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A Dog's Perspective

Posted in Dog Training Tips

By Amy Wence

The phrase “dog training” can mean different things to different people. Some people simply think of dog training as a way to control their dog or that it means teaching their dog basic commands and tricks. But there is so much more to it than that. When I think of dog training, I don’t think of it as just the dog being trained. It’s a two way street; both the owner and dog are learning. Dog training is a process where dogs and owners learn to speak the same language.

We tend to put a lot of expectations on our dogs. We often feel that they should inherently know the difference between right and wrong and what they are allowed to do and what is off-limits. This is a very unfair expectation on our part because dogs do not think like people. They are opportunistic and selfish by nature. If there is a steak sitting right in front of a dog, he does not stop to think about whose steak that is and whether or not he should eat it. Instead, he gobbles it down without hesitation or guilt. Dogs do not have moral values as people do. Therefore, we have to teach them what we consider to be acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable to us. In the instance with the steak, we would have to teach the dog a “leave it” command in order for him to understand that this steak is off limits. Keep in mind that we cannot expect the dog to understand that this applies to all steaks in the future. He only knows that in this moment you are asking him to “leave” this particular steak. You will have to remind him of this “rule” the next time a steak is placed near him.

Owners often become frustrated or upset with their dogs when they break their rules. This is a big reason that so many dogs are surrendered to shelters. What owners may consider a problem behavior is oftentimes normal behavior for the dog. Snatching food, digging, barking, chewing and jumping are all examples of normal dog behaviors that many owners find annoying to say the least. It is our responsibility to teach our dogs what is considered acceptable behavior in a human household. We cannot expect our dogs to know this upon arrival. We are immersing these animals in an environment where they are expected to behave in a way defined by our standards and that can be very unnatural to them.
Imagine being in another country where you are unfamiliar with the culture and don’t speak the language. What might be normal behaviors for you, like kissing in public, may be considered taboo in another culture; and since you don’t understand the language, it’s hard to understand why this seemingly innocent gesture is so wrong. I imagine that dogs feel the same way. They don’t understand why they are being scolded for digging a hole in the backyard when this is a totally normal doggy-like thing to do.

Another point of conflict between dogs and people is body language.People tend to exhibit primate behavior and use our hands to explore new things, while dogs use their mouths. Often when we play, we like to wrestle and roll around, which can be very scary or arousing for a dog. Dogs play using very different body languages such as play bows and pauses,  which allow the dogs to keep the play friendly without escalating into a fight.

People enjoy affection and demonstrate this often through hugging. For a dog, this is a threatening gesture and can be frightening or at the very least uncomfortable. Eye contact is another way in which we humans like to communicate. However, eye contact can be extremely threatening to a dog, especially one that is fearful or aggressive.
Oftentimes, people tend to lean over a fearful dog, making direct eye contact while trying to comfort or soothe it as they would a small child. This is a very natural human behavior, but puts a lot of social pressure on the dog and is perceived as very intimidating. In this situation, actually turning to the side and crouching in a low position and not making direct eye contact would be much more comforting to the dog.

Dog training is about filling this gap between human and dog behavior. It’s about learning to communicate with our dogs in a way that they can understand. It shouldn’t be about controlling the dog and forcing him to abide by our rules at all times. Dogs are dogs and should not be held to the same standards as people. They should be allowed to express themselves as dogs and given outlets for their natural behaviors, rather than trying to suppress them. Dog training should give dog owners the tools they need to cultivate a happy and healthy bond with their dogs.


Posted: 10/1/2010 | Updated: 4/14/2011

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