Our dogs are as different as we are. We love them very much and many times we attribute human characteristics and desires to them. But we must remember that dogs are a completely different species than us, with different needs, a different language, and different things that make them happy. Jean Donaldson, author of the essential behavior and training book, The Culture Clash, writes: “Dogs are not like us, not as much as we thought. But that’s okay. We can still bond with them, share our lives with them, use them as surrogate children without apology. We don’t have to renew their nature to legitimize what we feel for them. They are valuable and fascinating as they really are.”
One of my jobs as a certified trainer is helping my clients understand their dog’s behavior, not just training obedience skills. If we understand dogs better, we can help them be better companions.
One misconception is that dogs always want to be petted. Dogs are just like people: some are introverts and some are extroverts. Be honest with your dog and never force him to be petted by a stranger. If a dog wants to be petted by someone you know or a family member, he will make physical contact with the person without your encouragement. He may move closer to sniff the person, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be petted. A dog that wants to be petted will approach the person with a loose, wavy body, mouth open, and may lean against her, lay a paw or head on her, or (oops) jump on her. If you force a dog to be petted when he doesn’t want to be petted, he may feel compelled to growl or bite the person. Your dog needs to be able to trust that you won’t force him into a situation that makes him uncomfortable.
Sometimes a dog will turn around and show his belly when approached by a person. Sometimes this means a dog wants his belly rubbed, but other times he wants the person to leave him alone. How do you tell him what he wants? A dog that asks for a belly rub may move, have its mouth open, often with its tongue sticking out, and its ears relaxed. A dog trying to tell you that he is uncomfortable and doesn’t want his belly rubbed will be quiet or stiff, probably with his tail between his legs, his mouth closed, and his ears flat to his head or back.
What dogs like are often things that are not what we want or that can be inconvenient for us. We want and train for a dog that walks in perfect position at our side. This is good for us, but incredibly boring and not good exercise for your dog. Dogs live by their noses. A pleasurable walk for your dog would include stopping to sniff all the amazing smells, looking at squirrels and other sights, and leaving his scent on mailboxes. At Praise Dog Training, we teach loose leash walking, but we encourage owners to allow their dogs to go on sniff walks. Sniffing lowers your dog’s heart rate and provides exercise. When your dog uses his brain to interpret scents, he gets tired. Do you remember how you felt after concentrating on a difficult exam? The next time you walk your dog, think about whether you’re doing it for yourself or for your dog. You don’t have to let him pull, but make the ride as enriching and fun for him as possible.
Puppy owners get frustrated when they struggle to house train their puppies and the puppies don’t seem to care where they eliminate. For dogs and puppies, urinating and defecating is a very natural behavior. When your dog or puppy first comes into your home, they have no idea that using the kitchen rug as a place to urinate is undesirable. He doesn’t understand why you’re yelling at him about it, and he certainly wouldn’t understand if you rubbed it up his nose. Also, those behaviors can make a dog or puppy afraid of you, and they may start urinating or pooping in a secluded area away from you. Simply teach your dog or puppy that pottying outside is what he wants and that they are rewarded with a treat when they potty outside.
Believe it or not, dogs don’t come to us understanding English. So when you yell at your dog to come and he doesn’t, it’s not necessarily that he’s ignoring your signal, it may be that you’ve never effectively taught him what the word means and coming to you is a very rewarding response. . Dogs can learn English, but they do so by repeatedly pairing a word with an action. I bet your dog has learned the words “treat”, “take a walk” and “dinner time”.
Dogs are social animals. They generally prefer to be close to their families. However, there are times when your dog may need a quiet retreat. If a dog is in pain, or if there are small children in the family, your dog may find a quiet place to rest or be alone. He can provide this space for him by setting up his crate outside of a traffic area or even placing a comfortable bed in an area where he naturally retracts, such as under a side table.
People and dogs are different species that speak different languages. We can build a special bond by working to understand our dogs’ specific needs and language. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend both Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash and Dogs are from Neptune and Dr. Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash.