Dogs are amazing!
- They seemingly give us unconditional love.
- They have great empathy and know when and how to give us emotional support.
- They are always ready for adventure and fun.
- They don’t nag and they accept us for who we are.
- They act as if it is Christmas morning every time we come home from work.
We interpret our dog’s behavior through our very human lens. It is therefore not too surprising that we would want to humanize our dogs and make them into one of us.
However, dogs are not humans and treating them like a human can sometimes bring disastrous results. Similarly, humans are not dogs. When we try to bite a dog with our fingers, it does not work out very well either.
“Men and dogs are not alike, although some men try to make them so. White men.” Oogruk had laughed. “Because they try to make people out of dogs and in this way they make the dogs dumb. But to say that a dog is not smart because it is not as smart as a man is to say that snow is not smart. Dogs are not men. And as dogs, if they are allowed to be dogs, they are often smarter than men.”
Treating a Dog Like a Human
- We dress our dogs up to look like humans.
- We feed our dogs human food.
- We project human motives and human emotions onto our dogs.
There is nothing wrong with dressing our dog up, as long as we are careful not to cause him any physical harm, and as long as he is tolerant of wearing human type clothes.
There is nothing wrong with feeding our dog some human food as long as we make sure that what we feed him is balanced, not too rich for a dog’s digestive system, and does not contain any ingredients that may be poisonous to dogs.
My dogs love boiled chicken, turkey, and sardines. However, some common people food including chocolates, onions, coffee, grapes, spices, and macadamia nuts, are not appropriate for dogs and can cause them great harm.
We run into the most problems when we project human motives and emotions onto our dogs. Dogs just do not think like us. If they did, they wouldn’t be the amazing companions that we love so dearly.
Max pooped all over my carpet because he wanted to pay me back for leaving him alone all day.
Susie growled at me today when I tried to pet her during meal-time. She must not love me anymore. What an ungrateful bitch.
Dogs do not take revenge on us for leaving them alone. Max likely pooped because he was unused to being alone and became overly stressed. This is also known as separation anxiety.
Dogs growl as a form of communication. They are telling us that they feel uncomfortable or threatened by our proximity. Dogs may growl when people approach their food, toys, or other resources because they have learned through constant repetition that people usually take their stuff away. This is also known as food aggression or resource guarding.
By assigning human motives and emotions to our dog, we miss the true source of his misbehavior; and miss our chance to properly help and retrain him to live well with us.
Bad dog behavior has nothing to do with revenge, ungratefulness, or lack of love.
The main reasons for bad dog behavior include –
- Improper training or no training.
Dogs do not come with a human-rulebook. They do not know which behaviors are viewed by us to be good, and which are viewed to be bad. It is up to us, to properly teach them our rules.
When a dog is locked up all day with nothing to do, he will become frustrated. He may bark at shadows, charge the fence, chew up our house, or escape.
- Fear or stress.
Dogs may become fearful or anxious of objects, dogs, people, or situations that they perceive to be threatening. Because they are dogs and not humans, what they perceive as threatening may seem silly or surprising to us. However, if we want to rehabilitate a fearful dog, what matters is his perception and not ours.
- Physical pain or ailment.
When a dog is in pain or otherwise feeling unwell, he may feel more vulnerable. As a result, he may strike out in situations where he is normally tolerant or calm.
Dogs Are Not Human But …
It is true that dogs are not human. However, this does not mean that we should treat them poorly, neglect them, ignore their needs, or cause them pain and stress.
- Dogs need medical care. It is true that in the wild, animals have little or no access to medical care. However, it is also true that animals who receive medical care, have a longer life span than their wild brothers. It is a good idea to take our dog in for regular vet examinations, teeth cleaning, as well as vaccination shots. This ensures that he will not only have a longer life, but also a better quality of life.
- Dogs need exercise, and the freedom to explore, dig and play. Our dogs may not think or act like us, but they have needs and goals, just as we do. When a dog’s needs are neglected or left unfulfilled, he may try to meet some of them on his own. This is when he starts jumping over fences, digging up our prize roses, and tearing apart our designer shoes.
- Dogs need routine, consistency, and training. Routine and consistency are important because they help a dog understand what he can expect from us, and what we expect from him in return. This reduces uncertainty and stress, as well as helps our dog build confidence. We also need to teach a dog our human rules, so that he can be safe, living in our very people oriented environment.
- Dogs feel pain and stress. Dogs may not be human, but just like us, they feel pain and stress. When we apply shock corrections, collar corrections, finger jabs, and muzzle slaps, our dog will feel pain. When we alpha roll a dog and loom over him threateningly, he will get stressed and fearful. These techniques are not magical – they work precisely because they apply pain. They can work on people as well, depending on our definition of ‘work’.
Dogs are not human.
All this means is that we should not project human emotions or motives onto their misbehaviors. Rather, we should try to understand them based on their needs, and not ours.
Differences are good, differences are healthy, and differences make us stronger. We should not try to make our dogs be like us, nor should we try to make ourselves be like our dogs. Instead, we get the best results when we take the time and effort to understand our dogs, as they have taken the time and effort to understand us.
Dogs do not react better to pain and aggression, just because they are dogs and not men. In fact, this study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that pain and dominance based rehabilitation methods frequently encourage aggression in dogs.
Dogs are not humans, but neither are we dogs. We may try to bite our dogs with fingers, alpha roll them, and physically dominate them. However, this will not convince anyone, least of all our dogs, that we are of the canine persuasion. Unlike us, dogs know what they are, and that we are different.
What these techniques do is apply pain and stress to a dog, which in turn causes an aversive response. This may discourage our dog from repeating a behavior, because he wants to avoid further pain and stress. In this way, dominance based techniques may ‘work’, for some values of work. However, pain and stress also lead to a lower quality of life and a bond that is based on fear.
We earn a dog’s respect and become a true pack leader by protecting our pack; not by inflicting pain on our pack members.