Examining how our dogs think
It’s true that dogs and cats have human characteristics, including a personality they call their own. But there are many classic situations where our interpretation of events is flat-out wrong, all because we think our animal thinks just like us. Let’s examine some of those scenarios.
When we shout, we seem really scary
Let’s picture the scene: Fido is a Scottish Terrier running amok in the home. You stand over him and start raising your voice. In your mind, you’re telling him to get his act together and stop making a mess.
But to Fido, the loud voice is a sign that the excitement is getting cranked up to 11!
He might wag his tail or carry on what he’s doing. You shout louder, and he misbehaves more. Then you smack him, and he retreats, unsure of why he’s suddenly received a scolding.
A word to the wise: never use physicality to get your way with an animal. All it’ll do is create antisocial behaviors that will cause you more problems in the long run. Plus, it’s simply not a nice thing to do.
Rather than raise your voice, speak in a calm and assertive manner. Use treats to reinforce good behaviors, and withdraw treats to mitigate bad ones.
On your evening walk, your dog is out in front, yapping at other dogs. When you try to pull him into line, he struggles with the leash. He’s happy to be outside, you think.
Your dog is actually in a state of distress. He feels as if he needs to be the pack leader. The reason that he’s barking at passing dogs? He’s protecting you from threats that are magnified in his mind – magnified because he has assumed the role of dominant party.
Trying to get him to heel is pointless if this power dynamic has played out for a while. It needs to start at home, with a constructive schedule and a reinforcing of good and bad behaviors (again, use treats).
Out on walks proper, use those same treats to get him into line. Get him to stop and observe the treat, but only give it to him when he’s sitting in a still, calm manner. If he’s grabbing at it, he doesn’t get it. He’ll soon learn.
In all likelihood, though, you’ll need to enlist the services of a proper dog trainer to help. Until he can walk to heel, and keep your pace (instead of straining ahead of you), he’s not properly trained.
My dog is wagging his tail – he must be happy.
Perhaps – but not always.
All tail wagging means is that the dog is feeling an emotion.
How high is the tail? If it’s low, he’s feeling anxious. If it’s high, he’s feeling assertive. If it’s neutral, he’s more than likely happy. There are small exceptions to this rule, of course, but this is a good guide to keep in mind.
Finally, the direction of the wag might hold a clue as well. Studies suggest that a wag to the right is a happy emotion, and a wag to the left is a negative emotion. As for a tail that spins in a circle? He’s happy alright!