I was recently asked a question, “What is the difference between what a dog owner thinks about a dog and a behaviourist? How do they differ?”
I immediately couldn’t answer it; I found it an impossible question. After many nights awake and asking unsuspecting friends I am still at a cross road with this.
Let’s take the average dog owner, well nowadays there is no such thing. Every dog owner I meet confesses to being a dog expert in one way or another whether it be they know the most about the rare breed they have and every relative both living and dead there dog has or my favourite, I can train dogs because I watch Cesar (I won’t even start on that topic as it’s so widely argued right now!)
The first thing that came into my head was the anthropomorphic emotions that owners project onto their dogs on a daily basis, “he ate my shoes because I left him”, “she pees the floor to get me back”, “he doesn’t come back when called because he knows I’m going to my mums and he hates it there” the list is truly endless, I am yet waiting for someone to tell me that their dog can’t sit because of its star sign!
While it is nonsense to make assumptions that a dog is on a mission to get even with his owner at every possibility I do think that owners shouldn’t face rolling eyes and the feeling that their beloved pet is little more than a domesticated wolf that through years of selective breeding simply needs a job to do?
So how do we get balance? We “dog experts” can’t agree on most things anyway. Honestly try it; the only thing you’ll get a room full of dog people to agree on is BSL is ineffective!!! I will just quickly state here that this is changing thankfully and sometimes a good debate is how we find answers.
However I do know that a dog is not a furry person. I can only go on what I feel about my dogs and how I think they feel about me. I LOVE my dogs, I don’t collect them from the kennel after a two week holiday and ignore them (much to the kennel owners horror) I make a fuss of them, shoot me, I’ve missed my buddies just as much as I miss my kids after a school trip and definitely more than I’ve missed my husband after a business trip, It’s not that I love them anymore, hey I’m a realist my children are definitely more important than my dogs. But I am down on that reception floor like a maniac telling my beloved ridgebacks that mummies missed them……does this then mean I know little about dog behaviour? Am I an unfit dog trainer? Am I allowing my dogs to “dominate” me? Am I projecting my emotional response onto them?………….If that’s the case then why have I got nearly twenty stone of red love coming at me like a freight train, all slobbers and love….yes LOVE!!! I said it MY DOGS LOVE ME!
Now I’ll pop my scientific cap on. I know that dogs have emotions, that is a fact. They don’t live in “the here and the now” as they have a memory….Like it or not traumatic experiences are easier committed to the long term memory than any other experiences. in.
The reason they destroy your possessions when you go out is down to two factors 1) you left things lying out 2) you haven’t got them used to being left alone comfortably, dogs are after all social animals just like us. The reason they pee the floor is your methods during toilet training did not reinforce going outside is better, the reason they don’t come back when called is coming back to you marks something negative whether it be being put back on the leash or a lecture.
So where are my thoughts in all this? How do opinions differ? I don’t think they do, I strongly believe that most compassionate dog experts acknowledge that dogs are special, have feelings, express those feelings to their beloved owners. The difference………….A good dog behaviourist knows how to interpret those feelings!