. "Glad I didn't buy a Great Dane" as my leash arm gets a solid pull. We expect the little speed demon to
slowly and gently walk so we can keep up. And what is our first line of action. You guessed it. We try to hold the dog back. Again , trying to conform the dog to our ways does not seem to work as we soon realize that the dog will continue to pull so long as we try hold him back. He continues because it's in him . And if we don't let him be a dog to some extent on our walkies, we are doing a huge disservice. The walk is not always about excercise or is it all about learning. It should incorporate his needs to run and explore not just to walk beside us with a loose leash.
And on these little walkies we also realize that he loves to eliminate anywhere he chooses, and he doesn't know that it's not polite to pinch one on a neighbours front lawn. " Gee mom, you let me do it on my front lawn." Not only does he not know this is wrong , but he will also "surprise" you when he wants to sniff the treat his buddy next doorjust left there also. Why is my dog doing this despicable act . Cause he's a daaawg.
And if we've been misled by some old fashioned dog training theories, we try to make our dog realize that we are his leader and that he shouldn't try to get the upper hand. Yes the dominance theory is still alive and well despite our advances in animal learning behavioral studies. We are told that if we don't conform our dogs to our ways ,that he will learn and strive to learn on how to get the things he wants. He will dominate us. He will become a dominant dog. There is no such thing as a dominant dog over humans. Dominance is a relationship between like species. It is not a characteristic of a dog.
Because this misinformation is at the heart of numerous problems understanding our dogs ,I'd like to
quote this article from James O'Heare.
"Dominance(Social Dominance). An ethological construct describing features of a social relationship, which addresses
the management of social conflict, including (but not limited to) the allocation of limited resources, through the
exertion of control and influence. This takes place in a way that minimizes the risk of overt aggression by way of
the use of conventionalized ritual display behaviors. This minimization of risk involves a cost–benefit evaluation of the benefits of seeking to win a particular social conflict versus the likely associated cost (O’Heare, 2004). The term “dominance” is misused and abused to the point that it is often harmful to invoke it because it promotes
adversarial relationships between dog and owner. Also often used as a label for a dog using counter-control behaviors as a result of aversive stimulation and coercion. A counterproductive construct that distracts from the functional relationship between behavior and the environment, which actually causes and explains behaviors."
O'Heare, J. (2011). Encyclopedic glossary of terms and abbreviations in the technology and principles of behavior.
Retrieved Month, day, year from Glossary | Association of Animal Behavior Professionals
So forget about dominance, your dog is not out to control you. Be his leader not his adversary.
Now you're ready for another surprise. Your dog just found a piece of chicken ,all on his own. Yes ,my Havanese
Molly found one that fell from the sky sort of speak into our back fenced in yard. And was I a little shocked when
she growled at me when I approached to see what she had found. How could my three year old at the time, growl at me
when she never had done so before. My guess is that it was a rare find in her mind and she was staking claim. Shame
on me for expecting her not to resource guard or for feeling like she was being anything other than a dog.
Resource guarding is yet another behavior many of us try to punish. Growling is a natural and healthy behavior
that is simply their warning system saying that they are not comfortable with what's happening at the moment. It's a
good thing in the sense that they are communicating with us. How you deal with the cause of the growl is what's
important , the growl itself is good not bad.
I've touched on just a few examples of where we try to inhibit our dogs natural behaviors . There are many more. Here are a few more.
Barking ... here is an area where the dogs communication method is quite often met with a "shush".
Chewing ... he doesn't know that the table legs are a no no.
Digging ... where else does a dog hide his bone?
Jumping up ... he is simple greeting us and wants to reach our face.
Biting ... nearly always done in self defence.
Yes any of the behaviors can become a problem .None of these behaviors is bad or wrong, at least not when viewed in their proper context.
The more we live with our dogs, the more examples we will see where our dogs don't know right from wrong. They
learn what gets them rewards and what doesn't . As much as we think or wish they were more like us the more we should learn that they are not mind readers moralists,out to dominate us or trying to be stubborn. They are simply dogs,and that is why we should love them . Be their North Star. And just so you know the North Star is not the brightest star in the sky, just the one used by navigators searching to find their correct way. Dave T.